I always hoped, because I was a girl, I would be prepared to raise girls. Until I had them. Times are very different from when I was young, and the pressures on our three daughters are immense. I thought the pressure was bad for me, but now it is worse. Our oldest daughter is 8 1/2 and she is bombarded with pressure from the media and from her peers. I can already see how society is telling her that how she looks matters more than who she is.
We all want our girls to grow up healthy, confident, and happy. We want them to know who they are, and understand how great their potential. But with all the pressure to be like Cinderella, it seems to be harder to help our girls really, really believe in themselves.
Is there something wrong with Cinderella? Is there something wrong with all the pink and glitter and fairy tale? Probably not, but they sure do add a great deal of pressure.
Studies show that young girls today face more pressure than ever to be “princess perfect”. Not only do they have to get straight A’s, but they have to be fashionable, beautiful and kind. They are exposed to media that makes them worry about being pretty and sexy, and a study from the University of Minnesota has even found that advertisements have a negative impact on girl’s self-esteem.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the truth of all of this. I would hope that executives at Disney and Mattel don’t sit around in their board meetings thinking of ways to sexualize young girls. But “princess perfect” sells and so it is naturally going to be pushed on our daughters.
Although society is targeting our young girls, we are still their parents, and responsibility lies on us. We want to blame the media, but ultimately, as parents, we do have a final say.
So how can we help? What can we as parents do to help our girls deal with the pink Cinderella pressure?
1. Watch what we say.
As parents, we need to make sure that our comments don’t teach our girls that success and happiness is defined by how we look and what we wear. This applies to the comments we make about ourselves and our looks, as well as the comments we make about others. “You look like a princess” could actually be doing more harm than good.
2. Praise our girls for their strengths and effort.
This goes along with the first point. If you have a girl, monitor what you say to her in a 24 hour period. What is the focus of your comments? Naturally we comment on how cute they are, “you look so pretty”, “I love your dress.”
Instead of commenting on their looks, praise and comment on the effort they put into things and for the areas they are strong. Society will bombard them with feelings about clothes and looks. As parents we need to teach them they are strong and capable.
3. Give them challenges.
Provide challenges for our girls. Kids don’t wake up and think “I am going to make myself do something hard today”. We have to help provide them with challenges that they can overcome. This helps them believe in themselves and translates into future challenge. It builds their worth, based on their talents, abilities, and work ethic, instead of their looks and clothes. It also helps them keep a sense of reality. Our daughters can do hard things, really well. Help them see that.
4. Encourage them to pursue their passions and strengths.
It is normal for us to try and fit our girls into a cookie cutter mold. The mold is usually pink and purple and plays with dolls. Although these tendencies make sense, at the same time, our daughters will have their own passions and strengths. Where appropriate, help them pursue those passions. Support them and encourage them to love what they love, instead of asking “what would Cinderella do”.
5. Love them
Whether they like Cinderella or not. Keep your arms wide open at all times so that kids know they are loved. Be safer and stronger and more vocal than the media. So they know where to go to find love and acceptance and protection.
There power of the media and the Cinderella factor is not going away anytime soon. As parents, we can serve as a buffer to help our girls live with the pressure, but not be defined by it. Love them for who they are and they will blossom into their own wonderful.
How do you buffer the “Cinderella Effect”?
Do you find that your girls are faced with challenges much earlier than you were as a girl?
Homemaker, wife and mother. My husband and I have five children. On the side I am an adjunct faculty member at Brigham Young University where I received a Masters Degree in Youth and Family Recreation. Three times a week I endeavor to teach college students the importance of families doing things together. Then I come home and try to figure out how to implement what I just taught. Believe me I know, It is a lot easier said than done. I used to speak French, wish I could dance, and will almost always choose fruity over chocolate.
Heather is the author of Family Volley, where writes about parenting, motherhood and relationships.