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.
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.
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.”
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.