“When did every little girl become a princess?” journalist and “girl expert” Peggy Orenstein (Schoolgirls) asks in Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

It’s not a casual question: Orenstein had begun to observe that her young daughter, Daisy, was blithely skipping down the sparkly path of Disney-approved play ideas and high-priced, morally questionable figurines. Orenstein craved a detailed map of that path. So she dove headfirst into the swamp of marketing, science and sociology that makes being a girlie-girl—in all its pink, princessy glory—such an alluring role for females of all ages. If you’re anticipating a screeching rant on how parents have turned their daughters into midriff-bearing fembots, you’re way off. Orenstein refuses to play the blame game. “I am hardly one to judge other mothers’ choices: my own behavior has been hypocritical, inconsistent, even reactionary,” she writes.

More than anything, Orenstein is curious, and her insatiable quest for knowledge—ever the brave soul, she even attends a Miley Cyrus concert—reveals how the imagination of girlhood has been reduced to a troubling, and highly marketed, uniformity. Thanks to the deregulation of children’s television in the 1980s, cartoons now resemble advertisements with plots. Meanwhile, the reason why younger girls have ditched Barbie for Bratz lies in a principle marketers call Kids Getting Older Younger: “Toys and trends start with older children,” Orenstein explains, “but younger ones, trying to be like their big brothers and sisters, quickly adopt them.” Though she investigates many subjects you’ve probably heard too much about—sexting, children’s beauty pageants—Orenstein’s witty, pointed commentary always adds insight and clarity: “There is power—magic—in awareness,” she writes.

Today’s girls walk a perilous tightrope. Can they be feminine without being sexualized? Is it possible to keep their friends while maintaining their own identity and values? Orenstein has given parents invaluable assistance in helping their daughters find their own answers.



 

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