A new study reports that when 121 girls, ages 3-6, were asked to pick the "real princess" from a photo collection of girls in ballerina costumes, 50 percent of the girls chose the thinnest ballerina. Is Disney to blame?
In a piece for Newsweek's website, parenting writer Po Bronson explains that his 5-year-old daughter is excited for the Princess And The Frog. But:
My daughter's been infatuated with Disney princesses since she was 3, and she's also now showing some early concerns with her body image. It's important to her to "look pretty," or "look cute." She's said things like, "Those sneakers make my feet look fat."
Bronson admits that he doesn't know where the body-image stuff comes from, but wonders: "Do Disney princesses make young girls obsessed with thinness?"
A study released this week by Drs. Sharon Hayes and Stacey Tantleff-Dunn attempted to answer that question:
Hayes and Tantleff-Dunn brought 121 girls aged 3 to 6 into their lab and showed them video clips for 14 minutes. Half the girls watched princess clips; half watched nonprincess cartoons like Dora, Clifford, and Dragon Tales. Then each girl was given 15 minutes to enjoy herself in a play room, and the scholars recorded how many of those minutes were spent in appearance-related play, such as sitting at the vanity or changing clothes in front of the mirror.
You're probably thinking that the princess-inundated girls immediately went to play dress up and admire themselves, but they didn't. The reasearchers found no statistical difference between the girls who watched princess scenes and those who watched Dora and Clifford. Bronson writes, "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."
Despite the results of this study, staring at wasp-waisted cartoon ladies has to have an effect — maybe it's subtle, cumulative? Because 31% of the little girls said they always worry about being fat; 18% sometimes worry about it. If Disney's not giving them ideas, who is? Someone closer to home, perhaps? Bronson claims the girls said things like, "Being fat is bad." And, even more telling: "My mommy thinks she's fat."
The good news is that thinness wasn't the biggest concern on the minds of these 3, 4, 5 and 6 year-olds. The bad news is:
Asked what they would change about their physical appearance… these girls wanted to change their hair color, their clothes, and their skin color. According to these young girls in Orlando (40 percent of whom were nonwhite), it helps to be a princess if your hair is blond and skin is white.
Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty: Looking at you.
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