My daughter’s obsession with Cinderella (and all other Princesses) got to a point where I considered extreme action – like take her to a child psychiatrist. She would day dream about Cinderella all day long and when you speak to her all she would talk about is Cinderella. I will sit there and talk to her about something, about anything, and at the end she would look at me with searching eyes and ask, “Mommy, is Cin-llallella real?”. She just turned 4 so this behavior is not uncommon and should not warrant my hysterical reactions, but still, I wonder about the long term consequences of a girl whose idea of beauty is being molded by Disney. The company that produced young girls who went from fun house to bordello, seemingly overnight, like Christina Aguillera, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan (with Miley Cyrus at their heels).
Ok, that might be a really strong statement but you see what I’m getting at and where the crazy worrying mom comes in. I mean, just look at these images. I picture for my daughters the pure and innocence of a Ralph Lauren ad – I would have laughed at myself 20 years ago if I heard that. But now that I have 2 girls, it’s obvious who and what I want to influence my kids.
Before I went knocking on the door of the local child psychiatrist, I turned to Amazon to see if there were books that can give me some guidance. I can’t even remember what I searched for but when the title, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture popped up, I was like, is the universe talking to me or what? This was serious serendipity. I had it sent to my Kindle ASAP.
The writer, Peggy Orenstein, is incredibly witty and insightful. The read was really fun and laugh out loud funny at times. She delves into the world of girls, specifically, commercially marketed products aimed at girls. She deliberates between a Fascist removal of all toys and games deemed “inappropriate” versus giving in in fear of a back lash of addiction caused by oppression. My favorite parts are her dissecting story lines with questionable moral lessons. Ariel, in the Little Mermaid, literally gives up her voice for a man. Cinderella is invisible to all until she is fitted with a glittering ball gown. In the original story book, Cinderella had her cute bird friends peck out the eyes of her step-sisters!!
The biggest question she poses is, how do we define femininity and how do we help our daughters define it for themselves? How do we guide them through the confusing and treacherous labyrinth of sexuality? How do we impart the wisdom that being beautiful for yourself is more important than looking beautiful to please others? And the whole idea of pleasing others is another fuzzy gray area – how much do you do to please others and at what point is that at the peril to one’s self? The biggest question for me is, do I know all of these answers to give to my daughters? I am self assured and I feel good about myself, but I had to navigate a bewildering road to get here. I am not even quite sure how I ended up here so how can I show someone else?
Peggy Orenstein does not have all the answers but she gives food for thought, a starting point with a general direction to head toward rather than a detailed road map. In the end, the answer is common sense and rather simple: everything in moderation and give them unconditional love. Like generations of mothers ahead of us, all we are trying to do is set our children down the clearest and easiest path. But being a woman today, and defining that role, has been tossed up in the air and we don’t yet know how this cookie is going to crumble so unlike generations before us, we have a more complicated job being role models when we aren’t quite sure what this role model looks like ourselves.
The message I got from this book is that the fact that I’m reading this book, the fact that I have stressed so much about this issue, the fact that I am willing to explore these questions for myself as a woman means that my daughters have at least a reliable foundation in me to lead them in the general right direction. Even if I have to be guided by pure instinct at times (but never will my decisions be willy nilly) they will always know that my love for them has nothing to do with what they look like. No matter what. And just as important, their dad has to respect them for who they are and strike a precarious balance of acknowledging their beauty just enough versus not enough. Whew!! That’s way easier said than done!!! And to think, the things we worry about when pregnant is changing diapers and waking up at night.
Just like the need for girlfriends, it is nice to know that there are women like Peggy out there who can give support, even if it is only through a book. Needless to say, this is a worthy read and the perfect book club selection for your mommy group. At Amazon, $12.99 for the Kindle edition and $9.97 for paperback.