Harper Collins, 2011

Peggy Orenstein’s to start with. But Cinderella has consumed countless little girls, and she has not yet had her fill.

And that’s not only speaking of the Grimm Brothers version of “Cinderella”.

Though readers know there are far grimmer versions (certainly gorier, with stepsisters lopping off body parts to try to fit oversized feet into pretty slippers).

But then there is the Disney version, which spawned an era of princess-fication heretofore unseen.

And not just a particular princess, not only Cinderella, but the idea of princess-ness.

The Disney Princesses.

The DPs came into being in 2000, thanks to Andy Mooney, who was brought into Disney to rescue its ailing consumer products division.

He had attended a “Disney on Ice” show, shortly after his hiring, and found himself surrounded by little girls in homemade princess costumes.

“How had such a massive branding opportunity been overlooked?”

Well, lots of reasons, as it turned out. Not the least of which was that Roy Disney “considered it heresy to lump together those [characters] from different stories”.

Did you know that?

“That is why, these days, when the ladies appear on the same item, they never make eye contact. Each stares off in a slightly different direction, as if unaware of the others’ presence. Now that I have told you, you’ll always notice it. And let me tell you, it’s freaky.”

This is just the kind of thing that Peggy Orenstein does.

She mentions something, which isn’t that creepy in and of itself, but in the wider context it’s very creepy, and, now that you’re aware of it, you are struck speechless.

And not only by the creepy-ness, but by the fact that you hadn’t noticed it before. That’s the creepy-est part, really.

[Take a few moments to examine any DP merchandise you have at hand. See? Creepy, right?]

Because even the snake needs to be pink?!

The creepy factor really isn’t in the details. Who cares where the princesses are looking, right? It’s art. Or, kind of, anyway.

But if you take it a little further, it contributes to the idea that girls who are princesses (and nearly all the girls seem to want to be princesses, even if their parents have made every effort to suggest that there’s more to life than being a pretty over-the-top-girly princess) don’t need to be friends with the other princesses.

It’s every princess for herself. Because only one of them can marry the prince. So she’d best fix her eyes on the horizon and fixate on the place he’ll appear.

That’s me, running with that particular detail. I chose this one because it’s not one that Peggy Orenstein pursues in Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

But she does consider all kinds of things in detail. She considers the American Girl franchise, Bella’s character in Meyer’s Twilight, spa makeovers, beauty pageants, girls’ contrasting new year’s resolutions at the beginning and end of the last century, superheroes, nail polish, Yahtzee games, and social networking sites.

And then she swells outward from the particular to the general. Peggy Orenstein moves from a household purchasing policy (are Bratz acceptable? Moxie girls? pink soccer balls and baseball bats? lip gloss?) to social trends in femininity and back again, until the reader sees pink everywhere and starts intuitively capitalizing it.

Everything. Is. Pink.

(But something interesting? This really only took hold in the mid-1980s and, in fact, pink was more commonly used for boys earlier in that century, when viewed as a paler form of red, a suitably powerful colour for the future bread-winners…er, red-winners. I know that I said I would leave the details to her, but some of them are just so dang fascinating that I can’t shut them up.)

Mind you, if you’ve read much about the role of gender difference in parenting and educating and the impact of marketing on children and household purchasing, much of what’s discussed in Cinderella Ate My Daughter has a familiar feel (with up-to-date statistics, of course).

Those who have read about the pitfalls of raising girls, who’ve tried to combat the media overload of images which tell them that being pretty is better than being smart (or than being anything else *sigh*) and that finding the perfect man (because everyone who is anyone is het *sigh*) is the answer to all her problems, will be travelling in familiar territory with Peggy Orenstein.

And, yet, there are always new, shocking bits to discover, even in that familiar territory.

(I was shocked to learn that female college-level math students performed more poorly in testing when asked to try on a bathing suit in advance — rather than a sweater — whereas the male college-level math students showed no variation in performance in the test, whether asked to try the sweater or the swimsuit.)

Sometimes it’s the scale of the revelation that’s shocking. That Princess brand? No market research. No focus group. No advertising. It launched without any of that.

And, in its first year, the DP sales were at $300 million; in 2009, sales were at $4 billion. There are more than 26,000 DP items on the market now, and it’s the largest franchise on the planet for girls ages two to six.

Remnants of the DP experience

So, like Peggy Orenstein, let me spiral back from the broad western social trends to the single household. Not hers, but mine.

Even in a household which consciously employs A-PAT (Advanced-Princess Avoidance Techniques), Mr. BIP and I reluctantly opted to attend a Disney on Ice Princess event one year.

We probably debated that decision longer than some parents debate college choices (years), and we still weren’t entirely satisfied with the choice. (For all the reasons that Peggy Orenstein discusses.)

There is a single photo of the two of us at the event; you can discern the gritted teeth and thinly-veiled grimaces at a glance, as we are surrounded, just like that Disney exec, by hundreds of girls in princess outfits. (It felt like millions: the entire event was rooted in hyperbole.)

The little BIP-girls are not clad in princess-garb, but they are wearing their best dresses and clickety-clack shoes, and they can barely contain their glee. There are countless photos of the two of them, naked wonder and awe, snapped throughout the performance. (They found the performance incredible; we found their response to it incredible.)

The littlest BIP-girl climbed on her rink-side seat when Cinderella appeared, waving and cheering like nobody’s business, because Cinderella is royalty for her in a way that had nothing (or, at least, very little) to do with the status we afford Cinderella in our household.

If you’ve been a princess-lover, or if you’re a care-giver — in any capacity, however limited or expansive — for a princess-lover, whether or not her princess-loving tendencies can be traced back to you, you’ll probably want to read Peggy Orenstein’s work.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is not necessarily going to offer any answers, but it asks a lot of terrific questions, in a straight-forward, well-documented narrative dotted with self-deprecating humour and irony.

PS Did you know that Wonder Woman’s real name is Diana and she is daughter of Hera who is Queen of the Amazon? (Which makes her a…)