Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the Dining Habits of Princesses

Last weekend I finished reading  Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein.

First off, that is an amazing title followed by a somewhat descriptive subtitle: "Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture."

I do not have a daughter.  In fact, something in my gut tells me I might never have a daughter.  I feel like boys are in my future.  Stay tuned to watch me eat those words in a few years.

So why did I pick up this book?  Well, I am a daughter and I do have (currently) one niece by marriage and one niece by best friendship.  And I care about girls, our girls, the generations of sisters were are raising individually and collectively.

And did I mention the awesome title? 

This is not a book about how to raise healthy girls.  It's not a how-to or a "simple solution in three easy steps" book.  This is more like, OMG!!!!! WHAT HAVE WE DONE AND WHAT DO WE DO!?!?!?!?!?

I can get on board with a book like that.

Orenstein (if you use last names you sound academic- btw, if you actually read one of my academic papers, you would not know they were written by the same person; you would probably fall asleep - insomniacs, please contact me for assistance) writes in a informal, "sister friend," fellow commiserating parent, bloggy style.

I can get on board with a book like that as well. 

Side note (we're just full of side notes today), bloggy style?  I didn't know what I was typing until it was out there.  You can't just take something like that back.   

I don't feel like critiquing so here's what I liked about the book. 
  • Orenstein's informal, unassuming style
  • Her recognition of her own limited perspective
  • The information on the EXTENSIVE marketing machine being aimed directly at our children, particularly our daughters, telling them how and with what to play
  • Her self-questioning nature and willingness to say, "maybe I'm completely wrong about this..."
  • It's not a scholarly article, so it is not researched ad nauseum but several experts from a variety of perspectives are interviewed
  • It affirmed what I already thought (just being honest here folks)
  • She places the development of the "girlie-girl" culture in historical, sociological, and psychological context
  • It's a "small sample group" as the critics say, but it is also part memoir (I think) so get over it, it makes it more interesting
  • Orenstein's approach reminds me a lot about how I was raised, except my mom had fewer and less intrusive outside influences to battle in the 80s - internet?  what's an internet?
  • It seems like a jumping off point for future inquiry - the data is just now beginning to come in
Orenstein grew up in the 1970s, she's raising her daughter in the beginning of the 21st century.  I grew up in the in-between time that she just touches on, the 1980s and early 1990s, when girlie-girl marketing was limited to Rainbow Brite, Care Bears, My Little Pony, and Barbie; still very girlie-girl but hardly the hyper-sexualized Bratz dolls or the over-marketed Disney princesses.  Orenstein writes about the evolution of the Disney Princess brand since 2000 - fascinating stuff - as well as the American Girl dolls (I own ALL of the historical dolls and plan to pass them down one day but they are the original Pleasant Company dolls, not the Mattel version...I might be a little bit proud of that).  She writes about Spice Girls and Barbie and Bratz and Britney and Hannah Montana and the color pink.  She writes about the Disney princess stories and the Brothers Grimm and ancient folklore.  She writes about social networking and blogs, how we live our lives as performance, always thinking about how to capture the current moment in a tweet or update or blog post rather than just living the moment itself, and how that effects our girls as they enter their "tween" (a term developed by marketers) and teen years. 

Did you know that the developmental stage known as "toddler" was created by retailers?  They were trying to figure out how to get parents to buy new stuff for their kids between their baby stage and their kid stage.  Enter the toddler stage - a whole new demographic for which to purchase.  An interesting tidbit from Ms. Orenstein.

I agree with critics that it seems to end too soon, I wanted just a little bit more of a wrap-up, some "parting wisdom" to take on the road, but it's an interesting book, especially if you are raising girls, are a girl, teach girls, or wonder about girls, and a great way to start the conversation or perhaps move it forward.

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