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Princesses aside, many young girls worry they are fat

November 24, 2009 | 11:21 am

Princess Parents who worry their young daughters may be overexposed to princess images on television and in movies and videos can take a small measure of satisfaction from a new study showing girls age 3 to 6 don't suffer body-image problems from observing these characters. However, the study still found that even little girls worry they are fat.

The role of media in shaping girls' perceptions of their appearances has been a concern for many years. Several studies suggest that grade-school-age girls and teens compare themselves with fashion models and television and movie stars and may become dissatisfied with their own appearance as a result. But the new study, which surveyed 121 U.S. girls, found they were not affected by watching "Cinderella" or Belle in "Beauty and the Beast." Half of the girls watched videos of pretty, thin heroines and half watched videos that did not contain appearance-related messages. After observing the girls' behavior during play, the researchers concluded that young girls were more likely to adopt the persona of the princess instead of focusing on her appearance.

Despite this positive finding, 31% of the girls said they always worried about being fat and another 18% said they sometimes worried about being fat, according to the study, conducted by the researchers from the University of Central Florida.

The new Disney movie "The Princess and the Frog" opens this week in Los Angeles, providing a good opportunity for parents to talk to their daughters about perceptions of beauty. For example, parents can point out how the princess' waist is unrealistically tiny and that no one has perfect skin.

"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," said the lead author of the study, psychology professor Stacey Tantleff-Dunn, in a news release. "We should help them build a positive self-image with an appreciation for many different types of body attributes."

The study is published online this week in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Actress Anika Noni Rose arrives at the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "The Princess and the Frog" at the Disney Studios in Burbank. Credit: Kevin Winter  /  Getty Images.