Is “Princess Culture” Destroying Girls’ Self-Esteem?

posted: 06/23/16
by: Ashley Vazquez
picture of girl in princess dress

Given the amount of Elsa costumes I see during playtime, it's safe to say that princesses are more popular than ever. Yes, parents and teachers are trying their best to teach girls to be strong, smart, and independent, but the allure of a ball gown and tiara are hard to beat. Though it seems harmless to play "princess" every once in awhile, recent research shows us that there may be a downside to this royal role play.

A recent study published in Child Development found some disturbing information about the effect of "princess culture" on preschool girls. Mainly, the more they watch Disney princess movies and play with princess toys, the more likely they are to display "stereotypical female behavior."

Sarah Coyne, a professor of Family Life at Brigham Young University (and a concerned mom), studied 198 preschoolers and found that 96 percent of girls and 87 percent of boys had viewed Disney Princess media. But it affected them in completely different ways.

She documented not only the children's viewing habits, but parent and teacher questionnaires about the child's personality and behavior. One year later, she went back and noticed a scary pattern. The more girls played with princess toys and viewed princess media, the more they bought into traditional gender stereotypes.

Gendered behavior can become problematic if girls start to feel limited by these stereotypes and lose confidence in their abilities.

In a statement, Coyne said: "We know that girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can't do some things. 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."


Que coisinha mais linda ? aaaa.. Me da #disneyprincess #adorable #coisamaislinda #queroadotar

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Girls who consumed more princess media also tended to have lower body esteem and self-confidence.

Coyne says:"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."

On the other hand, "princess culture" appears to have the exact opposite effect on boys. Boys who regularly interacted with princess media developed better body esteem and became more helpful to others. This suggests that princesses provide a counterbalance to the hyper-masculine superhero media that's marketed to boys.

According to Coyne, completely cutting off princess culture isn't necessary, nor is it practical given the overwhelming amount of princess movies, toys, and merchandise. Instead, she suggests parents be open to discussing the positives and negatives of "princess culture" with their kids, and expose them to a wide variety of media.

Coyne's findings have heavily influenced the way she helps her daughter interact with princesses media. The bright side is, there are certain things you can do as a parent to prevent any negative effects. Coyne shares this anecdote:

"What drives me crazy is when you get a princess who's not gender stereotyped, like Merida from Brave. I took my daughter to see it, and afterward we had a great conversation about how strong, brave and independent Merida was in the movie. And then in the marketing, Disney slims her down, sexualizes her, takes away her bow and arrow, gives her makeup--feminizes her. So then we're at the supermarket and see this 'new Merida' on fruit snacks and soup cans, and I point it out to my daughter and we have a conversation about the difference. And now when we're at the store, she'll see the soup can herself and say, 'That's not the real Merida and I'm not buying it."

#keepmeridabrave #shameondisney ?

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