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Peggy Orenstein
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Harper / HarperCollins
US First Edition, Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-06-171152-7
Publication Date: 01-25-2011
246 pages, £9 ; $25.99.00
Date Reviewed: 02-21-2011

Index:  Non-Fiction

Fear is a funny thing. The fear we feel for ourselves, and our own safety, is surely powerful and visceral. At gunpoint, we become different animals. But the fear we feel for our children is of a completely different order. If you even make us slightly worried about the fates of our children, we will come for your heads and take no prisoners.

The marketing executives at Disney had better step up their security in the wake of Peggy Orenstein's 'Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.' Orenstein was worried about the influence of consumer culture on her daughter, and so sought to understand its origins, its motivations, its goals. What she unearthed is as likely to give readers nightmares as any of the kidnapped-children scenarios that are the staple of television. Our precious little girls are born with a four billion dollar price on their heads. But the point of Orenstein's book is entertain and inform, not frighten. 'Cinderella Ate My Daughter' embraces the absurdity of a culture that has sliced and diced our children into targeted profit sectors for longer than most of us could imagine.

Orenstein starts her quest with a gently self-mocking examination of her own fear — she was worried that if her first baby was a girl, she'd not be able to live up to the standards of motherhood so prominently promoted in our child- and youth-obsessed culture. Her child was a girl, and as her child grew, so too, did her curiosity. How did we arrive in this pink-painted world where her expensive pediatric dentist asked her three year-old daughter to, "sit in my special princess throne so I can sparkle your teeth?" Orenstein's answer is engaging and compelling reading, no matter what your gender. Her book may be about mothers and daughters, but it is written for anyone who wants to wrap their brain around the intricacies of selling childhood to girls and their parents.

Orenstein's prose is the key that unlocks what you might think will be the Young Ladies' Room to a general audience. She's an excellent non-fiction humorist, with an ability to directly address difficult issues with a wry sense of humor that keeps agendas at bay. She's smart enough to make the reader laugh without undermining her own sharp observations. The book has an easygoing conversational tone that makes it engaging even when she's imparting some pretty sobering statistics.

A keen sense of organization helps matters as well, because while Orenstein's subject is sort of diffuse, her focus is not. Each chapter hones in on a different aspect of the commercialization of girls, from Barbies, Bratz and the American Girl dolls to the horrorshow beauty pageants to gender issues and life online. She mixes big-picture facts and studies with observations of her personal life fluidly, so we get the overview as well as the anecdote. She covers a lot of ground in a very compact work.

I'll be honest and admit that I found the cover of 'Cinderella Ate My Daughter' fairly frightening. It's certainly an attention-getter, what with the pink sparkles that are likely to make first printings startlingly costly on the collector's market. But Orenstein is a master at writing precise, lively prose that makes a point and makes you laugh. She'll take you down a rabbit hole that you may not have known existed, and when you return the world around you will glow with a slightly pinkish absurdity.

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