I couldn’t wait to read Peggy Orenstein’s book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I’ve long enjoyed Orenstein’s New York Times columns, mostly about girls, and I have sometimes mused of my other big career goal (unfulfilled) to be a Disney World princess. At this rate I might be able to snag the evil stepmother, but it is definitely the career that got away. And I’m sure Cinderella ate me, too so I wanted to learn how badly my life had turned out because of it.
Chrissy, (my best friend as a pre-teen) and I used to raid my mom’s makeup drawer and play Miss America all summer long. I would win, then she would win, and we’d each make tearful acceptance speeches thanking our moms and dads while waving into the make-believe TV camera. (Hey, speech practice is speech practice!)
Maybe today’s young girls have authentic princess costumes from the Disney store, but Chrissy and I wore out our mother’s nightgowns and high heels prancing around waiting for Prince Charming to rescue us back in the 1970s.
But Orenstein warns that all of this prancing is at the peril of true womanhood.
She describes the moment when Disney executive Andy Mooney went to see a “Disney on Ice” show and noticed little girls in princess costumes. Princess costumes that were — egads — homemade. The next day he called together his team and they developed the “Princess” line. 26,000 princess products and more than $4 billion in sales are the result of Mooney’s “Disney on Ice” observation.
The complete Disney princess line post-dates my daughter’s interest in playing make-believe, but there were still plenty of products produced by Disney and other companies to assist her in her quest to dress up and pretend to be royal. I remember purchasing my daughter Emi (now almost sixteen) plenty American Girl Doll dolls, accessories and clothing so she could dress like one of her dolls. We even had lunch at the American Girl Place in New York while Emi’s doll had her hair styled (it looked really great). As Orenstein points out, the American Doll phenomenon may look like a more attractive and educational option than the pink infused Disney items, but the trap that “shopping is the path to intimacy” for mothers and daughters, is the drawback.
Emi remembers that while I would buy her the princess dress she wanted for Halloween–she was Jasmine, Belle, Cinderella, Jessie and Snow White–all from Disney–I refused to buy the accessories. She had to “develop” the rest of the look on her own.
That’s the real part of the princess empire that bothers me. Ready-made princess get-ups do not usurp our daughter’s feminism, they rob them of imagination.
In her book, Orenstein takes the reader through her own mental anguish as a mother of a her princess obsessed little girl, Daisy. She describes a pink revolution of everything under the sun–including a pink Scrabble game with the word FASHION on the cover–to prove that anything that could be “princess-ized” has been.
Frankly, make-believe Cinderella seemed a lot more fun than Cinderella-in-a-box. Maybe the real villain isn’t the color pink or the fantasy it represents but the lack of creativity required when you buy a ready-made princess get up or an American girl doll and every possible accessory that could be thought of (and charged for) to go with it.
Alas, Orensteins book ends without a strong stance or solution. She’s not really against pink or princesses or princes or even American Girl dolls. No surprise that at the end of the book the reader realizes that it is up to parents to help children separate truth from lies, good from bad, princesses from real life while still giving them room to develop vivid imaginations. I didn’t expect Orenstein to have the answer, but I did enjoy her lamentations as a parent.
My take-away from the book?
Save your money, parents. To cultivate our children’s imaginations, less pay means more play.