We look at the “princess effect” and what it can mean for your little girl.
There’s so much to love about Disney. Most of us, for instance, have fond memories of the scene in which Mufasa teaches Simba about the circle of life. The Lion King is an amazing story that helps teach kids about familial love, paternal responsibility and selflessness.
But what about the less overt but nonetheless powerful messages our kids (and especially our girls) can sometimes take away from other fairy tales about princesses? Take, for example, Snow White and her greatest asset being her beauty.
Professor Sarah Coyne from Utah’s Brigham Young University decided to study the pervasiveness of “princess culture” by testing the amount of “princess material” that a group of 198 children (average age about 5 years) consumed over the course of a year. She then interviewed their parents and teachers about any behavioural changes, and observed the childrens’ preferences for different toys.
Coyne discovered that girls with low body esteem tended to “engage more with the Disney Princesses over time… Disney Princesses represent some of the first examples of exposure to the ‘thin ideal’. As women, we get it our whole lives, and it really does start at the Disney Princess level, at age three and four.”
If you think about the appearance of Jasmine, Ariel, Elsa, Cinderella, and Belle, it’s not hard to see a pattern: large eyes, thin waists, high cheekbones.
Young girls who watched more Disney Princess movies also tended to have “girly” interests. And as Coyne noted “research shows a strong adherence to female gender stereotypes can be limiting across time.”
But shunning the Disney Princesses entirely is not really a practical alternative for most of us.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help ensure your little princess develops a healthy sense of self-esteem and a positive body image whilst also singing ‘Let it go’ at the top of her lungs.
Get dirty: Let your girls play in the mud, roll in the grass, and jump in puddles. It seems that the more young girls are willing to get messy, the more they may be willing to explore.
Swap that frock: Remember that dressing up in a fairy outfit is not innate; your child has often been taught to do that. Reducing the visibility of gender roles may have a positive effect on young people.
More sports: Encourage young girls to play team sports. This may help them not only to engage in physical activity, but may also help them to sleep better, display more self-confidence and boost self-esteem. Encourage your daughter/s to get out there and play with a bat or ball. They’ll most likely learn a lot more about themselves on the football field than in front of a television.
And when your exhausted kids do eventually flop onto the couch, remember that there are other entertaining and educational children’s movies and series that may help teach them to be more inclusive, appreciate diversity, be respectful of differences, and even positive lessons about individuality and self-esteem.