I love reading books on issues I care about. Last night I finished one that’ll stick with me for awhile: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. I’d heard the author, Peggy Orenstein, on Diane Rehm a few weeks ago, and the title is what hit me first. A+ for grabbing attention! I immediately requested it through inter-library-loan, and just now got it two weeks later.
Let’s just say I whipped through this book so fast I couldn’t believe it when I came to the end. Orenstein does exactly what the title suggests: she delves into a lot of questions I have about raising (and, really, of being raised myself) in a culture that tells girls what to like, how to like it, and that anyone who does not like it is weird. This is not a new idea, of course. There have been social norms since there was such a thing as society. The difference now, according to Orenstein, is that the media and advertising play a new role in the creation and maintenance of those norms. It is a first that marketing has targeted such a young audience, but, one could argue, it still isn’t that audience that is buying merchandise. The parents continue to make choices for their children, but it is becoming increasingly hard to toe the line of “healthy consumerism” and overboard.
I have always shied away from things overtly girlie. Pink and sparkles and jewelry have never been my thing. Another aspect Orenstein touches on, though, is body image. It’s surprising how much this is linked to the early commercialism geared towards young girls and how we teach our daughters to become women. Like most women around the world, I have struggled with my body image since I was fairly young, and I am only now realizing how to handle it in a healthy way. So as I read Orentstein’s section on body image, I expected to shake my head as one who has been through it already, one who has come out on the other side.
This is the blurry line, though. I read this book with the interest of an outside observer, but instead of coming away from it seeing things more clearly, I found myself with a new (and largely subconscious) focus on my own body. Instead of seeing myself as free and learning about how I’d been enslaved in the first place, I was thinking with every bite, with every glance in the mirror, Shoot. Cut it out, Cath. Instead of freeing myself, my knowledge was starting to re-entrap me.
My first thought was that maybe I should stop reading books like this, books that make my hyper-aware of myself and things I struggle with. I know, though, that this removal of self from reality is something I am too quick to run to (i.e., my declaration of living on a farm without electricity at the age of six). The bottom line is: I still think knowledge is worth it. I can’t stop learning and changing how I think because it makes me momentarily relapse into whatever it is I’m reading about. I plan to read books on issues that are upsetting, things that I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with, even though I know this might mean I think about it more. Even though it might mean I find myself mired (again) in my own sin. It’s a balancing act, really. How to ponder issues and learn, while remembering that we are not above falling into the same old traps.