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The impact of the princess phenomenon in a young girls self image

June 20, 2016 by Jon Mcbride, Brigham Young University Children don't have to completely disengage with princess culture, but parents should foster a wide variety of interests and talk to their kids about media influences, according to new research from BYU. But one symbol might be more powerful than any rating or review—the Disney logo.

Are Disney Princesses Hurting Your Daughter's Self-Esteem?

Heralded by adults and kids alike, Disney Princess animated movies are the quintessential "kids' movies," positive and enjoyable for all. Coyne shows that engagement with Disney Princess culture isn't so harmless—it can influence preschoolers to be more susceptible to potentially damaging stereotypes.

These stereotypical behaviors aren't bad in and of themselves, but past research has shown that they can be limiting in the long term for young women. That's the word I hear time and time again—it's 'safe,'" Coyne said.

  • So then we're at the supermarket and see this 'new Merida' on fruit snacks and soup cans, and I point it out to my daughter and we have a conversation about the difference;
  • Belle looked like a strong and courageous woman, and I decided I want to be like her when I grow up!
  • She loved books and her family;
  • For both boys and girls, more interactions with the princesses predicted more female gender-stereotypical behavior a year later;
  • She was fiercely loyal and had a strong moral compass;
  • Fast forward 26 years.

The assessments of princess engagement and gender-stereotypical behavior were based on reports from parents and teachers and an interactive task where the children would sort and rank their favorite toys from a varied collection of "girl" toys dolls, tea sets"boy" toys action figures, tool sets and gender-neutral options puzzles, paint.

The researchers found that 96 percent of girls and 87 percent of boys had viewed Disney Princess media. And while more than 61 percent of girls played with princess toys at least once a week, only four percent of boys did the same. For both boys and girls, more interactions with the princesses predicted more female gender-stereotypical behavior a year later.

Study: Disney Princesses Negative for Girls, Positive for Boys

Disney has come a long way, but still has some work to do, says Coyne. Gendered behavior can become problematic if girls avoid important learning experiences that aren't perceived as feminine or believe their opportunities in life are different as women. They don't like getting dirty, so they're less likely to try and experiment with things. These beneficial effects suggest that princesses provide a needed counterbalance to the hyper-masculine superhero media that's traditionally presented to boys.

However, the negative effects for girls aren't limited to damaging stereotypical behavior alone. The study also shows that girls with worse body esteem engage more with the Disney Princesses over time, perhaps seeking out role models of what they consider to be beautiful.

Instead, parents should foster a wide variety of interests and talk to their kids about media influences.

Study finds Disney Princess culture magnifies stereotypes in young girls

Coyne adds that it's important to be careful about the way in which parents talk to their kids about princesses. Coyne says not to get too heavy with younger children, but pointing out the positives and negatives can help kids be more aware of the media they're consuming. She's even done this with her own daughter: And then in the marketing, Disney slims her down, sexualizes her, takes away her bow and arrow, gives her makeup—feminizes her.

So then we're at the supermarket and see this 'new Merida' on fruit snacks and soup cans, and I point it out to my daughter and we have a conversation about the difference. And now when we're at the store, she'll see the soup can herself and say, 'That's not the real Merida and I'm not buying it.

In 2013, a petition on change. Coyne's daughter was three years old when work began on the study, and while it's rare for Coyne's research to impact her life directly, these findings hit close to home. Her work on how profanity in the media increases teen aggression appeared in Pediatrics and another study on how video games can be good for girls was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.