Stacey Dunn and Sharon Hayes’ research on body image with children is getting great coverage in the popular press. The research was based on Sharon Hayes masters research.

Yesterday’s post by Po, “Do Disney Princesses Make Young Girls Obsessed With Thinness?” certainly hit a nerve. We’ve received tons of reactions─here, on Facebook, Twitter, and in e-mails and blogs. And a couple common themes have popped up across these comments, so we thought we’d highlight a few of them.

First, many people have suggested that─given the international obesity epidemic─it might actually be good for children to see thin characters─even unrealistically thin ones─because it might make them more weight conscious.

That’s a really interesting argument─but I think it misses a key point. This study focused on girls aged 3 to 6 who, as Po said yesterday, did not change their behavior or body image after watching the princess videos. The videos simply were not affecting them, for good or bad. While some girls felt bad about their bodies, the research was not clear that it was fat girls who were worried about being fat─the scholars did not cross-correlate body-image dissatisfaction against body-mass index. It could have been the thin girls who worried about their weight, while the obese girls didn’t care.

Another point made by a number of people has been that it’s wrong to speak about race with a young child, because it teaches the child to notice race which then leads to kids being racist. While we understand that view, we once had it ourselves, there is no scientific support for it. In fact, the science suggests that it’s the exact opposite: by not talking about race, we allow kids to come with their own interpretation of what race means─and often their conclusions would be abhorrent to their parents. Because we leave it up to them to decide what race and ethnicity mean. We have written a lot about this topic, and we hope that newer column readers will consider reading some of our pieces on kids’ understanding about race─starting with the relevant chapter in our book (excerpted by NEWSWEEK) and the other columns we’ve written on this issue.

The most interesting line of comments, I thought, came from those who argued that the problem with Disney movies isn’t the images of the characters, but the gender division of what they are doing. Mac101 started this dialogue off by arguing that the Disney movies that center around a heroine (e.g. Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast) are almost all love stories─the drama revolves around getting the girl her true love and then marrying her off. The Disney movies that feature boys, however, have a much wider and complex variety of storylines. There’s Jungle Book, Toy Story, Peter Pan, Pinocchio─if there are love stories in there at all, they are at least secondary to the plot.

I know there is a truism in children’s book publishing that only girls will read stories about girls, while both girls and boys will want to read stories about boys. So maybe there is something related there, but I don’t know.

We love all of the responses: please keep them coming (not just on this response, but on the others as well!)

Source: Newsweek

{UCF Today:  The authors of the research study are from the University of Central Florida: Stacey Dunn is a UCF psychology professor and Sharon Hayes is a doctoral student}