Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Beauty, Princesses and Raising Girls- Part Two

A few days ago, I posted some thoughts on femininity, beauty and little girls (here!) related to Peggy Orenstein's book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. There are so many things to say about this book, and I would really encourage anyone who has daughters to read it-- or anyone who, like me, is simply interested in girl culture. It is one that will make you think long and hard. Orenstein explores the world of Disney Princesses, but also looks at the toddler beauty pageant world (Toddlers & Tiaras style), American Girl dolls, and social media. One thing that particularly got me was her examination of fairy tales and Disney stories. 

It's pretty interesting to consider some of the messages being communicated through Disney stories and fairy tales. As a kid, I never really thought too much about the stories themselves- I just remember that Ariel really loved the prince, and that Belle wore a yellow dress and loved the Beast! After reading Orenstein's book, it was pretty disturbing for me to step back and think some more about these stories. Take the Little Mermaid for example. That was a great one! Well, if you have seen it, take a minute to remember the premise. Do you remember? If you don't, here is a short version: Ariel, the Little Mermaid, sells her soul and her voice (literally) in order to earn the love of a prince (unabridged version via Wikipedia here). When I remembered that, I was a little bit shocked!! Becoming mute to be loved? Hmmm. I get that maybe this was seen as a grand gesture of her love, but the underlying message is not one that sends a positive, empowering message.

If I didn't think about these things as a kid, and didn't really understand what these things meant at the time, it may not be safe to assume that others didn't understand or pick up on the messages. But even if they didn't, why does any of this really matter? I guess I just think that if I had a little girl, I would not want her to pick up any messages about love, self-worth, relationships, happiness, etc from a story like this. I know it probably seems like I am over-reacting, and it is possible that I am. But I would rather over-react and be mindful when it comes to passing on potentially negative messages to very vulnerable ears and eyes! The challenge remains, however, to exhibit balance. It would be wrong to outlaw all stories and fairy tales, all Disney stories, princess stories, princess playing, dress-up and the color pink. That would ultimately be just as wrong and narrow minded! I think when interpreting media, regardless of the form, it is critically important to think through our choices and decisions about what is and isn't okay, and the consequent impact upon girls and women! As Orenstein says, "our role is not to keep the world at bay but to prepare our daughters so they can thrive within it."

With that, I will conclude with a quote- not really that relevant to the rest of this post- but one that I felt compelled to share as it addresses beauty, femininity and the media, topics often discussed on my blog. It is taken from Orenstein's book-
"I have never seen a study proving that playing princess specifically damages girls' self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. And trust me, I've looked. There is, however, ample evidence that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy. And a ream of studies shows that teenage girls and college students who hold conventional beliefs about femininity--especially those that emphasize beauty and pleasing behavior--are less ambitious and more likely to be depressed than their peers. None of that bodes well for Snow White's long-term mental health."

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