This is going to be a series of posts based on ideas from Peggy Orenstein’s book Cindrella Ate My Daughter.

Why do mothers like princesses? Because, in short, Orenstien proposes, they feel safe. Princesses are non-sexualised even if they are vacuous.

On the other end of the spectrum is the baby pageant thing, epitomized in the show Toddlers and Tiaras which is like one of those awful spectacles you cannot stop staring at.

Somewhere in the middle are the dilemmas most of us will face raising little girls. A while ago R’s Mom posted about her discomfort with her daughter wearing nail polish. It’s really hard to know where to draw the line. I remember in school, they were militant about any kind of nail polish – apart from a number of other things like the length of one’s socks – and it got me thinking about why all this was so important. Nail polish was just embellishment, wasn’t it? Well, I guess a health argument could be made that it damages little girls nails, especially the acetone to remove the nail polish which is fair enough. Though would it be so bad as an occasional treat? One might argue that icecream is more harmful than the occasional nail paint.

What also got me thinking was a discussion on a popular forum for mums in Hong Kong. One mum asked where she should get her baby’s ears pierced – I suspect she was Indian – and a number of other mums wondered why the need to pierce a little girl’s ears. Piercing a little girl’s ears is such a normal thing in India but in the West it’s seen in the same way as nailpolish might be to Indian mums – as embellishment that can well wait for adulthood especially since it involves a body piercing.

When I thought about it, there seemed to be a pretty good argument in favour of not piercing a girl’s ears very young. It is painful, much more painful than nail paint. It is also something girls exclusively do – and why should that be? On the one hand, I’m kind of happy that my ears were already pierced before I could really remember it. On the other hand, if they weren’t and I wanted to pierce them in adulthood would it really be that much more painful than getting them pierced as a child (with the crucial difference that as a child I had no choice)? I got a tattoo as an adult; I’m assuming ear piercing is less painful.

My sister and sister-in-law have both not had their daughters’ ears pierced. They are not prone to any of the feminist introspections I am. I think they just can’t bear the actual taking of child to jeweler and watching the process. Well in my Sil’s case, she had a pretty terrible time with her pierced ears as a child – pus and what not – which has traumatized her. My sister did too but that’s not why she hasn’t got around to piercing her daughter’s ears. It’s just that she hasn’t got around to it – it doesn’t seem so important. It’s funny how I had just assumed my Sil would get my niece’s ears pierced and bought her a pair of diamond earings (which my Sil happily appropriated). For my sister’s daughter and my Sil’s second daughter, we had learnt our lesson and just got them pendants instead.

And for my own daughter, I think I’ll wait on the ear-piercing until she is old enough to decide herself. If my son doesn’t get to do it, why her?

As for nail polish, I think at the heart of it is the fear of our daughters growing up too soon and growing up in such a way that they internalize the idea that embellishment is what it means to be a woman. If nail polish, why not lipstick, if lipstick, why not the whole hog? Where does one draw the line? I’m still confused.