Disney princesses contribute to body esteem issues: study

Disney was hit with a petition in 2013 when it issued a redesigned, sexualised version of Scottish princess Merida (above) for Brave.
Disney was hit with a petition in 2013 when it issued a redesigned, sexualised version of Scottish princess Merida (above) for Brave.PHOTO: WALT DISNEY

WASHINGTON • It is official: Disney princesses reinforce limiting gender stereotypes in young girls and contribute to body esteem issues.

Pretty As A Princess, a study published by Associate Professor Sarah Coyne of Brigham Young University, examined the effects of the pervasive "princess culture" that revolves around the Disney Princess marketing brand - concluding that it is not as "safe" as many parents suppose.

"We know that girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can't do some things," Prof Coyne said. "They're not as confident that they can do well in maths and science. They don't like getting dirty, so they're less likely to try and experiment with things."

She based her study on a set of almost 200 preschool children, both boys and girls, and how much their behaviour appeared affected by their consumption of Disney Princess material.

The study also showed that, over time, girls with body esteem issues were more likely to "engage more with the Disney Princesses over time".

Prof Coyne said: "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 ages three and four."

She also suggested that she was supportive of the 2013 protests against the "glam" version of the Merida character from Disney's Brave, which saw the company hit with a petition when it issued a redesigned image of the Scottish princess.

"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 afterwards, 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, sexualises her, takes away her bow and arrow, gives her make-up - feminises her."

Disney debuted its Princess brand in 2000 and, through the sale of toys, games, figurines and multiple fashion accessories, has made an estimated revenue of more than US$5.5 billion (S$7.45 billion) for the company.

However, it has come in for repeated criticism since author Peggy Orenstein's celebrated 2006 New York Times article, What's Wrong With Cinderella?.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Disney princesses contribute to body esteem issues: study'. Print Edition | Subscribe