Preschool Girls Fixate More Than Boys on Appearance

In a study of 170 children, girls as young as 3 were concerned about 'looking pretty'
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2024 5:30 PM CDT
Preschool Girls Fixate More Than Boys on Appearance
   (Getty / Dmitriy Chukichev)

Long before they'll encounter the glass ceiling, girls as young as 3 are being confronted with an over-emphasis on the glass mirror. This is what a recent study out of psychologist May Ling Halim's lab at California State University found when interviewing and observing children ages 3 to 5, the Hill reports. Details:

  • Valuing appearances: Of the 170 child participants, girls valued physical attractiveness to a greater extent than boys despite being as young as 3 years old. "Girls said that to be a girl they needed to be pretty, and looking pretty was important," Halim wrote in HuffPost.
  • The Disney princess problem: When discussing characters in media, girls were five times more likely than boys to gravitate toward them because of their appearance. Meanwhile, boys attributed "action reasons" to liking characters, like Spider-Man, "because he jumps high, climbs, and shoots webs." Halim says that although Disney has begun to diversify and create more active heroines, their princesses still play a big part in shaping how girls see themselves.
  • Dress-up: Images of fashionable clothing also imprinted on girls more than boys—and they were more drawn to fancy clothing and occupations that emphasized appearance (like modeling) when they were given options to choose from. Halim's previous work found that when given play money, girls were more likely to choose toys that emphasized appearance, like pretend vanities.
  • Messaging starts young: "Our study concluded that gender differences related to how much emphasis we place on beauty likely start in preschool," Haim wrote. To help counter this, she suggests exposing children to different toys and media and shifting language used to compliment girls away from their appearance.
(New York considers regulating what children see in social media feeds.)

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