New York Times Magazine contributor Orenstein (Waiting for Daisy, 2007, etc.) investigates the impact of early sexualization on girls.
In this witty, well-documented study, the author of Schoolgirls (1994) examines the not-so-innocent side of princess culture represented by Cinderella and her sister Disney royals. Orenstein looks at the way race-based images of idealized female beauty and behavior, themselves the product of aggressive and manipulative marketing campaigns, influence preteen girls. Before they reach kindergarten, female children have already been indoctrinated in the idea that how they look is more important than who they are. Foundations have been laid for the idea that prettiness—and a narcissistic concern with the external self—is the true path to empowerment. The main issue Orenstein addresses, however, is whether Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel and Belle (and their less popular, darker-skinned counterparts, Mulan and Pocahontas) protect young girls from early sexualization or prepare them to be consumers of clothes, grooming aids, toys, music and other forms of media that seem to celebrate underage sexuality. During the course of her research, Orenstein visited the Toy Fair (“the industry’s largest trade show”), specialty “girl” stores such as American Girl Palace, the Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant for preteen girls, a Miley Cyrus concert and social-networking sites such as Webkinz and Facebook. The author discovered that while girls have more role models than ever before to show them that they can become anything they wish, they are also under much greater pressure from an extraordinarily young age to prove their femininity. That Orenstein is the mother of a young, biracial daughter makes the narrative even more readable than her bestselling earlier writings on girlhood and self-esteem. Rather than writing as a concerned but detached observer, she approaches her subject as a parent seeking practical ways to negotiate a complex cultural landscape that has been as confusing for her as a mother and woman as it has been potentially damaging for the girl she is raising.
Intelligent and richly insightful.