© 2012 Peggy Orenstein
When did every little girl become a princess to be bedecked in pink and fawned over? Such is the question posed by Peggy Orenstein, author of numerous books on issues of motherhood and raising women. The answer is at least twofold. First, advertising toward girls in general has emphasized coy, yet overt sexuality, even to the very young: and secondly, in the early 1990s, the Disney Corporation realized there was a lot of money to be had in developing a line of princess goods. But this isn't really a book on advertising: Orenstein is more concerned about what the princess culture is doing to the minds of girls. The substance of the book is an examination of how girls view themselves and each other in society.
What makes a princess special? There's no answer. A princess is special just because. She exists solely to be an object of attention: her specialness is not the result of her accomplishments, her skills, her talents, her character, or anything substantial.Therein lies the problem with the princess culture, for it influences girls to aspire to be objects of appreciation. Their sense of self-worth is an external fair, subject not to what girls feel themselves capable of, but how girls feel others respond to them. If they are not regarded as Special, they feel worthless. Distracted by the quest for attention, they don't bother with the kind of self-growth that would merit attention, or be fulfilling on its own. Substance is placed by superficiality. This is particularly troublesome in the case of sexuality: in Orenstein's words, girls learn to aspire to be desired before they have desire (of that kind) on their own. Orenstein sees this as a problem for girlhood in general, because the princess culture has utterly hijacked what it means to be a girl. If a helmet isn't pink, it isn't a girl's helmet. If a mother scorns all the fluff, her inadvertent lesson to her daughter is that it's not okay to be a girl. This being the problem, her solution -- in addition to reversing Reagan's deregulation of children's advertising -- is for parents to focus on teaching girls how to live for themselves, and not for the approval of others; to define themselves and not try to fit Disney's definition of a girl.
Orenstein is a fun author, especially as she covers beauty pageants for four-year-olds and facebook, using phrases like "Sesame street walker".She's also one who has to practice what she preaches, for her own daughter Daisy is one of the afflicted: the account conveys her desperate frustration in trying to raise Daisy to be a strong person in an environment swamped by odious messages in the advertising. It shares themes with Consuming Kids and So Sexy, So Soon and covers similar ground. What So Sexy, So Soon referred to as "age compression", Orenstein calls "KGOY", Kids Getting Older Younger. This refers to the way kids are attracted to objects advertised to older children, hence kiddie thongs and Barbie in the toddler aisle. Of obvious interest to the parents and guardians of young women, and quite readable.