A new study by Brigham Young University professor Sarah M. Coyne researched the effects Disney princesses have on children. After evaluating 198 pre-schoolers, the research suggests Disney princesses have an overall harmful effect on young girls in relation to body image and gender identity. According to the results, girls who’re exposed to any Disney princess-related media, have stereotypical understandings of gender roles and identity, and that these unhealthy ideas persist even after the child stops engaging with Disney princesses.
It’s not that hard to see why the Disney aesthetic is detrimental to developing girls. The women are all thin, there are only a few princesses of color, and most, if not all of them, are damsels in distress whose lives are incomplete until they find their Prince Charming.
“What drives me crazy is when you get a princess who’s not gender stereotyped, like Merida from Brave,” Coyne said, “And then in the marketing, Disney slims her down, sexualizes her, takes away her bow and arrow, gives her makeup — feminizes her.”
But the study, published in Child Development, suggests Disney princess media has a positive influence on growing boys. By offering a counter-perspective to the hyper-masculine stereotype of Disney princes, engaging with Disney princesses helps boys become more helpful and have a more positive body image. Instead of furthering the idea that being a ‘man’ is completely relative to gendered ideas of masculinity, Disney princesses offer developing boys an alternative image that allows them to understand differing ideas of strength and power.
The research also shows a direct correlation between parental engagement and children’s beliefs in regards to gender roles. Coyne believes parents should challenge their children to see the problematic nature of Disney princess culture. She said, “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.”