Originally Posted: September 3, 2019
Martha Satz, Assistant Professor in the English Department was interviewed for this article.
Skyla is absolutely over the moon about princesses. The North Texas 5-year-old not only dresses up like the characters and enjoys the movies, but she has also attended parties alongside her aunt, a professional party entertainer who appears at events as princess characters.
But type “princess culture” into Google, and you’re sure to find a slew of articles declaring how bad princesses are for kids like Skyla:
“Why Disney princesses and ‘princess culture’ are bad for girls.”
“Can Disney fix its broken ‘princess culture’?”
“Study finds Disney princess culture magnifies stereotypes in young girls.”
So are there really so many negative effects resulting from our kids’ obsession with princesses?
When we show kids a princess movie, we are showing both the good and the bad traits—that princesses care about the needs of others, but also that they never raise their voices and always look put together. But what message is that sending to our kids?
In a 2016 study at Brigham Young University, family life professor Sarah M. Coyne studied how the princess culture affects preschoolers, both boys and girls. The kids who were more immersed in princess culture engaged in more female-stereotypical behavior a year later. What is “female-stereotypical behavior”? For one, Coyne noticed girls weren’t as confident that they’d do well in math and science, and they were less likely to try new things. And because princesses were always portrayed as perfect reflections of femininity, girls tried to imitate that in the real world.
The first thing that comes to most little girls’ minds when talking about princesses is how pretty they are. Their dresses are extravagant, and their looks are exaggerated to embody cultural standards of perfection. Mom, you know what we’re talking about—models, actresses, even Barbie—it’s the body type.
In an already oversaturated market of selling a certain body type, princesses have not been the best example for little girls when it comes to outward appearance. A few years ago, artist Meridith Viguet created a satirical tutorial on how to draw Disney princesses that went viral; features include big head, big eyes, small nose, slender shoulders, very small waist, no hips, no muscles and tiny feet.
Little girls admire the princesses and want to be like them and look like them, but animations like these could lead to exceptionally high expectations of what women should look like.
Ashlyn Gilbert’s 3 ½-year-old daughter, Adalynn, loves princesses. One of her favorite princesses is Rapunzel, and why? “She loves her long hair and will stroke at her own shoulder-length hair as if she has beautiful Rapunzel hair, which we tell her she does have,” the Fort Worth mom says. The way a princess looks directly affects the way some children see themselves.
School counselor and mental health expert Krista Thompson works with sixth- to 12th-graders in McKinney. She has found that kids exposed to the princess culture could have unrealistic expectations for themselves in their pursuit to be flawless.
“Over the years, there has been a fight to change the role [and] perception of women for the better in Disney films; however, there are still lingering negative messages being portrayed,” Thompson says. She explains that boys might believe they need to be “rich, powerful and hold a high role in society to obtain a good, perfect woman.” READ MORE