Disney princesses don’t hurt young girls’ self-esteem, study says

Disney princesses like Elsa from Frozen don’t hurt young girls’ self-esteem and ‘could be a powerful force for good,’ says study

  • Academics in America studied more than 300 girls and boys and their parents
  • They looked at how ‘princess culture’ affected children’s attitudes over time
  • Previous research suggested they promoted negative female stereotypes

Disney princesses like Elsa from Frozen don’t hurt young girls’ self-esteem and “may be a powerful force for good,” according to new research.

American academics studied more than 300 girls and boys and their parents to discover how “princess culture” influenced attitudes toward gender stereotypes, body value and masculinity over time.

Previous research had suggested that the fictional characters, beloved by generations of moviegoers and TV viewers, promoted negative female stereotypes by indoctrinating little girls at a young age.

The author of the new study, Sarah Coyne, of Brigham Young University in Utah, surveyed nursery children and their parents about their interest in movies and toys featuring current Disney princesses such as Elsa, Rapunzel and Moana.

Disney princesses like Elsa from Frozen don’t hurt young girls’ self-esteem and ‘could be a powerful force for good’, according to new research (file photo)

Five years later, they had to fill out questionnaires so that the research team could measure the effect of “princess culture” on attitudes between preschool and early adolescence.

Children were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed with statements such as ‘I am a kind and caring person’ and ‘I love babies and small children very much’ to examine compliance with gender stereotypes.

To examine masculinity and attitudes to women’s roles, the children were asked to rate statements such as ‘It is more important for boys than girls to do well in school’ and ‘Cursing is worse for a girl than for a boy’.

Parents were also asked how often their children played with gender-stereotyped toys such as dolls, tea sets and jewelry or activities such as pretend cleaning and cooking.

And they were asked to report on their child’s perceived body value, such as ‘My child wishes he/she looked better’, while children rated their self-esteem with questions such as ‘I feel love for my body’.

“Over time, we found that princess culture had a small but positive impact on child development over time,” said Dr. Coyne, who reviewed the findings published in the journal Child Development. ‘More involvement in princess culture during the preschool period was associated with a more progressive attitude towards women, especially for girls.’

US academics studied more than 300 girls and boys and their parents to discover how

US academics studied more than 300 girls and boys and their parents to discover how “princess culture” influenced attitudes toward gender stereotypes, body esteem and masculinity over time (file photo)

Commentators have suggested that the latest generation of princess films have become more feminist and move away from traditional male roles, compared to previous characters such as Snow White and Prince Charming.

dr. Coyne added, “Girls who were heavily involved in princess culture during preschool years were more likely to view educational opportunities, relationships, and careers as equally important to men as they are to women.”

She said many of the storylines in the latest generation of movies involve hard work chasing dreams, overcoming difficult challenges by finding inner strength, and focusing on performance rather than appearance.

dr. Coyne concluded: ‘This research suggests that children may learn more egalitarian views of men and women after contact with modern princess culture.’

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