Disney’s Brave Merida Makeover: 2013 365 Challenge #137

The image that went with the petition

The image that went with the petition

I received a petition in my inbox last week, asking me to save Merida. For those who don’t know, Merida is the princess in Pixar’s Brave and the latest princess to be included in Disney’s official Princess Set (like some awful exclusive club!).

I haven’t seen the whole movie, but I’ve seen enough to know that Merida is awesome. She’s natural, with uncontrollable hair and normal features (no giant scary eyes for her). She’s a proper teenager who fights with her mum and thinks the world Is. Not. Fair. She wants to ride and shoot arrows and carve out her own future. She does not want to marry a prince. From the minute I learned of her existence I thought she was amazing and Pixar were brilliant for going even further than the great Rapunzel who, despite being a kick-ass Princess, still has unnatural features and the biggest eyes in the world.

So why did Merida need saving, and why did it warrant a petition? Normally the petitions I sign online are to do with Saving the NHS, or Saving Our Forests. Big causes. You wouldn’t think saving a cartoon princess – a bunch of colour pixels – would fall in the same category. But it does. Because this is what they wanted to do to Merida: They wanted to make her sexy and feminine in order to include her in the set of ‘official’ Disney Princesses.  Her already fairly curvy figure was enhanced and her waist narrowed. They tamed her hair, made her dress off-the-shoulder and dropped the bow and arrow.

Twenty-First Century Princess

Twenty-First Century Princess

Okay, maybe I get the bit about losing the bow and arrow. My father used to make bows for us as kids, with real arrows carved from ash trees. The neighbours were not impressed and many an argument was had over the inappropriate nature of a toy that could take a child’s eye out. I thought they were overly protective until I had my own kids, and now I know I wouldn’t welcome a bow and arrow as a toy. Although it’s no worse than a plastic sword! And at least it was the girl wielding it – so one to right the sexist imbalance in children’s toys.

My daughter loves dressing up as a Disney Princess, although I haven’t let her watch Cinderella, Snow White or Beauty and the Beast, partly because she isn’t interested, and partly because the women are a bit pathetic. I love the way the newer princesses have gone. And I don’t mind about the merchandising. My daughter looks fab in a Snow White dress, with her modern accessories of a mobile phone and laptop. Just as my son looks rather fetching as Spiderman in heels. But really, Disney, why go to the effort of creating the best Disney Princess ever only to ruin her for the sake of making her fit?

My Modern Princess

My Modern Princess

As I researched this post, it seems the old Merida is back and it was never intended to be a permanent change, only for some merchandising. In some images the changes aren’t as extreme, and maybe it was a storm in a tea cup: it’s hard to get a straight answer with Disney staying quiet.

Maybe Disney bowed to pressure, maybe it was a cynical marketing ploy to generate publicity, maybe it was an innocent mistake. Who knows? In the end it doesn’t much matter. What is important is the level of outrage it created (although, reading some of the comments as I researched this post, it seems many people think us mothers are going nutty over nothing. Deep breath. Count to ten.)

Hopefully, eventually, big companies like Disney will learn that it is not cool to take their duty so lightly. Millions of little girls look to Disney princesses as role models and, finally with Merida, they have someone who lives up to that responsibility. Use it wisely, Disney, use it well.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“You have reached your destination.”

The satnav’s prim voice startled Claire out of her reverie. She looked out the window, not sure what to expect. She hadn’t studied the website for this hostel and so was arriving blind. Her heart pattered anxiously, remembering her arrival at Sheringham.

“Alright, Thurlby, let’s see what you have to offer. Please be nice.”

It seemed strange pulling up outside the hostel, alone in the Skoda. There had been too much time for thought, driving north with all the Sunday commuter traffic. There wasn’t even the novelty of new, as the area was close to where she had grown up. Signs for Burghley House and Rutland Water only reminded her of rare family trips out, sibling bickering and a desire to hide.

Claire climbed out of her car and gazed up at the building. Her soul soared like a Red Kite riding a thermal. Tall Georgian sash windows beamed from deep red brick as tree branches in early bud danced over her head. Two weeks of tension drained from her shoulders as she took in the idyllic surroundings.

I don’t know what surprises me more; that these places exist as hostels, where you can stay for a tenner a night, or that I never knew they existed before I started this assignment. It felt a betrayal to be glad of anything Carl had done to her, but at that moment she was conscious of a deep sense of gratitude that she could come and stay in a Georgian Manor. By myself, for free. I’ll take it. Even if it does mean I’ll have to cycle round Rutland Water and oo-ah at Burghley. Again.

                

Curled up on the sofa, once more immersed in the adventures of Katniss, Claire felt like something was missing. She glanced up at the empty room, and wondered where the strange sensation was coming from. Maybe I’m hungry. Dry cereal isn’t really dinner. That will teach me not to check whether it was a catering hostel or not. Her tummy gurgled in agreement, but still that didn’t seem to be it. She glanced round the room again, and then she knew. She missed Sky. How is that possible? This is the first time I’ve felt free in a fortnight. And it was good to be alone, without the endless worry and chatter. But still, the room seemed too silent, the night stretching out before her too long.

“Ah well,” she said, her voice echoing in the quiet. “It’ll wear off.”

***

4 thoughts on “Disney’s Brave Merida Makeover: 2013 365 Challenge #137

  1. I’m kind of a bit on the fence about this one. While I think it’s a bit of a disappointment that Disney changed Merida (haven’t seen the movie, want to though), and rather indicative of our society in general, I’m not as up in arms over it as some people seem to.

    My daughter loves Disney princesses. And she loves Barbie (the movies are awesome, especially the older ones, I love them too!) But she doesn’t love them because they’re curvy or sexy. She loves them because they’re pink, and pretty. She doesn’t even see the sexy bits.

    Maybe she will one day, but I think if I spend enough time talking with her about realistic images, and how they aren’t, really, they’re more caricatures, then I don’t think it’s going to dramatically affect her self image.

    Sadly, I think society in general, especially the little cliques that form in school as girls get older, do far more damage.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response, Rinelle. I think what bothered me was the need to change Merida at all. If she’d always looked like that it would be easily shrugged off. And I suspect it’s changes like this, showing some society need to conform to be accepted, that contributes to the school cliques and the underlying current in society that we need to look a certain way to belong. Like the whole Abercrombie debate I’m not going to go into! That’s probably why the two groups at my school were called the Barbies and the Sindys, the Barbies being the in-crowd and the Sindys being the cheaper alternatives. Kids don’t need ammunition to be cruel but they do pick up on things…

  2. Actually…after closely analyzing both her original image, and the proposed, from the point of an artist who is used to drawing people in various stages, and there by closely paying attention to a lot of ages, shapes and body types…..she /really/ didn’t change that much. I don’t see where they ‘tamed’ her hair, I just see the work of a different artist. I do see where she reflects some change in age, say being a 20 something instead of a teen, but actually, her figure looks almost the same to me, with some minor /natural/ changes that happen to most women as they go from teen to adult, such as the /slightly/ thinner waist, as she likely got a bit taller, and she /is/ athletic. The also barely noticeable change in hips would be due as well to age change, and finishing filling out as a woman. She is still positively flat compared to a lot of female (even Disney) characters, and seems more of an inverted triangle then an hourglass.

    As far as her dress changes, considering the cartoony style of the image, the ‘sparkles’ might not be that at all, but instead a means of adding texture to an image that would be plain with out it. Also the basis of her dress is /exactly/ the same as the one she likes, but the establishments add to the idea of maturing, and refining, as well as increased depth of character. If anything, I wonder now how much more complex and strong she is for having a few more years under her belt.

    Again…I don’t really think as much was changed as people seemed to think. And I make some of my living off of character design, and prefer strong, passionate, complex female characters who have a voice of their own, and are no one’s pawn.

    • Thank you for this appraisal, it’s really interesting to get the different perspective. I guess if she needs to be older to be a Disney Princess then the changes make sense. I had read that some of the differences were due to changing from 3D to 2D. This is why I rarely share my opinion on things in the news – I’m so used to weighing things up and listening to all the arguments, I know someone’s going to manage to explain to me how I’m all wrong eventually! Thank you for doing it so politely! I still prefer her as a teenger though.

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