By Alex Temblador
Though your daughters may love Disney Princesses, a recent study found that they may negatively impact young girls in different ways. Family Life professor Sarah M. Coyne of Brigham Young University took 198 preschoolers — both boys and girls — and studied their interactions with Disney Princesses in terms of toys and movies.
The study discovered that 96% of girls and 87% of boys had viewed Disney media in some capacity with 61% of girls playing with Disney princess toys at least once a week, whereas only 4% of boys did. From there, Coyne learned that playing with Disney princesses seemed to encourage more gender-normative behavior in both boys and girls such as playing with stereotypical “girl toys” like dolls and playing house and tea.
However, for girls, playing with Disney princesses can have long-term negative effects such as body image issues or discourage them from pursuing math or science in school.
“We know that girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can’t do some things,” Coyne told BYU News. “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.”
The study also suggested that girls would seek out role models that were “beautiful,” rather than strong, smart, or talented. Disney princesses are also the first example of the “thin ideal,” which can negatively influence a young girls perspective of beauty and self-esteem.
However, the opposite happened with boys: “boys in the study who engaged with Disney Princess media had better body esteem and were more helpful to others.” Playing with princesses actually counter-balanced the hyper-masculine superhero media that boys are traditionally introduced to.
“I think parents think that the Disney Princess culture is safe. That’s the word I hear time and time again—it’s ‘safe,’” Coyne told BYU News. “But if we’re fully jumping in here and really embracing it, parents should really consider the long-term impact of the princess culture.”
“Most people label Disney Princesses as very safe, so this is likely the first time that individuals may have even considered there is a less than ‘magical’ side to the franchise,” Coyne told Huffington Post.
She suggested that parents encourage their daughters to play with a variety of toys and activities, and just have Disney princesses be one of many.
Coyne added, “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.”