Is the Disney princess culture good or bad for your kids?

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

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.

Dr. Rhoda Gottfried, an Advocate Medical Group child and adolescent psychiatrist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., says a princess movie’s message can be shaped by parents, as well.

“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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  1. The issue I have with Disney is the continued absence of Princess Tiana in stores, movies and even Dollar Tree. The African American Disney Princess is not in the group of princesses on party goods, (plates cups, goodie bags, place mats), t-shirts, raincoats, umbrellas and on and on and on. I refused to take my grand-daughter to Disney on Ice last yr, because Tiana wasn’t in it the yr before. How harmful do you think THIS is to girls of color? I’d like someone to do a study on this deliberate, blatant act of exclusion. Another situation/issue that makes us scream in protest, ;BLACK LIVES MATTER.” As usual, I don’t expect a response. As always, white Americans refuse to acknowledge the disparity our people, even our kids, face on a daily basis. So sad.

  2. Linda, black lives do matter! I agree wholeheartedly! I’m a pediatric health care provider, and although I’m not black, I try to plug the Princess Tiana and Doc McStuffins stickers to the kids, all of them. I think they are great role models – strong and independent characters working hard and accomplishing their dreams.

    I found this article interesting. Although I appreciate the theory stated in the article, I wonder if maybe the boys could also be learning to be kind from the female characters, the typical leads of most Disney movies, who thus have far more screen time, rather than just from their same gender Prince Charmings? Food for thought.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.