Author says princess play can have negative effect on girls

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SALT LAKE CITY — If you ask a little girl to name her favorite princesses — chances are she will be able to easily come up with a very long list.

But has "playing princess" gone too far? Ten-year-old Barbara Southworth knows a thing or two about princesses.

"I had about 20 things when I was little," said 10-year- old Barbara Southworth. "And when I go to the store, mostly, like half of the store is princesses."

Her mom thinks princess play is OK because it is tempered with the family messages of being kind, doing well, and loving something other than fashion. But Peggy Orenstein, author of "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" says playing princess today is not what it used to be.


"What's different now is a four billion dollar a year industry that's aimed at little girls, that's telling them not just to play princess at home now and again but they are supposed to be a princess and consider themselves a princess everyday, all the time, 365 days a year, 24/7 ... that has cannibalized all other kinds of play," she said.

Orenstein's book was published a year ago — a month ago on paperback. And she is still speaking on the topic. She said it is something resonating with a lot of parents.

Jennifer Berger, executive director of About Face, a non- profit that aims to teach kids how to handle media messages, said "it's all not as innocent as it seems."

They know when they are playing pretend, so they are not assuming that if they are pretending to be Cinderella ... that that is what they will do in real life.

–Maureen Smith

"The Disney princesses, for example, which are the main ones that little girls like... the problem is that the messages that they send are that being nice and being pretty are the most important things in being a girl," she said. "Not being smart, not being assertive, not being strong."

But Maureen Smith of San Jose State's Department of Child and Adolescent Development Center said what parents pass on about their values is more powerful than any princess.

"They know when they are playing pretend, so they are not assuming that if they are pretending to be Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White, that that is what they will do in real life," she said.

Smith and Southworth agree it is just a phase.

"They only like it for about four to five years, and then they throw it out," Southworth said.

Orenstein's hope is that the princesses won't change who the girls are before they do. She said the most important thing is for parents to initiate a discussion about princesses and what good and bad characteristics they possess. Parents can also offer alternatives — like heroines in Greek myths — to help give girls a more complete picture.

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Kris Sanchez, NBC News


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