Peggy Orenstein: Cinderella Ate My Daughter (2011)

An intelligent, candid, and often personal work, Cinderella Ate My Daughter offers an important exploration of the burgeoning girlie-girl culture and what it could mean for our daughters’ identities and their futures.

What happens when a feminist who knows exactly how things should be, gets pregnant and the child is – horror on horror – a girl? This is pretty much how Peggy Orenstein opens her entertaining, thought-provoking and occasionally quite shocking account about what she sub-titles “Dispatches from the front-lines of the new girlie-girl culture”.

In Cinderella Ate my Daughter she explores the world of toys, kid’s beauty pageants, the color pink, superhero figures, fairy tales, the internet and so on and so forth. It is at the same time a cultural exploration as a reflection on how to bring up a daughter. How much can you allow, how well can you shield her from the influences around her and what if you succeed and she will forever be a boyish girl, the odd one out?

A lot of what Peggy Orenstein describes is certainly very American. I have seen items of the Disney Princesses’ brand but never to the extent she describes. The Disney Princesses are a marketing strategy that exploited little girls’ wish to look and dress up like a princess. The main problem, so Orenstein, is the focus on cuteness and looks only. What is also problematic is the fact that, although there are several princesses, they are never found to interact and on pictures showing them together, they all look into different directions.

Orenstein finally had to give in and let her daughter dress up as a princess but she stayed firm when it came to sexualized toys like the Bratz doll. She also explores at length how  even little girls are dressed in more and more sexy ways. Once more it is all about looks and not about feeling. The girls should look sexy but not feel it (of course not, they are only little girls), only if this is a behaviour they learn at a young age, how will they un-learn it?

The chapter on beauty pageants is one of the most controversial. Orenstein showed how confusing it was to speak with the families, to see how much the girls enjoyed it and she wondered finally if it was really all that damaging.

The chapter on pink was an interesting one and I liked how she described that this is rather a new phenomenon. Only a couple of decades back, pink wasn’t so important. Once more there is a marketing strategy behind it. If boys and girls are the same, you sell far less toys. Just imagine, a family has a boy and a girl, they wouldn’t need to buy special boy and girl toys, if there were no differences. Of course, it is more complicated than that, I simplify.

I never expected, when I had a daughter, that one of my most important jobs would be to protect her childhood for becoming a marketers’ land grab.

The chapter Wholesome to Whoresome was another fascinating part. Reading about the case of Miley Cyrus and other girl stars who seem to cross the border from cute child to slut in an instance and how this not only damages their self-esteem but confuses the fans is enlightening. Those girls have to be cute and sexy at a young age but as soon as they become teenagers the problems starts. They should be virginal but they can’t. Britney Spears is another sad example.

I found one of the last chapters on social media and virtual friendships called Just Between You and Me and My 662 BFFs extremely worrying. The umber of so-called friends on Facebook and the like indicates the popularity of a girl. At the same time, all their fears and weaknesses are exposed to the whole world at an age when they can hardly handle it.

The self, Manago (a researcher at the Children’s Digital Media Center in LA) said, becomes a brand, something to be marketed to others rather than developed from within. Instead of intimates with whom you interact for the sake of exchange, friends become your consumers, an audience for whom you perform.

According to Orenstein, recent research has shown, that there is an alarming rise in narcissistic tendencies among young adults as social media encourages self-promotion over self-awareness.

What I liked a lot is how honest Orenstein is about finding out how nice things are in theory and how super difficult and different things get when you face them in real life. Still, she concludes, it is vital, not to let go, to talk to the girls, ask them questions, guide them and to look for role models they can identify with and that will help them develop a strong sense of their self as beings and not as products.

I won’t lie: it takes work to find other options, and if you are anything like me, your life is already brimful with demands.

It is amazing that in all her sorting out of children’s books, cartoons for girls, fairy tales and movies there was only one director in whose films  there are female protagonists who are

refreshingly free of agenda, neither hyperfeminine nor drearily feminist. They simply happen to be girls, as organically as, in other director’s films, they happen to be boys.

The man she is speaking of is Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki who signed such fantastic movies as Laputa: The Castle in the Sky or Kiki’s Delivery Service.

I discovered the book on Fence’s blog. Here is her review.

If you want to know more about Peggy Orenstein and her books you should visit her website Peggy Orenstein.

43 thoughts on “Peggy Orenstein: Cinderella Ate My Daughter (2011)

    • Oh my, thanks for telling me. I did assume the same, as you can deduce from my post… I have never seen a Bratz doll here and the beauty pageants also seem rather American…

      • Thinking about it though, I don’t think that the Bratz dolls are any worse than Barbies were with their ginormous breasts and tiny waists. I do think that beauty pageants are creepy and demeaning though.

        I agree with Orenstein that Miyazaki’s films are amazing. The older Disney princesses made poor role models because they either sat around and waited to be rescued or acted like spoiled brats. I think that Belle is the exception, as she was the nerd that rejected the guy whom everyone thought was hot and actually lived according to her own beliefs.

        • I thought the barbie has been chnaged quite a bit, deducing from what she writes. Rounder face, less breast… I think the Bratz doll is an exaggeration of the Barbie. With theses enormous lips, but, I agree, the Barbie sure contributed to a lot of damage too.
          I haven’t seen all the Disney movies but I think it’s interesting that she couldn’t come up with valuable US or European children’s movies.

  1. I agree that the current culture is guilty of oversexualising children, girls in particular, from way too young. But these sorts of books always make me fear that some sort of golden nostalgia for the good old days is being promoted implicitly. When girls were forced to be entirely divorced from their sexuality if they were to grow up respectable and middle-class. And any relationship they had would tarnish them if it didn’t end in marriage. I’m not for one second agreeing that it’s fine to encourage girls into developing way too fast. I guess what I think is that at basis, commercialism is to blame, and how will we ever get a grip on the money-making enterprises and make them behave ethically? Ethics and capitalism are usually strenuously opposed to one another. Oh don’t mind me, I seem to keep leaving grumpy comments around the internet today. I’ll come back with a better attitude tomorrow! 🙂

    • I don’t think you are grumpy but maybe I didn’t write my post so well. She is far from being nostalgic and deplores only that consumerism favours an unhealthy trend. The examples she quotes are 4-5 years old showing their belly and wearing sexy shorts and such things. She is all about healthy relationships and sexuality. A down to earth woman and feminist who had to realize that the theories in her head were not always what her daughter wanted. And take a look at those Bratz dolls… I hadn’t even known they existed before Danielle mentioned them.

      • This sounds as though it’s very interesting book but not something I’d read. I think beauty pageants (for all ages) are appalling. I am especially amused by the ones that argue for the intellectual side of the contestants while they wear bathing suits and parade around.

        Have you seen Little Miss Sunshine? It’s hilarious.

        • I found it fascinating, some things sounded familar, a lot is worse nowadays. Oh yes, Little Miss Sunshine is hilarious. Beauty pageants are absolutely horrible. For men and women. The little girls are the worst though. It is fascinating hearing someone talking about the way they want to change the world and wearing a bikini.
          I found the chapter on social media worrying. Hearing kids say, and mean it, that they have 400 or more friends is alarming.

  2. I’ve been wondering about this for a while too, Caroline. Beauty pageants for little girls should be banned, in my opinion. I thought the death of Jon Benet Ramsey would put an end to them. Children aren’t equipped to deal with that kind of rejection (a lot of adults aren’t either) and this sets them up for failure at a tender age. Where’s the good in that? Let them learn about rejection when they’re more mature and able to handle it.

    The pink/blue thing has been going on in the U.S. for decades. Sadly, it’s OK for girls to wear blue, but boys can NOT be seen in pink. Men will occasionally wear pink shirts or ties, but that’s it. A Gap designer painted her little boy’s nails pink in an ad photo and it caused quite a stir. Some even suggested that she was making him transgendered. If you go to a baby shower here, the rule is strict: blue is for boys, pink is for girls. If you don’t know the baby’s sex, yellow or green will do.

    • I agree, those beauty pageants are certainly not good but I could understand Orenstein’s confusion and found it good that she admitted it. She wouldn’t send her daughter but she wrote that when you saw the fun the girls had it seemed difficult to be so strict. I have a hard time imagining children wanting this without being pushed by their parents and that seems very wrong.
      Orenstein alos explores how children whose parents are open minded and dress them in the “wrong” colors might get ostracized by their peers. But It’s really a phenomenon while some things that seem typical for boys can be acceptable for girls but not the other way around. Girls may learn to drill but no boys should start knitting. So yellow and green are neutral colors? I always here from friends with kids how hard it is to find other colors than pink for girls. For me the picture I attached was so amazing.

  3. It is a fascinating read isn’t it? There is so much going on in marketing etc and stuff that you’d never really think about until someone points it out.

    The social networking stuff is worrying, because as well as everything else, it seems as thought people’s mistakes as a child & teenager can live on forever on faceboook, youtube, or whatever.

    • It is fascinating and I’m glad I found it on your blog. It’s totally different from Banyard and, I guess, from Cordelia Fine which is the next I want to read, unless I squeeze in “Packaging Girlhood” first. I thought she was very honest in talking about her own difficulties. I tend to forget that once you have a little kid and go to a shop with them, they see it all and want it. A 3 year old cannot understand why all these things could be bad for her… Quite a challenge.
      It’s true, what you write about the socila networking, once something is “out there” it stays there forever. Scary.

  4. Of course I want to read this. You already know what I think. It’s awfully difficult not to dress a little girl in pink and avoid “pouffe” – sorry I don’t know the English for that, slut? – clothes without dressing them like bourgeois from the 50es (le look Triplés)
    Little Miss Sunshine was hilarious. Have you seen Bend it Like Beckham? Very interesting too.
    Children are smarter than we think. My daughter had princess dresses but now she’s not that much interested in clothes. However, I always refused to buy make up for her. (she asked for a gloss just a few days ago and I said no)
    Oddly, I’m more worried about my son. I think that he has more pressure about what is suitable for boys than she hears limitations because she’s a girl.
    And yes, I can confirm. Raising them and avoid sexist toys, behaviours and comments is easier said than done.

    • I was thinking of you the whole time while I was reading it (believe it or not, your the only woman I know with a girl in Orenstein’s daughters age. Most of my friends either have no children or boys) and felt like asking “Is that really so, in France as well?”. How about those Bratz dolls, I’ve never seen them here, maybe I didn’t pay attention. And the beauty pageants for little ones?
      Orenstein described nicely how her daughter moved away from the princess outfits and started at, 5 or 6 to understand why she shouldn’t only think about her looks.
      I have seen Bend it Like Beckham and loved it.
      I understand what you say about your son. It’s also difficult and there are more limitations which is really quite revealing. At the end of the day it means that being what our culture calls “masculine” is more acceptable than the feminine since a woman with interests in “masculine” things is more acceptable than a feminine man. Or something like that. Bah…

      • Sorry for the slow answer. You could have asked, that’s the interest of blogging too.

        I downloaded it and started to read it. I’m at 27% (Kindle) : things aren’t exactly the same here. But the experience tells that what happens in America inevitably happens here too.

        Review next week of the week after. Something tells me it’s going to be more personal than the usual.

        PS : Beauty pageants aren’t a problem to me. It’s so vulgar and exaggerated that it’s easy to identify as wrong or abnormal. For me it’s in the same bag as parents forcing their child to learn piano at five to train him/her to be a concertist or imposing tennis lessons in the idea to win Roland Garros one day.
        I’m more concerned about insidious things which seem normal.

        • I’m really looking forward to your review and also hope it will be personal, because I do have questions. It will always stay quite abstract from my side as I have no children and most of my friends don’t have any. I was hoping that a lot was purely American but it’s unfortunately true that many things arrive here sooner or later.
          I realized that I had bought another one which I’m really looking forward to reading and that she does mention too “Packaging Girlhood”. It seems to be a bit denser in terms of theory.
          It’s true about the pageants versus insidious things…

            • A little bit like we did in the Dune readalong? But would you limit your review to my questions?
              We could try it, yes. I will aim at sending them before the end of next week, and then you will decide how much more you will add… I’ll write them in English directly, which will save double-translation, OK?

  5. I don’t understand is she saying being a girlie-girl is bad or anti-feminist? I agree about the horror of beauty pageants and the over sexualized dance routines I’ve seen kids dance. The purity of the the child is destroyed… I mean fishnet stockings on a six-year-old? How sad.

    • She doesn’t label it as bad she says it seems to be the only option and that is bad. Everything is going into that direction. The toys and the fashion… She also describes the faces of the Disney Princesses and how they are changed to all look the same type of cute, and other dolls as well. I think that is the issue she has. She also writes how some of the girls in the oageants are not really pretty but trimmed to look that type of cute with enormous amount of glitter and make-up. They look like parodies. But the major problem is that girlie-girl goes hand in hand with looking sexy. It’s shocking, yes, a little one in fishnet stockings.

  6. Ow…I love this post!!! there are so much truth in it!!

    The author trully potrayed what had been happening in the world. There are just too many bad things disquise as if they were good that can damage the soul of our children.

    The pink thing has also become ‘tradition’ in my country. I am a boyish type so pageant always confuses me. Whenever I saw a pageant near the place I work all I can do is shake my head. Those cute little girls are dressed in the sexiest possible…they only make me sad. This little already dress like a slut, hope she won’t turn into one once she grew up.

    Two thumbs up for mentioning Hayao Miyazaki…the reason why I love Ghibli so much is because the characters are all human, even the ones in animal shape are still human.

    • I’m glad you like it. She does put the finger on a lot of problematic things but without being moralizing, she shows the conflicts, the confusio. I liked that she admitted that she doesn’t always have the best answer but also that she said “No matter, how busy we are, we should always make an effort for the children.”
      I’m amazed that pink is alos an issue in Indonesia.
      She said that one of the biggest problems was that the kids grow up earlier but that doesn’t mean they are mature, it is as if an important step was skipped.
      If looking sexy becomes a standard what will this mean for people’s behaviour and since people always want to overstep borders…
      I really liked that she mentioned Miyazaki. You are so right about the animals, I like this so much as well. In his movies every being is depicted like a person in her own right.

  7. This sounds like a fascinating study. One of my friends is having a baby girl this September and he is adamant now that she will not watch any Disney movies and won’t be a princess. I wonder how long he’ll last. It seems in America most little girls and boys are influenced by Disney and other popular marketing ploys that try to tell them how to act. I am shocked how “sexy” some girls start dressing at such an early age. I think I am really starting to show my age. I just don’t get it. But I’ve always been a t shirt and shorts or jeans person. Everyone has their own style, but I do think that some young girls are influenced to dress in certain ways. Such a difficult subject. Hard to determine where the line is and where the blame is.

    • It’s hard too because there are social implications for kids if they don’t get to watch certain types of movies or dress in certain ways. Grade-school kids can be really mean about stuff like that.

      • Kids can be brutal. There is so much pressure to fit in. I know for me it wasn’t until college when I felt that a lot of this pressure melted away and people started to accept everyone for their quirks.

      • This really is the reason that makes many parents give in. Peer pressure shouldn’t be underestimated. Being ostracized is hard. Especially for the very little ones.
        They found out that little children don’t care about color but as soon as they go to school, or even before, the others will tell them the color they wear or the toys they use are “wrong”.

    • TBM, Orenstein seems to have been exactly like your friend but had to give in. They child could so not grasp why she said no and peer pressure is extreme.
      I’m much more aware of this sexy dressing up of little girls since I read Kat Banyard’s and this book. But parents should also be more responsible. Dressing up as a princess may not be great but it isn’t as bad as looking like a mini-hooker. Parents could say no to that.
      Our society shows such a weird way of being permissive and prejudiced at the same time. Little girls should look like mini-prostitutes but sex before the marriage is bad….

  8. I am curious to see how long my friend will last. Unless you home school your child you can’t keep them out of the “in” things. But even if you do home school your child it is still important for your child to have friends and contact with the outside world.

    The dressing like mini-hookers is quite an issue. I agree that parents should be more involved with this issue. But that is easy for me to say since I am not a parent.

    And the mixed messages for men and women in this world are over the top. I think a lot of people are confused.

    • Orenstein had a funny expression, she said it’s hard to find the balance between allowing everything and going all-Amish on your child. She is so right. They still have to live in this world and know how to deal with it.
      Iknow parenst who don’t allow PCs, TV, McDonalds…
      Those beauty pageants are also something I don’t understand.
      If a twenty year old wants to participate, OK, be it but not a little girl. And it seesm as if it was a total rip-off. they have to pay so much to participate that winning occasionally doesn’t cover the expenses.

  9. The beauty pageants are something I cannot get my head around. I just don’t understand the parents who think it is a good thing to put their child through. But I am not a big one for pushing your child into certain tendencies. All of us are different and all of us should choose what we like and what we want to do.

    If I was a parent I wouldn’t want my kid to watch TV and have a computer. But it goes back to Orenstein…how far do you go? Amish? Overprotective? And if you are too overprotective will your kid rebel completely. So hard to decide. I’m glad I don’t have to make these decisions.

    • Everything is so linked, no matter how well you do it, there are so many influences from outside and children are very different. I think you should allow them to develop their personalities but what if that means they want to do something you can’t approve of. I’m glad as well for not having to make the decisions and I also agree with Emma, it isn’t necessarily easier when you have a boy.

  10. I agree with you and Emma, boys don’t have it any easier. And in some ways I think they are worse off since if they try to discuss their feelings or show feelings they are viewed as unmanly. But on the other hand, the women in their lives get mad when they can’t talk about their feelings. What a mixed message.

    It would be so hard to watch your child grow into something you can’t support or agree with. I feel for parents. It is not a job I want. I know that for most it is one of the most rewarding experiences and I cheer for all parents in this world to succeed and to enjoy.

    • It is a mixed message. In general, as I said ianother comment, I think it’s all down to the fact that the society as a whole values so-called masculine traits more than feminine ones… This division shouldn’t even exist to start with. There shouldn’t be any gender-bound values at all.

  11. It’s fun reading all the comments here.

    Fortunately, the mini-hookers aren’t a lot in my country (but it starting to become more and more, especially in big city). Like TBM said, Home Schooling is not the answer. I have seen many selfish kids come from homeschooling because they never interact with other kids.

    I think the key is in the parents themselves. If parents can taught their daughters well since they are little…what happened in school will not affect them much. If the parents had dress their girls as sexy as possible since 3 years old, don’t be surprised they will wear sexy outfit when they turn teenager.
    My big brother has put hijab (veil) on his daughters since they were babies…and now my teenange niece is still wearing long skirt and veil. What I am trying to say is parents play the biggest part here.

    • I agree with you but I think in Europe and the US we also see the opposite, parents being too strict and forcing their children into acting out. It depends on the country and culture you live in a lot. There is much more confusion over values and rules in Western societies.
      Maybe homeschooling would be ok if you have more than one child.
      I think however sheltering children from the society cannot be the answer.

  12. This sounds really good. I have to admit I am sort of glad I didn’t have children as the world seems to complicated now (maybe it has always been complicated, though, when raising children), since there is such an abundance of things-to buy, to wear, to want. I sometimes think we almost have too many choices in certain areas–and is so much stuff really necessary (look at all those pink toys!). My niece always loved all those girly things–make up for kids and plastic heels, nail polish and Bratz dolls, which would always make me cringe, but she is really very well grounded, a good student and not into all that stuff so much anymore–her parents have done a good job of letting her have certain things, not making it all into a big deal and then she has just grown out of a lot of it. I think sometimes it is not so easy though.

    • I am glad too, let’s say, not glad because that sounds as if it happened it was a deliberate choice and has always been. At the age of 12 I already knew I don’t want any children of my own. Adoption is and has always been an option.
      I found the photo really astonishing, I mean look at the mass…
      Speak a bout necessary… Of course not. And it’s such cheap stuff, plastic and such, not even nice to the touch. It is sad really.
      Orenstein also pointed out how the kids follow a given story when playing, they don’t make up much, don’t use their imagination.
      I don’t know whether your niece is typical. I think her parents adopted a good way. I think I would also be rather permissive but forbid things that I think harmful.

    • I love the color pink. I just think it’s problematic when you are not given a choice and when people start to believe that you, me or anyone likes pink because we are women.

  13. Pingback: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein « Book Around The Corner

  14. Pingback: Best and Worst Books 2011 « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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