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The commercialization of princess culture

Marketplace Staff Mar 29, 2011

The commercialization of princess culture

Marketplace Staff Mar 29, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: “Tangled” — that’s what we call Rapunzel now — comes out on DVD today. And Rapunzel is the latest to join the Disney Princesses — which translates roughly to: A very lucrative brand for Disney.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Disney Princess. Where “Happily Ever After” happens everyday.

That brand is the subject of a new book called “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.” The author is Peggy Ornstein who joins us now. Good morning.

Peggy Orenstein: Good morning.

Hobson: So first of all, when I was growing up, Disney princesses didn’t even exist. Now it’s apparently a $4 billion business? How did that happen?

Orenstein: It was one guy’s idea. His name is Andy Mooney and he went to an ice show in Philadelphia and he saw a bunch of little girls dressed as princesses. And horrors: they were wearing homemade costumes that they had developed with their imaginations. That had to be stopped — that had to be licensed. And the first year that they put them out there, it was $300 million. By 2009, yeah, we’ve hit a $4-billion-a-year business.

Hobson: And does Disney have a lot of competitors here in trying to corner the princess market?

Orenstein: So they started this market, and then everybody else thought, ‘Woo! Pink is the new gold.’ So they jumped on board. So now whether you’re looking at the guy who’s selling a T-shirt on Etsy that’s pink with a crown on it and says, “Give me the credit card and nobody gets hurt,” or Mattel, or McDonald’s — basically anything that can be pink and a crown slapped on it has been turned pink and a crown slapped on it.

Hobson: Now, when you think about all of the characters that little girls look up to and want to be like, I would think princesses would be the least bad. But as you write, that’s really not the case.

Orenstein: What happens with the princess culture is that it goes from being this sort of sweet, innocent wand-waving thing to being about being the princess diva, and the make-up. The culture is telling them and encouraging them to define themselves from the outside in.

Hobson: What would you say to parents who are listening to this and wondering whether they should be buying their daughters the Ariel and Belle gear that they see all over the TV and in the stores?

Orenstein: You can’t keep the commercial ideas about femininity and the sexualization of girlhood out entirely. So your job is not to lock your daughter in a tower. Your job is to, when she’s little, limit the choices. And that lays the groundwork, so that as she grows older, you can really help her navigate through all of this to a true happily ever after.

Hobson: Peggy Orenstein, author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.” Thanks so much for your time this morning.

Orenstein: Thank you for having me.

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