Disney princesses and other fictional film and television characters who boast unrealistically skinny body types can negatively impact young girls’ self-esteem and body confidence, a study claims.
Brigham Young University’s Dr. Sarah Coyne conducted a study of 198 pre-school children and found that a full 96 percent of the girls had viewed films featuring Disney princesses, while 87 percent of boys had done the same.
Of the children surveyed for the study in the academic journal Child Development, more than 60 percent of the girls reported playing with toys based on the princesses’ likeness at least once per week, while only 4 percent of boys reported the same behavior.
Dr. Coyne told the Daily Mail that the widespread exposure of young girls to Disney princesses could lead young children, and girls especially, to believe that they cannot do certain activities and jobs that they associate as being more masculine in nature.
“I think parents think the Disney princess culture is safe,” Dr. Coyne told the outlet. “That’s the word I hear time and time again — it is ‘safe.’ But if we are fully jumping in here and really embracing it, parents should really consider the long term impact of the princess culture.”
“We know girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can’t do some things,” Dr. Coyne added. “They are not as confident that they can do well in maths and science. They don’t like getting dirty, so they are less likely to try and experiment with things.”
Conversely, Dr. Coyne’s study found that boys who played less with the princess toys expressed greater self-confidence, better body esteem and were more helpful to others.
“When we talk to little girls, we hear less of ‘You’re so smart, you worked so hard, your body can do great things,’ but that is the more important message we should be sending,” Dr. Coyne told the Mail. “What drives me crazy is when you get a princess who is not gender stereotyped, like Merida from Brave. And then Disney slims her down, sexualizes her, takes away her bow and arrow, gives her makeup — feminizes her.”
Still, at least one Disney superfan likely doesn’t agree with the results of the study. Richard Schaefer, a 21-year-old self-described “Disney addict,” has spent years dressing up as his favorite female Disney princesses.
“Being a princess definitely helped me to become a more confident person,” Schaefer said in a recent interview with the Mail. “Not only do I feel beautiful as a person but I feel even more beautiful when I’m just myself, the ball gown is an added bonus.”
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum