Fic­tional char­ac­ters ‘pro­mote neg­a­tive fe­male stereo­types’

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Dis­ney princesses such as Elsa from Frozen can dam­age young girls’ body es­teem, re­search sug­gests.

Fic­tional char­ac­ters beloved by gen­er­a­tions of cin­ema go­ers ac­tu­ally pro­mote neg­a­tive fe­male stereo­types by in­doc­tri­nat­ing lit­tle girls at an early age, the study claims.

Elsa in Frozen has an un­re­al­is­ti­cally thin waist like many Dis­ney princesses over the years, in­clud­ing her sis­ter Anna, Jas­mine from Aladdin, Ariel from The Lit­tle Mer­maid, Cin­derella and Snow White. While many par­ents dis­miss the films and mer­chan­dise as harm­less, sci­en­tists said such things re­in­force un­help­ful stereo­types. Those who were most ob­sessed with a Dis­ney princess – want­ing to dress and be like them – were more likely to have poor body es­teem. Study au­thor Sarah Coyne said it made girls want to be thin, and want to avoid the sciences or jobs that are less as­so­ci­ated with women.

She 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 age three and four. “I think par­ents think the Dis­ney princess cul­ture is safe. That’s the word I hear time and time again – it is “safe”. But if we are fully jump­ing in here and re­ally em­brac­ing it, par­ents should re­ally con­sider the long term im­pact of the princess cul­ture.’

The study of 198 pre-school chil­dren, based on re­ports from par­ents and teach­ers, found 96 per cent of girls and 87 per cent of boys had viewed ‘Dis­ney princess’ movies. More than six in ten girls played with toy char­ac­ters at least once a week yet just four per cent of the boys did the same. Dr Coyne, from Brigham Young Univer­sity in the US, said this can be­come prob­lem­atic if girls avoid im­por­tant learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences not per­ceived as fem­i­nine or be­lieve their op­por­tu­ni­ties in life are dif­fer­ent as women. She said: “We know girls who strongly ad­here to fe­male gen­der stereo­types feel like they can’t do some things. “They are not as con­fi­dent that they can do well in maths and sci­ence.

“They don’t like get­ting dirty, so they are less likely to try and ex­per­i­ment with things.” Con­versely, the boys in the study who played with princess toys also had bet­ter body es­teem and were more help­ful to oth­ers, sug­gest­ing the princesses pro­vide a coun­ter­bal­ance to the hy­per­mas­cu­line su­per­heroes tra­di­tion­ally pre­sented to them. But girls with the worst body es­teem played more with the Dis­ney princesses over time, ac­cord­ing to the study in the jour­nal Child De­vel­op­ment.

I think par­ents think the Dis­ney princess cul­ture is safe. That’s the word I hear time and time again, it is “safe”. But if we are fully jump­ing in here and re­ally em­brac­ing it, par­ents should re­ally con­sider the long term im­pact of the princess cul­ture.

Sarah Coyne Study au­thor

Elsa from Frozen.

Jas­mine from Al­ladin.

Ariel from The Lit­tle Mer­maid.

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