Is the Disney princess culture good or bad for your kids?
Disney princesses have fascinated young girls for years, and busy parents may think entertaining their children with a “good” movie featuring a princess with great traits like kindness and compassion is a no-brainer. But new research suggests that princess movies send strong messages about gender roles at a young age and can lead to confidence and body image issues in girls.
Researchers created a survey to learn about the Disney princess culture amongst 200 four year-old girls and boys. Researchers also surveyed the children’s mothers and teachers. They discovered that Disney princesses may actually have long-lasting effects on children.
In fact, girls who participated in the most princess-related activities had more stereotypical attitudes about gender. These attitudes included things like thinking cookware and tea sets were only for girls. And when researchers checked in a year later, they found the girls’ attitudes remained the same.
“So many feminine traits are great — being nurturing, kind, loving and sharing,” said Sarah Coyne, one of the study’s researchers in an interview with livescience.com.
However, girls limiting themselves to gender stereotypes tend to limit themselves throughout life, research has found.
A negative body image for little girls was another main takeaway from the research. “Disney Princesses represent some of the first examples of exposure to the thin ideal,” Coyne told New York magazine’s The Cut. As early as preschool, children begin to express a preference for thin body types, and girls as young as five express fears of getting fat, the study found.
Interestingly, when the researchers assessed boys who were exposed to the movies, they found positive outcomes. Young boys with more exposure to princess movies were kinder to their friends and had a better body image. The study theorized this was because Disney “Prince Charmings” are shown as androgynous, or displaying both masculine and feminine characteristics, demonstrating that kindness isn’t exclusive to one gender.
“What our children watch and what they spend time thinking about shape who they are becoming,” Dr. Goffried explains. “You can tell your child that what you value in the females in your life is their hard-work, cognitive abilities and artistic talent.”
Discussing a movie’s message and the important characteristics of the princess or other characters in the movie helps children see beyond a princess’ dress size. Dr. Goffried suggests parents demonstrate the value of traits beyond physical appearance; after all, actions speak louder than words.
The messages in princess movies are what a child and their parents make of them. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with telling a girl that she’s beautiful,” Coyne says. “But they need to hear more that they’re smart and hardworking.”
Playing with tea sets and tiaras is fun, as long as the child knows their worth isn’t based on how they look in a sparkly gown.
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