The Psychological Effects of Disney Films on Young Girls' Self-Image and Gender Roles


Most girls grow up watching Disney films, especially the films that end with a happily ever after. Included among these films are classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. What is the problem with Disney overtaking children entertainment and what impact does it have on young girls? Although much of society sees these films as harmless entertainment because they are so entrapped by Disney’s magic, it is important to understand the influence Disney princess films have over children’s understanding of gender roles and identity development.

In this review, I will investigate some of the messages portrayed to young girls through the Disney Princess franchise about gender roles. I will particularly investigate the impact of television viewing, the portrayal of gender roles, and the influence on a young girl’s self-esteem.

After analyzing my research, I will be able to support my claim that: The Disney Princess Franchise has a positive worldwide impact on a child’s happiness and motivates young girls to live happily ever after, but the world of Disney Princesses’ focuses on perfection, beauty, and incorporates longstanding stereotypes; its messages and ideas negatively affect the self esteem and growth of young girls and their understanding of gender roles in today’s society.

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Too much Television

For my essay, it is important to not only look at the impact of Disney films, but also the influence of television viewing as whole. Over the past few decades, watching television seems to have become one of life’s essential activities.

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Back in the day, there was no high definition TVs, high color resolution settings, and many families were satisfied with having a standard black and white television for the whole family. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to not find a source where you can catch watch the latest music videos or Netflix whether you watch via your laptop, iPod, iPad, or television. England, Descartes, and Collier-Meck’s discussion of “Gender Role Portrayal and the Disney Princesses,” particularly takes into consideration the effect of television by stating, “Several studies highlight the implications of televised media with regard to gender. Higher levels of exposure to television have been correlated with more traditional ideas of gender roles”(556). This statement supports that the more television children watch, the more they are exposed to absorbing mixed messages through the media. This same pattern is supported in other literature. Further, according to researchers Robinson et al. argues that ” Disney films are a prime outlet for children’s media consumption as a result of their availability on DVDs and videos, which allows for their frequent in-home viewing…”(qtd. in Bazzini and Regan 2699).

Children have easy access to the Disney phenomenon and the amount of exposure they have through a television screen is too much. Nowadays, most of the Disney DVDs include a free digital copy, where the consumers can download a copy of the film for free onto an ipad, ipod, or any portable device where they can view the film anywhere. Stephanie Hanes’ essay ” Little girls or little women? The Disney Princess Effect” supports that the amount of television children view is too much. Hanes notes, that ” In 2003, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 36 percent of children under 6 live in a house where the TV is on all or almost all of the time; 43 percent of children ages 4 to 6 have a TV in their bedroom. In 2010 the foundation reported that, on average, children ages 8 to 18 consume 10 hours, 45 minutes’ worth of screen media content a day,” (6).

This statistic that Hane uses really makes a powerful impact to the reader by illustrating a big change in today’s society with the amount of hours of television kids watch today. Every year, the amount of viewing hours is increased. Looking back at a few years ago, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Report in 1999, “children watch an average of 2.5 to 3 hours of television per day, or nearly 20 hours per week” ( Adess et al. 20). From 1999 to 2010, the amount of hours that children watch television is incredibly high. Both of these statistics really emphasize that it is important for today’s society to decrease those amount of hours. In each of these discussions, the impact of television consumption is highly emphasized.

Finding her Prince Charming

While women may be shedding some of their traditional gender roles, the pretty pink princess culture still abounds in the media and in merchandise aimed at young girls. The Disney princess films all revolve around common themes. Disney princesses are usually motherless, have an evil and powerful step-mother, or they are either being forced into marriage or work. According to Dr. Lena Lee’s discussion ” Understanding Gender through Disney’s Marriages: A study of Young Korean Immigrant Girls,” her results indicated that” Disney heroines were seen as having external impediments to getting married regardless of the extent to which they were royal or rich,” which makes Disney women seem like an inferior group (15). This same pattern is supported in other literature. In England, Descartes, and Collier-Meck’s discussion of “Gender Role Portrayal and the Disney Princesses,” notes that ” the princess always won the love of the prince by the end of the Disney Princess films, and this portrayal of romance provides a strongly gendered message” (565). Young girls are provided with consistent exposure to the social script that one falls in love very quickly, against all odds or both. Women are also prone to facing obstacles and barriers, through their relationship. They also note,” each princess showcased her skills as a caretaker and mother, was conventionally beautiful, had or gained social power and wealth, and was adored by other characters,” which once again reinforces the desirability of traditional gender conformity (567).

This supports that most of the princesses in the films are depicted as traditional housewives. Other literature supporting this idea is seen in the discussion, ” Wake up Sleeping Beauty: Strong Heroines for Today’s World,” where Dr. Kuon and Dr. Weimar emphasize this idea and state ” If the majority of female characters are most prized for their beautify, ability to clean, and the fact that they are passive, meaning they are not in control of their lives in large and small ways, what will children who are inundated by fairy tail images in print and media learn about appropriate feminine behavior,” (1). While both England and Lee point out the negative messages that young girls might be exposed to about gender roles, Kuon extends more the idea how can this impact a girl’s future and imagination. These author’s send a message to the reader that the original Disney princess films all incorportate that “someday my prince will come” attitude. For example, Sleeping Beauty could not wake up in the film without “true love’s kiss,” and Cinderella had to wait for her “prince charming” to come and lead her to a “happily ever after.” They illustrate to the reader that these princesses are portrayed as helpless, passive victims who need protection, and setting high standards for how a girl should look and act without teaching the importance of independence. The author understand that while it is a controversial matter to blame Disney as the initiator of an introductory image of the passive female to such young girls, it is apparent that Disney princesses do propagate the passive female figure who desperately needs a prince in order to live happily ever after. All of these three reviews address that theme.

Pretty in Pink Princess Syndrome

The princess syndrome is impossible to find in a medical textbook, but nowadays many young girls suffer from the Princess Syndrome. This syndrome involves the “pretty in pink” ideal, where a young girl focuses only on the external aspects of life. They focus only on the beauty of things, and they obsess about their looks. The influence that the Disney Princesses have on young girls leaves many parents astonished. Nearly half of the 3-to 6-year old girls in a study by University of Central Florida psychology professor Stacey Tantleff Dunn and Doctoral student Sharon Hayes say they worry about being fat. Also, about one third would change a physical attribute, such as their weight or hair color. In their article,” Am I too fat to be a princess? Examining the effects of popular children’s media on young girl’s body image” explains that princesses’ tiny waists are not realistic for girls and they believe that, ” we need to help our children challenge the images of beauty, particularly thinness, that they see and idolize and encourage them to question how much appearance should be part of their self-worth (423). The same pattern is supported in other literature.

Furthermore, according to another study, ” Damsels in Discourse: Girls consuming and Producing Identity Texts through Disney Princess Play,” “Once can be Cinderella all day long, sleeping in pink princess sheets, eating from lavender Tupperware with Cinderella decals, and dressing head to toe in licensed apparel, from plastic jewel encrusted tiara to fuzzy slipper-socks (58). Girls are glued to the pink phenomena, by replicating their favorite princess all day long.

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The Psychological Effects of Disney Films on Young Girls' Self-Image and Gender Roles. (2022, Jun 08). Retrieved from

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