When I was a child, I loved Disney’s “Cinderella.”
I loved the songs and the mice… I didn’t particularly love the Prince, because he didn’t seem to have a face.
I remember watching it repeatedly (for my parents, probably to the point of nausea), but I do not remember having any Cinderella toys.
I don’t remember wanting Cinderella toys.
I didn’t necessarily want to be Cinderella, I just liked the movie.
When I was a bit older, I absolutely fell in love with “Beauty and the Beast.” Okay, technically, I was in love with the Beast, but Belle remains one of my favorite “princesses.” She read books, she set off into the wolf-infested woods to retrieve her father, she refused to be courted by a man she knew to be empty-headed, and she argued with a creature big enough (and surly enough) to literally eat her face. Belle effectively saved everyone that mattered to her.
I had the Belle Barbie doll, and I ruined her hair within days (seriously, though, who knew you couldn’t get her hair wet?!), and while I loved her, I found myself mildly frustrated that having the doll did not mean having the life. Holding a small molded piece of plastic with intricately stitched gowns and bad hair did not make me feel as though I was Belle. I was still the same girl who read whenever I wasn’t supposed to (this was the reason why all of my chores took me two hours), was taller than all of my friends, did not and COULD NOT do gymnastics, and never had a boyfriend, unless we counted that kid from church that I hit over the head with a block and kissed on the cheek when I found out that he was moving away. No matter how much I loved Belle and loved the story and loved the doll, I never transformed myself into her.
I’m precisely in the middle of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture” by Peggy Orenstein, and I’m finding myself almost annoyed with how scandalized Orenstein is about Disney Princesses who, at least in my opinion, do not necessarily represent dangerous anti-feminist trends. Orenstein takes a trek through today’s “girl culture” in an attempt to uncover what’s healthy and what isn’t… and while it’s a fascinating and terrifying tumble down the rabbit hole, I’m beginning to wonder two things:
1) What is her point? Is any of this really a surprise to us? What is her solution?
2) How are the parents influencing these girls? The examples she uses are of privileged girls whose parents seem to have handed over their checkbooks and thrown up their hands.
My mother, who was ever-present when the TV was on, never hesitated to correct a viewpoint that she disagreed with. She was the first person to point out how perfectly useless Princess Buttercup (not a Disney, not even really a princess, but let’s go with it for a moment) was in “The Princess Bride.” I distinctly recall a number of wry comments during my Disney days that allowed me to ingest the princess culture but still take it with a
grain chunk of salt. Certain shows were barred, certain films were never seen, and there was no discussion about it.
I also recall that my parents never allowed the sort of materialism that Orenstein’s daughter is facing. I have, to this day, never been inside a Toys-R-Us. I never made a Christmas list as a child, and when I asked about making one I would get the “Mom face” and the “I am not a shopping mall… you don’t get to just hand me a list of all the things that you want” speech. If memory serves, my Belle doll was a one-off, and I did not go on to have the Belle Halloween costume, the Belle car (she did not drive a car in the movie, so why did this exist), the Belle toothbrush, or the Belle bedding. Looking back, I believe this taught me that whatever I wanted to be had to start on the inside. I was not going to become a heroine simply by donning a gown and sleeping under sheets with a face stamped on them. Life is more complicated than that.
What has occurred to me in the first 171 pages of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” is that parents are are forced to play offense or defense where their children are concerned. My parents got out in front and blocked what they didn’t want to come through. What did come through was always coupled with parental perspective. Because of the level of control they had, they actually raised children, instead of just housing tiny strangers with poor logic who learned all of their lessons from TV, marketing departments, and equally tiny friends with as yet undeveloped frontal lobes.
I don’t have children.
Ideally, I will one day… five of them… all wearing tiny berets and sweater vests and Harry Potter glasses… and I imagine that I will have to wrestle with the culture for the minds of my kids… staving off the blatantly unhealthy with one hand, and sorting through the rest with the other, trying to find the value and chucking the dross. I think the issue here is that the culture is not, and never will be, responsible for my children, whether they are responsible members of society, violent hooligans, or over-sexualized tweens. Everything that they see, hear, and touch should be vigorously screened by me, and anything that’s not solid gold should be stamped with a mommy disclaimer (“Yes, Buttercup is very pretty, but she’s pretty much letting that rat EAT poor Wesley”).
I could be wrong (it seems those with children are always very quick to inform the childless that we’re morons), but I think that’s that’s why the parents are there… to train children to think beyond what their eyes and see and their ears can hear, and train them to impact the culture, not the other way around. If we want to change the trends, raise children that won’t succumb, buy in, or endorse what is unhealthy.