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Do Disney Princesses Affect the Body Image of Young Girls? New Research Proves There Is a Link

Disney princess mirror
Credit: Disney and Canva

In the magical world of Disney, princesses have long captivated the hearts and imaginations of young girls. Characters like Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, and Belle have become an integral part of pop culture since Disney introduced them in their animated films. The Disney Princesses are adored for their kindness, bravery, strength, courage, and effortless beauty.

However, over the years, concerns have been raised about the potential impact of Disney Princesses on young girls’ body image and self-esteem. There is no denying that the Disney Princesses, especially the original ones, are often drawn with very slender and “unrealistic” body types. Now, new research is shedding light on how these drawings affect the psyche of young women.

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Credit: Disney

The Price of Loving Princesses

The “Disney Princess look” refers to the commonalities that can be seen amongst most, if not all, of these animated drawings. Big eyes, perfect skin, thick hair, and a slender frame make up the “typical” design of a Princess.

As adults, we can recognize that this body blueprint does not accurately represent the diverse assortment of shapes and appearances real women have. But can children draw that connection?

New research that was published in Psychology of Popular Media investigated this thought by conducting trials on over 300 children over a year’s time. Parents of the children were asked to identify their child’s favorite Disney Princess, and researchers then grouped these children accordingly based on the body type categories each princess falls into.

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Disney Princess Lessons

Credit: Disney

Why Representation Matters

What they found was truly incredible. For young girls whose favorite Disney Princess was an “average-sized” Princess like Moana or Merida, researchers found that these girls had “positive body esteem and engagement in both feminine-type and masculine-type play behaviors.” This was not seen in girls whose favorite Princess falls under the “thin” category. The study author, Jane Shawcroft of UC Davis, says;

“Specifically, children whose favorite princess had a more realistic body (e.g., Moana or Merida) experience better body esteem the more often children played pretend princess. In contrast, for children whose favorite princess has a super thin body (e.g., Aurora, Cinderella), we did not find a meaningful relationship between playing pretend princess and body esteem a year later.

This means not only were the ultra-thin princesses not a negative influence on children’s body esteem, but princesses with realistic bodies had a positive influence on children’s relationship with their body.”

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Credit: Disney

Shawcroft believes that this study adds a lot of “nuance” to this age-old body image issue debate. In a world where young women desperately need a positive role model, the Disney Princesses serve as powerful figures. This study is not meant to tear down the Disney movie Princesses who were drawn to be extremely thin. Instead, this shows Disney and the world that adding body diversity to characters in Disney films is a positive change that can lead to real-world changes.

The full study, “Ariel, Aurora, or Anna? Disney Princess Body Size as a Predictor of Body Esteem and Gendered Play in Early Childhood” is a fascinating read and will surely lead to more discussion on this incredibly interesting topic.

About Eva Miller

Eva was born and raised in the beautiful state of Oregon but has since relocated and lives in New York City. Since she was young, Eva has loved to perform in musicals, especially Disney ones! Through performing, Disney’s music became the soundtrack of her childhood. Today, Eva loves to write about all the exciting happenings for the Walt Disney Company. In her free time, Eva loves to travel, spend time in nature, and go to Broadway shows. Her favorite Disney movie is 'Lilo and Stitch,' and her favorite Park is Disney's Animal Kingdom.