Princess Recovery: How To Raise a Heroine

Little girls' drawing of a princess
Of all the parenting books I’ve read, and that number is in the dozens, Princess Recovery: A How To Guide to Raising Strong Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters, hit me harder between the eyes than any other. If you are raising a daughter you really need to read this book — yesterday — and definitely before you let her watch anymore TV.

Written by Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD, and a regular contributor to CBS’s The Early Show, the book highlights something called “princess syndrome,” which essentially develops in girls who are repeatedly exposed to the message that outer beauty is more important than inner beauty.

Critical Inventory
Half way through the book, I began to take critical inventory of my daughters who are 14 and 4, and all the things that have contributed to them becoming princesses instead of heroines. I am reeling from my discoveries. How did this happen?

Children's Drawing of a Prince and Princess
A picture Juliette drew Bridgette

Hartstein does a tremendous job of explaining this journey to me, and as you might have guessed it’s strongly rooted in ancient fairy tales, contemporary society and the beast we know as advertising. While I’ve always known allowing my kids to watch cartoons and children’s shows would expose them to product marketing, I had no clear understanding that companies were intentionally using age compression tactics to sell stuff. In other words, marketers study what interests older children and then sell it to younger children because they know younger children want to be like their older peers. Sick!

There’s hope.
The good news is, Hartstein offers real solutions and tangible resources throughout the book. I am already implementing several of them including how to peel back from materialism and entitlement. The notion that we deserve whatever we desire could not be further from my own spiritual convictions and faith foundation.

Violet the Pilot

Still, because things did not come easy for me, I’ve worked hard to make things easier for my kids. Hartstein illustrates how such elements are not found on the heroine trajectory. Instead, they define the path of a princess who defines herself and her self-worth by how other people see or perceive her.

There are some really cool resources in the back of the book, which include healthy princess play ideas and children’s books for heroines. I can’t wait to pick up some of these including Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen. She rescues a group of boy scouts. I love that!

Face the Mirror
Ultimately, Princess Recovery made me take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask myself if I am doing what I need to be doing in order to raise girls who can thrive despite a society that values outer beauty over inner beauty. Moreover, am I who I need to be? Am I more heroine than princess? Are there adjustments I need to make to bring my attitudes and opinions more in line with my core beliefs? Don’t I owe this much and more to my precious daughters? After all, I can’t authentically help them navigate the injurious swamp of an airbrushed world if I’m longing for photo-shopped perfection in them or me.

Finally, Princess Recovery has given me a heightened awareness of subtle influences on my girls. From this day forward, I will be more vigilante about their exposures, and I will do what Hartstein suggests, and that is to write companies when they engage in age compression marketing tactics that are not appropriate for their target markets.

Lego Friends

Are Legos your daughter’s friend?

Just today, I was looking up information on the new Lego line for girls that debuts January 2. I was excited about it because I thought it would help me move my daughter closer to heroine and further from princess. But, I was stunned and disappointed by what I discovered. Despite the fact the target market for the new Lego Friends Heartlake City line is girls between 6 and 12 years of age, the characters — Mia, Emma, Andrea, Stephanie and Olivia — all have boobs and hips.

They’re princesses without the dresses taking their dogs and themselves to the beauty parlor, cafe and splash pool all in their cool little convertible. As Hartstein writes, “The relentless marketing of sexy has a long history.” I thought Lego would be immune to this, but as it turns out they’re just perpetuating sexism, and not even Olivia’s inventor workshop can cure the lot.

Get Princess Recovery ASAP. The demand for heroines is as high as the supply is low.

Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD, is a child and adolescent psychologist and a regular correspondent for the The Early Show. Dr. Hartstein uses a variety of treatment approaches that promote strong self-awareness, distress tolerance, and acceptance. She lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.

Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of Princess Recovery for review purposes, and was not financially compensated for this blog post.


  1. jenx67 says

    She does not cover things from a faith perspective, but it’s interesting, that is what I was thinking about throughout the whole book. Years and years ago, there was a contemporary Christian song called Daughter of Heaven. I can’t find the words, but that’s what your comment reminds me of — “you’ve been bought with a price…” was one of the lines. I was also thinking of a book I read back in 2001/02 – “Bad Girls of the Bible.” I kept wanting the author to weave them into the story.

  2. David Anderson says

    Great post.  I expect that children raised in a faith based family would certainly help them to see their true worth as daughters of God.  Is that covered in the book as a cornerstone to combating the media complex?  

  3. jenx67 says

    The bratz dolls are too much. Like a horror doll show! You crack me up, Le. You say everything I’m thinking. I had to give myself that smack. I finally figured out – Bridgy gets her fashion sense watching big sister’s teenie-bopper shows – Victorious and iCarly. I’m ready to throw the TV off the roof. xoxo

  4. Le@third says

    so true Jen – this also fits with the tween marketing sphere – aka Ashley and the twin who’s name escapes me … the day I see bridgie in a mid drift fake trainer bra top is the day I will give you a big smack! I know you would never allow this … BTW it’s not just girls – darling boys plays with my barbies … from my childhood … now he wants a bratz – I said no never as I find the over sized heads, the bigger than average eyes and the slutty little outfits to much to bear .. he asked me why I said no and I replied “you are my child, this is my house and the bratzs will never be allowed here given the over sexualised nature of their look” … then I had to explain over sexulaised to a seven year old!! 

    as well as the princess we have to make sure our kids – particularly the wee girls don’t come the victim – that is a bit like the princess yes but without the entitlement … go the heroine :) love you le xox

  5. says

    Jenn, this is a fantastic post here–so needed right after Christmas gifting of Barbees, etc. to so many millions of little girls!  Now I am realizing even more how blessed I was, and thus passed on to my daughter (and her mom is passing on to my granddaughter), the rule for girl-y life: “Pretty is as pretty does.”  It used to infuriate me when my grandmother would say this when I wanted her to admire a new Easter dress.  Now, I am so thankful!

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