Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl CultureCinderella Ate My Daughter
by Peggy Orenstein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cinderella Ate My Daughter / 978-0-061-71152-7

For people interested in gender politics and how they play out in advertising aimed at young girls in America, this book is an absolute delight to read. Author Orenstein examines everything from Disney Princess merchandise, American Girls dolls, the "Twilight" phenomena, Miley Cyrus (and all the "innocent-but-sexy" singers and actresses that have come before her, and will come after her yet), pageant culture, and Facebook - all through the dual lens of her own experiences as a mother and her own research as a journalist.

"Cinderella Ate My Daughter" is wonderfully written - both informative and interesting. The author has a wonderful sense of when to intersperse daily anecdotes from her own life into the meticulous studies she references and the experts she quotes. This is anything but a "fluff" book - there's so much information compiled here and it's presented in an imminently easy-to-digest format. Looking back on this book, dozens of fascinating facts leap to my mind - such as the evidence that dolls were in low vogue among girls in the late 1800's, until President Roosevelt warned the country against declining Anglo-Saxon birth rates and suddenly the race was on to prepare (certain kinds of) girls to be 'good American mothers'. Then there's the chapter about mixed-gender play and how to understand the difference between boys and girls playing WITH each other and them playing NEAR each other (and how to encourage the latter to blossom into the former). Especially impressive in this book is how the author always tries to give the opposition a fair say, even while making it clear where she falls on the spectrum - everything comes across as highly informative and extremely fair-spoken.

One thing I particularly liked about this book is how fallible-as-a-mother Orenstein is willing to be, and how kind and fair-minded she is towards the other parents in the book. She seems to really understand how difficult it is to meld high-minded principles with day-to-day parenting (for instance, in explaining WHY a Bratz doll is "inappropriate" to her 5-year-old, she's frustrated that the very CONCEPT of the inappropriateness of a "sexy" doll isn't something she wanted to get into just yet!), and I really respect that there is pretty much zero "parent bashing" here. When the author explores the "American Girls" dolls (a marketing line that she readily admits is out of the budgets of most parents and thus constitutes a minority of American girls being able to even afford the dolls), it would be easy to decry all the money "wastefully" spent on the extravagant doll clothes, but she doesn't. Even the pageant chapter is tactfully and thoughtfully written - Orenstein seems fully aware that "parent bashing" only helps to blind us to the other forms of marketing and expression that are targeted to our girls (i.e., "Sure my daughter wears a Cinderella bridal veil to kindergarten every day, but at least I don't let her dress like JonBenet!"), and so instead she uses the pageant concept to draw parallels, not to cast judgment.

I also want to note that this book struck me as very HAES-friendly and extremely insightful on how to encourage healthy body-image in young daughters - several of the experts that Orenstein quotes hit the nail on the head, I think, on the best hows-and-whens to tell your daughter that she's beautiful, and how to link that "beauty" to inner character rather than outer trappings.

For people who are interested in gender studies and girl-aimed marketing, I feel like this is a wonderful book to read. The book is easy to digest, and hard to put down - I read the whole book in two days, largely because I just didn't want to stop. Most of all, I appreciate that the author understands that the issues of gender politics and how they affect our young daughters are *complicated*, and while she tries to offer her own solutions at the end, she never sounds preachy, know-it-all, or "my way is the right way" - I think, largely because she gets that a complicated issue like this doesn't have one, pithy solution that can be easily summed up on a bumper sticker.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

~ Ana Mardoll

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