Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters' lives from infancy onward, telling them that their image is more important than their essence—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—officially-licensed tiaras, pink soccer balls, "bootylicious" fashion dolls, steamy music videos—has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.
But, realistically, how many times can a parent say no when her daughter begs for a pink tulle princess dress, a makeover birthday party, 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. It's adorable watching them pretend to be Snow White or Ariel, innocent and pure, safe from the dangers of the grown-up world. And eventually they grow out of it.
Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Is today's little princess going to be tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she is? Does that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it? And what are parents supposed to do to avoid all this, move to Sweden, where marketing to children under 12 is illegal?
Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, an acclaimed journalist and the mother of a daughter, and so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, met the parents of preschoolers tricked out like Las Vegas showgirls at beauty pageants and watched Miley Cyrus prance across a concert stage. She dissected science and pop culture, created an avatar online, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes in this culture war turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, self-esteem, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to a rise in depression to chronic self-absorption, 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.
Thoughtful, entertaining, provocative, and compelling, Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone who cares about girls, and essential reading for parents helping their daughters navigate the rocky road to adulthood.