A few years ago, author Peggy Orenstein sent her daughter Daisy off to preschool — and within a week, she noticed a profound change.
"She came home having memorized, as if by osmosis, all the names and gown colors of the Disney princesses," Orenstein tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. Suddenly, Orenstein began noticing princess references everywhere, surrounding her daughter.
"The waitress at our breakfast joint would hand her her pancakes and say, 'Here's your princess pancakes,'" Orenstein says. A pharmacist offered a pink balloon. The final straw came at Daisy's first dentist appointment. "The dentist asked, 'Would you like to get in my princess chair so I can sparkle your teeth?' And I just thought, 'Oh my gosh, do you have a princess drill, too?'"
That obsession with everything pink and princess is the focus of Orenstein's new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.
The Danger Of Being A Princess
Orenstein says very young children don't yet understand that your sex is fixed — that you can't go to sleep a girl and wake up a boy. So little girls may be drawn to pink, sparkly princess gowns as a way of asserting that they're definitely girls.
But an overemphasis on pink can eventually be harmful, Orenstein says. "Those little differences that are innate to boys and girls, if they're allowed to flourish by having kids grow up in separate cultures, become big gaps.
"When your daughter is sitting there in her room, with her pink princess dress and her pink Scrabble kit ... and her pink Magic 8-Ball, it just makes those divisions so much bigger and so much harder to cross."