If you have daughters, if you know daughters, if you have ever bought a single Disney Princess gift for someone else’s daughters, you simply must read Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.

(Quick! Before you bypass the art supplies and mindlessly reach for a Tinkerbell hand mirror at the toy store.)

Be assured this is not some dogmatic, finger-wagging tome about how Ariel and Barbie are ruining our world. Using her own experiences as a feminist mother trying to come to terms with a tiara-happy daughter (I can relate!), Orenstein’s book is part lesson in gender politics, part fascinating marketing case study, and part part laugh-out-loud conversation with your very clever friend over coffee who just happens to be grappling with the same issues you are right now.

Related: 17 feminist gifts that honor our activist women friends

In Cinderella Ate My Daughter Orenstein takes you through the history of licensed marketing to girls, back to the Shirley Temple days, then hitting on milestones like the introduction of Barbie; the pseudo-empowerment of the Spice Girls; the oversexualized evil (my word) that is Bratz and all their copycatz and wannabeez; and finally, today’s world of Hanna Montana, American Girl Doll, and of course, Disney Princesses.

In other words, want to know how the heck we got to a place where 5 year-olds are wearing navel-baring shirts with double entendres on them? This book should help.

I don’t agree with every opinion–I happen to be a Tiana fan–but I do agree with about 98% of it, including Orenstein’s main point: not that princesses are bad per se, but that our girls hardly have a choice these days what with the nationwide “explosion of pink.”

What’s interesting about this book is that it doesn’t set out to offer concrete solutions, but to offer hope; my net takeaway is that when we arm ourselves with knowledge and real media savvy, we can help navigate our daughters’ worlds a little better. And more importantly, we can offer our girls a healthy, necessary counterbalance to all the commercial messages, so we can more positively influence their emotional development, self-esteem, and even chances for success in life.

In other words, don’t let your child’s values be solely determined by marketers with warehouses full of sparkly crap to sell. Who isn’t down with that?

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is not a “here’s what you should do” book, but rather, a “hey…let’s figure out what we can do” book. And I really appreciate that kind of a thought starter.

Of course the great irony of it all: The book jacket is covered in pink and sparkles. Enough so, that my 3 year-old daughter picked it up and said, “oooohhh…Mommy…can we read this tonight?”

Peggy? Let’s get coffee. Pencil in six hours or so.

Find Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein online from our affiliate Amazon

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