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How Does the Disney Princess Influence Affect Your Child’s Self Esteem?

So we have a daughter, she’s 2.5 yrs old.  We both think the world of her and want her to grow up happy and fulfilled.  Additionally, my focus is for her to grow up polite, kind, courteous.

Dad’s Take on Princess Stories

My husband’s focus is something completely different.  He wants her to grow up “tough and strong”, tomboyish, and he treats her as he would a son.  He play-fights with her, allows her to kick him, punch him.  He has bought her a sword and loves showing her karate/kung-fu movies (yes, at 2.5 yrs. old).  Needless to say, he hates the girly stuff she is into.  He gets that she’s a girl, and that she’s interested in those other girly things, but one thing he hates is all the “princessy stuff”. He is selective with his princess inclusion, only Mulan so far has gotten through his strict radar.

Why is he not down with the princess stuff? Basically, he doesn’t believe in the message of most princess movies/stories, where most princesses need to be “saved” by a prince, where most princesses don’t feel complete without a prince, and most of them are, let’s say a certain prototype.  We’ve actually had to give up a bunch of Disney Princess books we’ve received as gifts because of his princess ban.

Mom’s Take on Princess Stories

I grew up on Disney films, and I happened to love them.  And I happen to think that I’ve grown up “tough and strong”, so for a while, my hubs and I aren’t seeing eye to eye on the princess ban.  However, I cracked open a Special Edition Beauty and the Beast one afternoon, and this line struck me in particular.  Gaston, one of the guys pursuing Belle says:

she’s the prettiest and therefore she’s the best.”

I was starting to get his point after all.

Could Dad Have a Point?

I decided to research whether there was any information regarding the subject of all those princess and Disney influences being negative on little girls, and I found one article by Newsweek, entitled Do Disney Princesses Make Young Girls Obsessed With Thinness?.

Play Research Study

The study outlined had 121 girls aged 3-6 yrs old watch 14 minutes of different things; half of the young girls watched Disney films, and half watched clips of Dora, Clifford, Dragon Tales.  After the clips, the girls were given 15 minutes to play in a playroom, and “appearance-related” activities such as playing with in front of a mirror were recorded.  They were also asked to pick out who they thought were princesses from pictures of different girls in varying sizes and costumes.  Last, they were interviewed about body-types and their preferences.

Play Study Results

There were no significant statistical difference between the girls who watched the Disney films, and those who watched the other, more educational shows.

Watching Anastasia and Cinderella and Belle didn’t make them play longer at the vanity or try on more dresses afterward. It didn’t make them more likely to pick the thinnest figure as the “Real Princess.” It didn’t exacerbate their desire to be thinner.

Though they had no conclusive evidence, the researchers postulated that the children who did worry about their weight made statements pointing to their mothers’ own dissatisfaction with their weight and body type.

Which brings me back full circle to my disagreement with my husband, and my point from the beginning: my daughter’s biggest influence at this age about her self-perception will be me and her father, not princesses in Disney films and storybooks.  On one level, that is a lot of responsibility and it makes me a bit anxious; on another, more important level, I’m glad that I and my husband will have the  bigger  hand in molding her character and personality.  The princesses, if she likes them (and she is so adorable as one so why not?) are okay with me.

What do you think?


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11 Comments on "How Does the Disney Princess Influence Affect Your Child’s Self Esteem?"

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[…] may watch all of the Disney movies about Princesses and wish that they could be like them. This article brings up a controversial topic that some parents may face when their young daughters are growing […]

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Cordelia
5 years 7 months ago

That is a very interesting post. However, I feel it necessary to point out that while most Princess merchandise is really geared towards being vain, it isn’t really fair to use Gaston’s words as a relevant example. Gaston is an arrogant, self-conceited fool who thinks himself the best because of his looks. It is natural he would blurt out such a thoughtless statement equating ‘beauty’ with ‘being the best’, but I don’t think Disney was condoning such logic in that book.

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[…] It dubs in the voices for the Mean Girls trailer into the Disney princess movies. It made me think about all the articles there are about how Disney Princesses can be harmful to a girls’ psyche, like this article. […]

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Natalie
5 years 9 months ago
I agree with BalancingJane. I don’t have problems with the Princess movies per se, it’s the hype and marketing around them, the immersion. It’s too much. And after your daughters decide that they’re too old for princesses, they move on to something else. Hannah Montana, Barbies, Bratz, and all of the hype and marketing that goes into them. And then comes the low self-esteem, the eating disorders, only finding worth when with a man. And maybe I’m taking it too far, but I like balance. I’d there are plenty of other substitutes. Annie, Pippi Longstocking, remember those? Our 4 year… Read more »
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5 years 10 months ago
I just linked to this post for a post on my own blog. I recently found out I’m having a girl, and it’s got me really contemplating this issue. I’ve come down on the other side. One of the things that strikes me about the study you cite is that they are watching the children play after 14 minutes of exposure, not a lifetime. I don’t doubt that children are (in general) intelligent and creative enough to not be manipulated by brief encounters with these types of messages, but what about a whole lifetime of them? When does something start… Read more »
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Ari
6 years 19 days ago
I grew up with the Disney Princesses, and I don’t believe they have negatively affected my body image. I have a very healthy body image, and I think that’s what we need to convey to little girls; you have to focus on being active, happy, and healthy rather than just being attractive for the sake of being attractive. Also, when Gaston says ‘She’s the prettiest, and that makes her the best.’ it’s already been made clear that he’s a brutish idiot. No little girl is going to watch that movie and say ‘I want to marry a man just like… Read more »
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Michelle
6 years 1 month ago

I think the way they look on the ideal person just like what they see on a Disney princess is what affects their self esteem.

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Kristina
6 years 1 month ago

Most Princess movies have important values and though all of our dreams may not come true and there may not always be a prince charming waiting to whisk us away, most princesses are strong minded and long to be independent from the control of others, it is our responsibilities as adults to teach our children the difference between movies and reality, and to let them know what to expect from real life,

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Laura
6 years 1 month ago

Very thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing! I used to think I would never let my girls watch Disney princess movies, either, for the same reasons you mentioned above. But it’s important for us to keep in mind that we as parents are our children’s biggest influences.

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