Photo Credit: HarperCollins
Peggy Orenstein's breaking point happened at the dentist's office. When the doctor turned to her then-3-year-old daughter and asked, "Would you like to sit in my special princess throne so I can sparkle your teeth?" Orenstein snapped.
"Oh, for God's sake!" she admits to crying out, "Do you have a princess drill too?"
It wasn't the dentist's fault, really; more of a reaction to the princess- and pink-obsessed culture that had Orenstein stewing for some time. And after the responses of relief (and occasional contempt) to a piece she wrote for The New York Times, she knew she was on to something. So she penned Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture as a rallying cry for parents conflicted over the seemingly premature sexualization of our daughters. She recently took spoke with iVillage about the book, playtime alternatives and what she thinks of real-life princess Kate Middleton.
You've been doing a lot of publicity. Are you experiencing a backlash a la Tiger Mother, with people suggesting you hate princesses?
Nobody who says that has actually read even the flap copy! I've gotten some tweets like "Cinderella is fun!" I got something on Facebook on my fan page that said, "There’s nothing wrong with playing with dolls!"
But I've been stunned and overwhelmed by the other direction -- by how many people feel like I've touched a nerve, and that they've been wrestling with this culture that is pushing girls to define themselves through beauty and play-sexiness at ever-younger ages. It's been really gratifying -- although a little scary -- to find out how many mothers in particular, but fathers too, are really concerned and at wit's end about how to help their daughter navigate through all this and have a healthy sense of body and sexuality and not grow up to be some Kardashian or Paris Hilton.
What sparked the idea for the book?
I originally just wanted to find out what the princess thing was about. I wasn't necessarily against it. I thought, "Is this protecting girls from premature sexualization or is it priming them for it?" I think it does actually start to encourage girls onto a path of defining themselves from the outside, of defining themselves through appearance and ultimately, a very narrow vision of appearance -- not just the fairest of them all, but the hottest of them all -- and that that message of pink-innocence-fun, this-is-just what-girls-do pretty quickly becomes something else.
Can you teach a young girl to be skeptical of girlie-girl culture?
That's why I gave the book that sort of funny, crazy title. I wanted to indicate that you have to fight fun with fun. On one hand, I said no and sometimes saying no was really hard. We did not have anything with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty… Some of the things infiltrated, but we really kept it to a minimum and sometimes that really bummed her out. Not overindulging in it is step one, but that said, what I suddenly recognized as I was parenting was that you cannot convince your daughter she has more choices by constantly saying no to her. So you actually have to do the legwork -- and I hate to say it because I know how busy everyone is -- to find fun alternatives.