The book Cinderella Ate My Daughter has a funny title but addresses a serious issue:  the gender-based marketing of products to our children.  Products such as Disney Princess makeup and high heels are being aggressively marketed to girls as cinderellayoung as two.  Studies show that this marketing affects the body image of little girls, causing them to begin worrying about their weight and appearance when they are extraordinarily young.  In addition to getting good grades at school and being kind and compassionate, young girls tend to believe that they can only be successful if they look perfect all of the time, like a princess. Unsurprisingly, these expectations are often accompanied by anxiety and self-doubts about body image.

Besides needing to achieve a look of perfection, Cinderella Ate My Daughter discusses the other messages conveyed by Disney princesses.  What does it tell little girls about female friendship when most stories portray only one princess, set apart from everyone else?  The Disney princesses don’t tend to have female friends.  Even when consumer products put multiple Disney princesses together, they don’t look like they are friends.  Indeed, in many such portrayals the Disney princesses do not even look at each other.  Instead the princesses stare dreamily into space, each presumably thinking about her prince or her clothing.

The book goes on to explore other cultural pressures on young girls, including the TV shows Toddlers & Tiaras and Hannah Montana, women superheroes, and Facebook.  Toddlers & Tiaras follows the beauty pageants of children and their parents, while Hannah Montana features actress and singer Miley Cyrus, who as she grew older had difficulty transitioning from her role as an innocent child star to a new adult sexiness, much as Britney Spears did before her.  One might think that women superheroes would be a better role model for girls than Disney princesses, but the stories behind Wonder Women, Batgirl and Supergirl are not well known; unlike their male counterparts they are better known for wearing revealing costumes than fighting crime.  Teenage girls who participate in online social networking such as Facebook must navigate a similar conundrum to child stars.  Teenage girls often have hundreds of online “friends,” and there is tremendous social pressure to appear beautiful and attractive without crossing over a subtle line and becoming labeled as “slutty.”

This book will open your eyes to the message that our consumer culture tends to send to our daughters:  that how they look equates with their worth as a person.  And, though Cinderella Ate My Daughter focuses on marketing to little girls, marketing to little boys raises similar questions.  Our little boys are sold costumes to dress up as superheroes, sports heroes, gladiators, ninjas, rangers, and gangsters–but not as princes.  Are we setting up our little girls for failure, by teaching them to hope for a prince while encouraging our young boys to be anything but?  What male superhero has ever been able to (or chosen to) devote his life to happily-ever-after with his love?  Are we teaching little boys to be tough but not teaching them to be gentle?  And, perhaps most importantly, how does this gender-based marketing affect our children as they grow older and become adults themselves?  Although Cinderella Ate My Daughter cannot answer all of these questions, it helps raise awareness about the potential pitfalls of gender-based marketing to young children.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library.

Review written by Laurie N.