Washington | Parents, take note! Disney Princess animated movies could make your children more prone to potentially damaging stereotypes and may lead to negative body image in girls, a new study has warned. Heralded by adults and kids alike, Disney Princess movies are the quintessential kids’ movies, positive and enjoyable for all.
However, new research by Sarah M Coyne of Brigham Young University in the US shows that engagement with Disney Princess culture is not so harmless – it can make preschoolers more susceptible to potentially damaging stereotypes. These stereotypical behaviours are not bad in and of themselves, but past research has shown that they can be limiting in the long term for young women, researchers said.
The new study involved 198 preschoolers and assessed how much they interacted with Disney Princess culture (watching movies, playing with toys, etc). The assessments of princess engagement and gender-stereotypical behaviour were based on reports from parents and teachers and an interactive task where the children would sort and rank their favourite 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 per cent of girls and 87 per cent of boys had viewed Disney Princess media. While more than 61 per cent of girls played with princess toys at least once a week, only four per cent of boys did the same. For both boys and girls, more interactions with the princesses predicted more female gender-stereotypical behaviour a year later.
Gendered behaviour can become problematic if girls avoid important learning experiences that are not perceived as feminine or believe their opportunities in life are different as women. We know that girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can’t do some things, Coyne said. They’re not as confident that they can do well in math and science.
They don’t like getting dirty, so they’re less likely to try and experiment with things, she said. Greater female stereotypical behaviour is not worrisome for boys because those who engaged with Disney Princess media had better body esteem and were more helpful to others.
These beneficial effects suggest that princesses provide a needed counterbalance to the hyper-masculine superhero media that is traditionally presented to boys. However, the negative effects for girls are not limited to damaging stereotypical behaviour 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.