It’s no secret that Disney Princesses are everywhere. If you’re a parent of a little girl, you know this even more than others. Beyond the dozens of movies over the years (The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Tangled, Frozen, etc.), the merchandising is unrelenting. Of course, there are Disney Princess toys and games. But there are also clothes, snacks, toothpaste, bandages, and more. The list is endless. On television, there’s Sofia the First and now Elena of Avalor.
So is all of this exposure to Disney Princesses actually good for our kids? Or could the opposite be true?
Disney Princesses: Under the Microscope
A new study aimed to get an answer to that question. It was led by Sarah Coyne, Ph.D., an
associate professor of family life at Brigham Young University. For the study, 198 preschoolers were monitored to see how much they engaged with Disney Princess culture. Interactions could involve watching the movies or playing with toys.
Parents and teachers reported on the children’s levels of princess engagement. There was also an interactive element where kids were asked to rank a group of toys from favorite to least favorite. The toys included traditional “girls” toys like dolls and tea sets, traditional “boys” toys like action figures and tools, and gender-neutral options like puzzles and paint.
A whopping 96 percent of girls were found to have watched Disney Princess material. But 87 percent of boys had also viewed Disney Princess media. More than 61 percent of the girls had played with Disney Princess toys at least once a week. Perhaps not surprisingly, only four percent of boys had played with Disney Princess toys.
“I think parents believe the Disney Princess culture is safe. That’s the word I hear time and time again—it’s ‘safe,'” Coyne said. “But if we’re fully jumping in here and really embracing it, parents should really consider the long-term impact.”
The Impact of Disney Princesses
The study followed more than just the children’s toy preferences, though. It also monitored their behaviors, how they felt about their bodies, and how they treated others.
For the girls, the higher their engagement in Disney Princess culture, the higher their tendencies toward “feminine” behavior. They liked to play dress-up and play with “girly” things. Most of their favorite toys could be found on the so-called “pink aisle” at the toy store.
Here’s the surprising part: Disney Princess culture had an incredibly positive impact on the boys. Boys who engaged in Disney Princess culture had better body self-esteem and exhibited more pro-social behaviors. Researchers suggest maybe boys need a counter-balance to the aggressive hyper-masculine media they traditionally consume.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
One good thing the study proved was that preschoolers, in general, do not feel self-conscious about their appearance. You might expect them to feel some lower self-esteem or develop negative body images from Disney Princess culture, but at this age, it’s not the case.
However, there are some interesting consequences from over-exposure to Disney Princess culture.
“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.”
This was, of course, a very small, very limited study, so it’s important not to draw too many consequences from it. Still, it does open a lot of questions and possibilities.
What do you think? Does Disney Princess culture do more harm than good?