Monday, May 30, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein


The acclaimed author of the groundbreaking bestseller Schoolgirls reveals the dark side of pink and pretty: the rise of the girlie-girl, she warns, is not that innocent.

Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls' successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today's little princess become tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?

Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters' lives.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone who cares about girls, and for parents helping their daughters navigate the rocky road to adulthood.

My thoughts:
A few years ago I read Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother  by Orenstein.  I really enjoyed it and, unlike a lot of other books, parts of it stuck with me very vividly.  I recall Peggy going to visit a friend from high school who was part of a very devoutly Jewish family.  He and his wife had (I think) fifteen children.  At the time Peggy was struggling with infertility so they were on very opposite ends of the spectrum.  He explained that he and his wife were just very fertile.  I liked Orenstein's voice and way of relating a story so when I read about this book I put it on my TBR list.  Last week I found it on the shelf at the library!

I have to admit that for years I have hated how some things are marketed just for girls in pink.  If I buy one of those things, like a baseball glove or bat or Nintendo DS of Leapster then I will have to buy another one in a different color because the boys will consider the pink object just for girls.  (Actually in the case of the DS which we do have in pink they boys will play it if theirs isn't charged and hers is, I guess being able to play a game is more important than the color of the player, but in most things the pink is just for girls does hold true in my house.)  When my daughter was small her winter boots were all girly.  The first year they were pink, then purple, then princesses and then I got smart and started thinking about the power of hand me downs and if she didn't fit into a pair we already had I bought gender neutral colors so her two younger brothers could still use them.  Luckily blue is her favorite color so this year when I found blue ones it was like I had done something awesome for her!

The history of how pink came to be for girls and the rise of the princess toys and marketing line was really interesting.  I agree that I do not recall having so much pink and pretty when I was little.  Yes I saw Disney movies but I don't remember them having so many toys associated with them.  When my oldest was around one the movie Finding Nemo came out.  He loved the fish so we went to a museum with aquariums and the pet store.  We even set up an aquarium at home and bought some plush and plastic fish at the Disney Store.  The my daughter came around and if I didn't have her dressed in pink everyone thought she was a boy.  Sometimes even when she was in pink people thought she as a boy when we went out.  Slowly I started to buy more pink to avoid the issue. Just last week my neighbor asked me if she could borrow a red shirt for her daughter for field day because she only seems to own pink and purple.  I wonder a bit if the power of pink has been diminished a bit at our house because of the three boys and because my daughter decided that blue is her favorite color.

The chapter about toddler beauty pageant's was eyeopening.  Toddlers and Tiaras is a show I have avoided on TV.  I just don't want to see that because, as pointed out in the book, how much of that is driven by the girls themselves and how much by their parents, however well meaning they may or may not be?  But then what is the jump from a pageant to dance classes, which my daughter does take?  In dance classes and the dance recital the girls are performing a dance they are not walking and waving and blowing kisses.  They are not being judged in a bathing suit or on their hair and make-up, but is may still be a milder form of the ideas that form a pageant mentality.

When we moved six years ago we decided to not sign up for cable.  For two or three years we had no cable.  I would borrow movies at the library or let the kids watch ones we owned.  We usually skipped all the previews and when the show was over nothing else came on.  There are times that I miss that.  I was able to pick and choose what they were seeing and, by avoiding most commercials, they didn't form long laundry lists of things they wanted.  At the same time when we played with friends I felt like all of us were a bit out of the loop, we hadn't heard about the latest new thing and there started to be gaps in their conversations with friends.  Our decision to get cable had to do with our Internet connection and a bundled deal, but I know that were I to take cable away now it would be a hard adjustment for them.  Avoiding media may work when kids are really young, but at some point in time they need to be taught how to navigate that world not just avoid it.

While i do say no to a lot of toys, some of the ones that Orenstein had issues with or wondered about I said yes to only to have my daughter barely play with.  So instead of making them forbidden, we have them but they didn't hold interest which I then use later when asked for another similar toy.  "You already have X and barely use it so we don't need Y."

As a parent I know I need to keep the lines of communication open with my children and to help them question and put things into perspective.  I dread the day I have to deal with their asking to be on Facebook.  I am fine with their use of the Internet to go to some sites that we have discussed and used together, but I haven't let them do their own searches yet.  I shudder a bit at what they could stumble upon with Innocent words or phrases.

I agree with the synopsis, this is a great book for parents of girls.  It has made me questions so things that I hadn't given all that much thought to.  I do plan on looking into the Grimm's versions of the fairy tales, I think my children will enjoy the different perspective.

Product Details

Pub. Date: January 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Hardcover , 244pp
ISBN-13: 9780061711527
ISBN: 0061711527


Peggy Orenstein is an award-winning writer and speaker on issues affecting girls and women. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and her work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Vogue, Glamour, Mirabella, Details, Elle, Mother Jones, and The New Yorker. Her new book, Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half- Changed World, will be published by Doubleday in May 2000.


  1. I listened to a wonderful interviw with the author on The Diane Rehm Show back in January and I remember thinking this would be a wonderful book for a family who has a daughter.

    Here is the link to the interview if you are interested.

  2. Thanks Ryan. I listend to about half of it the other night. She covers a lot of what is in the book. I had so many thoughts when I read this that it was hard to write the review, part of me almost wanted to do two reviews to contain them all! Thanks for sharing.