Winona Dimeo-Ediger
June 22, 2016 7:44 am
Kari Rene Hall / Los Angeles Times / Getty

We love us some Disney princesses. We want to dress like them, run marathons inspired by themget married like them, study their evolution, and look at photos of them re-imagined as hot dogs, because of COURSE we do.

But as much as we love our animated icons, sometimes we must hesitantly admit that the powerful influence of Disney princess culture is not ALWAYS 100% positive. Case in point: a recent study found that Disney princess media had a negative effect on little girls’ body image, starting as early as preschool.

Disney Princesses represent some of the first examples of exposure to the thin ideal,” said Brigham Young University researcher Sarah Coyne. “As women, we get it our whole lives, and it really does start at the Disney Princess level, at age three and four.”

As sad as this is, we’re not entirely surprised. Because while Disney’s princesses have become stronger, more complex, and diverse over the years, their tiny waist sizes have not changed. Whether consciously or subconsciously, that beauty standard seeps in.

The study also found that little girls who consume princess media tend to have more traditional beliefs about gender stereotypes and the roles of men and women, which isn’t super encouraging. “Gendered behavior can become problematic if girls avoid important learning experiences that aren’t perceived as feminine or believe their opportunities in life are different as women,” according to the BYU study summary.

But on the flipside of the equation, when the researchers studied the effects of princess media on little boys, they found something surprising: the opposite was true. Boys who consumed princess media had better body esteem and were more helpful to others when compared to their non-princess-watching peers. “These beneficial effects suggest that princesses provide a needed counterbalance to the hyper-masculine superhero media,” the researchers explained. So cool. Let’s get more boys watching princess movies!

The biggest takeaway from this study, for both genders? Talk to your kids (or nieces/nephews/cousins/younger siblings/etc) about the media they’re consuming and the gender roles and body image standards that are depicted within it. Teach them to think deeply about the messages they’re getting, so they can keep loving their Disney princesses (because Lord knows we do!), while taking everything with a grain of salt.

Or should we say, a grain of magical fairy dust.

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