Our Daughters: Cinderella Ate My Daughter!

Q & A with Bestselling Author & Girl Shero Peggy Orenstein

"If looking in the mirror and asking, “Who is the Fairest of them All” at three years old helped them attain a healthier body image, shielded them from eating disorders, gave them healthy perspective on their appearance, reduced their obsession with it... I’d be all over it... but it just doesn’t. It’s a really damaging paradox: girls are told that the thing that makes them girls is the obsession with appearance, but that that appearance is never good enough. Most of us lived that. None of us want that for our daughters." - Peggy Orenstein

Do you have or know a young girl obsessed with princess culture? A girl who, despite your best efforts to raise her to be strong and independent, suddenly insists on growing up to be Snow White?

Journalist and bestselling author Peggy Orenstein is back with Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie Girl Culture, a whipsmart, funny new book that explores the challenge of parenting in a culture determined to sexualize and sell to girls from the youngest ages. What are girls learning, and what can we do about it? Read on.

RS: Why did you decide to write a book about girls and princess culture?

PO: The short answer is: I had a daughter. Until then I was blissfully unaware of how gendered, hyper-sexualized and appearance-focused the culture of even the tiniest girls has become. The Princesses had sort of blindsided me. We didn’t have the products in the house. I had never even heard of Disney Princesses (because, it turned out, the Princess concept didn’t even begin until 2001).

But within a few weeks of starting preschool Daisy suddenly knew every one of the Princess’s names and gown colors as if by osmosis. So Princess obsession marked her first real foray into mainstream culture. And what did that culture tell her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girl wants—or should want—to be the Fairest of Them All.

And so while you may say, well, what’s the big deal about Cinderella at three years old, you’ve then got the lip smackers collection at 4 years, Monster High Dolls at 6, America’s Top Model at 9… girls are put into this little pink box at ever-younger ages. So while I’d always been interested in teenage girls, I had always written about teenage girls, but I realized all those things we have concerns about, the risks linked to premature sexualization and obsession with appearance—depression, negative body image, eating disorders, poor sexual choices—do not just spring forth when a girl blows out the candles on her 13th birthday cake.

Right now, for instance, Daisy, who is 7, is really into Mad Libs, so we were at our local independent book store in Berkeley and what do they have? PINK Mad Libs. On pink paper. And the topics of the little stories were, I kid you not, “The Perfect Makeover,” “The Cutest Boy in Class,” “A Trip to the Mall…”

I mean, HONESTLY!

Can girls be convinced to look at Disney with a wary eye, or is this a lost cause?

Not when they’re little. A 3-year-old can’t understand your brilliant deconstruction of a sales pitch. The only thing that penetrates is PRINCESSES and TOOTHPASTE TUBE.

But just saying “no” all the time is a trap too, because it’s hard to convince your daughter that you’re trying to offer her more choices when you keep limiting what she can have. So it’s really important to provide her with equally fun alternatives that satisfy that preschooler need to assert your gender.

That means, I’m afraid, that I’m telling parents they have to do some work. I hate to do that, because I’m a mom and I’m exhausted and frankly, it would be a lot easier to just let her have the spa birthday party. But if it’s any comfort, I get a lot out of looking for books, movies, toys and such that we both can embrace. Plus, I’ve noticed this interesting thing just recently. The toys that kids are “supposed” to play with are time bound. They know EXACTLY when they’re supposed to grow out of Disney Princesses and after the stroke of midnight on that day, they will NOT touch those gowns. Same with Barbie or Bratz or any of that stuff.

But I got Daisy these Papo figurines of kings, queens, fairies, Joan of Arc — this whole array of characters. They were $5 each, cheaper than most Barbie or Disney Princess junk (and God knows, American Girl). And they aren’t licensed out as breakfast cereal. They just are what they are. So she doesn’t know when she’s supposed to grow out of them. Therefore, she has played with them every day since she was three. And she’s still going strong using her true imagination with them. Best $50 I ever spent.

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Take Action: Stop PG-13 Blockbusters from Targeting Preschoolers

Stop PG-13 Blockbusters from Targeting Preschoolers

In response to a complaint filed by CCFC in 2007, the Federal Trade Commission urged the Motion Picture Association of America—the self-regulating body of Hollywood movie studios that administers film ratings in the United States—to develop a policy to “ensure that PG-13 movies are not marketed in a manner inconsistent with their rating.” Sixteen months later, the MPAA has not honored that request, and children’s television stations continue to barrage young viewers with ads for violent PG-13 movies and their related merchandise. The PG-13 rating bears the warning “Parents strongly cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.”

Like other PG-13 blockbusters premiering this summer, the upcoming GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, based on the Hasbro action figure, promises viewers no shortage of bombs, bullets, and destruction — and another explosion of marketing that targets children. GI Joe is rated PG-13 for “strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout.” Since March, over 3,000 ads have aired on children’s television for violent PG-13 films as well as their licensed toy and fast food promotions.

Read more and take action at Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

President Obama Worries About Commercialism of Childhood Too!

President Obama is a Parent Too
By The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

“I worry that even if Michelle and I do our best to impart what we think are important values to our children, the media out there will undermine our lessons and teach them something different.” -President Barack Obama

For those of us concerned about the commercialism of childhood, it’s a boon to have a president who is raising young children. Like parents everywhere, President Obama worries about the steady stream of commercial messages that sexualize children, glorify violence, promote unhealthy eating, and encourage materialism. Indeed, the President has observed that the media and marketing industries have contributed to an “overall coarsening of our culture” and has expressed concerns about the content of ads during children’s shows and family programming. (We wonder if he saw Burger King’s infamous SpongeBob SquareButts ad.) That’s why we’re launching a campaign – bookended by Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – urging President Obama to use the power of his office to protect our children from an onslaught of marketing that undermines good parenting and hurts young people.

Since the 1980s, when children’s television programming was deregulated and Congress restricted the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) authority to regulate marketing to children, corporations have waged a campaign of “cradle to grave” marketing to train children to be loyal consumers for life. The limited resources of hard-working mothers and fathers are no match for multi-billion dollar industries using rapidly evolving technologies to bypass parents and target children directly, not just on television, but through the internet, cell phones, mp3 players, videogames, and even in schools.

That’s why we’re calling on the Obama administration to direct the FTC and Federal Communications Commission to evaluate their current policies and regulations to determine whether or not they provide adequate protection for 21st century families. Such an examination – which should include a thorough investigation of the depth and breadth of marketing to children including new trends in immersive and interactive advertising – will give policymakers the information necessary to evaluate whether our current system of regulation is working and provide parents with invaluable information.

Please click here to urge President Obama to help parents protect their children from corporate marketers.

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