Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Book: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

Written by Jessica Mahler
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Triple P, according to Peggy Orenstein in her latest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, refers to pink, pretty, and princess. That’s what today’s consumer-driven society tells us not so subliminally when we think about little girls, Orenstein points out. A feminist and a mother, Orenstein grapples with which role models (Cinderella vs. Wonder Woman) and toys should enter her daughter’s life, realizing that there is a whole lot of pink mixed in with a whole lot of princess paraphernalia staring down at little girls from the shelves at the toy store. But what is the allure?

Triple P, according to Peggy Orenstein in her latest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, refers to pink, pretty, and princess. That’s what today’s consumer-driven society tells us not so subliminally when we think about little girls, Orenstein points out. A feminist and a mother, Orenstein grapples with which role models (Cinderella vs. Wonder Woman) and toys should enter her daughter’s life, realizing that there is a whole lot of pink mixed in with a whole lot of princess paraphernalia staring down at little girls from the shelves at the toy store. But what is the allure?

Pink wasn’t always associated with girls; gender wasn’t color-coded until the twentieth century. In fact, Orenstein discovers that the color was considered masculine when it was first introduced as it is a hue of red, which is associated with strength (say hello to Reagan and the power tie!). It wasn’t until the mid-’80s that the color was noticed as innately attractive for girls; cue the marketing strategies that amplified sex differences.

We don’t need Orenstein to tell us Disney is a company that plays into these differences. The mammoth corporation created their Princess brand once they realized little girls were fashioning their own DIY costumes to emulate their favorite tiaraed maiden. Understanding that marketing princess wares to such an impressionable demographic would bring in billions, Disney simply gave the people what they wanted, and then skipped all the way to the bank.

But Disney isn’t the only company playing to social cues; there is always someone out there trying to make a buck. Toys like Bratz or Moxie Girlz entered girls’ vernacular after the bubblegum pop of the Spice Girls late-‘90s “girl power” anthems sung out through the radio waves. Perhaps this mainstream brand of girl power is the softer on the eyes (and, some would argue, ears) answer to riot grrrl, a movement that celebrated individualism, female solidarity, DIY media, and self-reliance, rejecting the images of womanhood thrust upon them by marketers. Where Bratz and Moxie Girlz differ, though, is that they pretend they’re selling originality and individuality, urging girls to “be yourself” or “celebrate you,” but how can one be herself if the majority of girls in her age group are wearing the same thing? Today’s girls’ “trusted” brands market distinction through appearance and consumption, turning living girls into the dolls they are selling them.

Which is another thing—who is buying all this pink and princess crap for their kids? Mostly moms, it seems. And they do this shopping with their daughters there to pick out exactly what they want, turning the act of shopping into a framework of intimacy for the mother-daughter relationship. With such a plethora of girlie-girl culture that emphasizes beauty and entitlement, is it any wonder, then, that our girls grow into young women who can’t differentiate between how they feel emotionally and how they think they look? Orenstein spoke to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College, who conducted a study on teenage girls’ desire. “They respond to questions about how their bodies feel—questions about sexuality or arousal—by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.”

Through shopping at the American Girl Place, fielding questions from her daughter about why she can’t have Cinderella toothpaste, checking in to Facebook with a few tweens to see how they interact with their 622 friends, chronicling the rise and fall of Disney stars Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus (in a chapter titled “Wholesome to Whoresome”), and debunking the meaning behind the song “Like Other Girls” from Mulan II (Mulan, one of the eight princesses who isn’t really a princess) with her daughter, Orenstein looks at how our culture has shaped our girls’ perception of the world—and themselves. At times funny, you’ll be shocked to discover the information uncovered through interviews with business execs and teachers; and Orenstein's first-hand experience; plus why Twilight’s Bella Swan is no role model for today’s teenage girl.

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