For Princesses, the Question Remains: Who’s the Fairest?

While girls “playing princess” may define themselves by looks, Disney films evolve to focus more on heroines’ actions.

This story appears in the January 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.

In classic Disney animated films, a female character receives seven times the praise for her appearance as for her skills and actions. When linguists Carmen Fought of Pitzer College and Karen Eisenhauer of North Carolina State University analyzed the dialogue from 12 Disney movies, they found that in early films 60 percent of compliments to females related to looks and just 9 percent to abilities. Such patterns send children “a message about what it means to be a girl or boy,” Fought says—suggesting to girls that “their value is based on their appearance.” In newer films Disney has flipped the script. The analysis found that in movies such as Brave, girls get more nods for courage and abilities than for beauty.

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