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Little girls or little women? The Disney princess effect

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Within months she had thousands of followers.

"It was validating, in a sense, that a lot of parents were experiencing it," she says. "It was this big force entering our lives so early, with such strength. It concerned me for what was down the road."

Finucane's theory about Disney Princesses is by no means universal. Many parents and commentators defend Happily Ever After against what some critics call a rising "feminist attack," and credit the comely ladies with teaching values such as kindness, reading, love of animals, and perseverance.

If there's any doubt of the controversy surrounding the subject, journalist Peggy Orenstein mined a whole book ("Cinderella Ate My Daughter") out of the firestorm she sparked in 2006 with a New York Times essay ("What's Wrong With Cinderella?").

Disney, for its part, repeated to the Monitor its standard statement on the topic: "For 75 years, millions of little girls and their parents around the world have adored and embraced the diverse characters and rich stories featuring our Disney princesses.... [L]ittle girls experience the fantasy and imagination provided by these stories as a normal part of their childhood development."

And yet, the Finucane and Orenstein critique does resonate with many familiar with modern American girlhood as "hot" replaces pretty in pink, and getting the prince takes on a more ominous tone. Parents and educators regularly tell re-searchers that they are unable to control the growing onslaught of social messages shaping their daughters and students.

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