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.


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:


“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.”


Snow White and Stickers: 2013 365 Challenge #67

Son's creative stickering

Son’s creative stickering

Happy World Book Day (for yesterday).

Of course by ‘World’ I mean the UK. A bit like the World Series I guess. My daughter went to nursery dressed as Snow White (they were meant to go as their favourite book character but she’s a bit young to have a favourite). It was blissfully easy as my mum bought her the Snow White dressing up costume for Christmas (and Father Christmas made sure she had the book).

Incidentally if you’re a writer have a gander at the WBD website: they have some great storycraft videos. I haven’t watched them all yet (and it looks like they’re aimed at children) but there are some good names listed.

Little lad had to stay home from nursery today due to chicken pox. Frustrating when we paid for the vaccine but I guess nothing is guaranteed. It wouldn’t be so bad if he felt ill but he was full of bounce. I had to take him to the Gallery with me to drop off paintings, then to the supermarket, then have him help me clean and vacuum. He wasn’t very impressed. But then he’s just as grumpy at the Farm or the park so there’s no winning right now. One of the parenting phases where you keep muttering to yourself “this too will pass”.

Daughter's more precise stick application

Daughter’s more precise stick application

I bribed my daughter into nursery with a promise of stickers when she got home, as she didn’t want to go without her brother. It was interesting watching them both do their sticker sheets this evening.

My son piles the stickers up any which way, having fun and being creative (while I sit on my hands and try not to intervene). My daughter places them carefully and individually. She’s more like me.

Despite my writing and painting I’m quite OCD when it comes to things like colouring, sticking or block building. I can’t build a tower unless it is symmetrical both in design and colour. My daughter is learning to do the same. She has to copy a picture and do it precisely. It would probably be better if she learnt more from her brother. There’s a lot to be said for not giving them 24/7 attention, letting them do things their own way!

My own mother was very hands-off and it used to frustrate me as it felt like lack of interest. Now I appreciate it for what it was (mostly): giving me room to be my own person. Even if that meant wearing bright pink with red or a Garfield sweater and a pale pink puffball skirt.


Claire looked through the list she had compiled of possible things to do before checking in at Bretton Hostel and made notes against each one.

1. Eyam Village. Place that sacrificed itself to slow the spread of the plague. Might be a tad depressing, particularly as rain seems to have washed all colour from the world and flushed it down the drain.

2. Bakewell. Home of the pudding. Not exactly high-adrenalin stuff. Not sure Carl would approve (pudding sounds yummy).

3. Walk the Hope Valley. Like the hope bit, but not the walking. I hate this rain, it seeps in your skin and soaks you from the inside out.

4. Blue John Cavern. Is at least indoors. Not sure it counts as high-adrenalin either unless it turns out I’m as scared of being underground as I am of being high up. Apparently lots of steps so might be able to have a pudding after.

Claire read through the list again and decided it had to be the cavern. She could feel the rain hammering against the window, feel it splattering her skin and sinking into her bones even through the glass. This is proper Manchester rain. Who knew they got it in Derbyshire too, poor sods. I hope it’s warm in the cavern.

“Well good afternoon everyone, thank you for coming to Blue John Cavern. I hope you’ve brought good shoes and sturdy knees. There are over two-hundred steps down and back up so if you’re in poor health please let me know before we leave.”

Claire tuned out the rest of the guide’s introduction. Two-Hundred Steps echoed in her brain. It was weird to hear someone say the name of her blog, even if that wasn’t their meaning. This was a good choice then: at least I have today’s title sorted.

The guide beckoned them forwards and explained that he mined for semi-precious stones when he wasn’t working as a guide. Claire looked around, half-expecting to see something sparkly stuck in the rock face. She was still looking behind her as she shuffled forwards and nearly slipped on the wet steps.

A surreptitious glance took in the rest of the group. A couple with a little girl. Rather them than me. They’re so going to be carrying her back up the two-hundred steps. Bugger that. Next to them stood an older couple who, at first glance, Claire thought might be a bit old for such a physical tourist attraction. Then she spotted the well-worn-in hiking boots and the fleeces tied round their waists and she forced herself to revise that opinion. Look at Maggie. She could easily walk me into the ground and come back for a second bash. Claire looked around expecting to see more people and saw only one more couple, in their twenties, holding hands.

I thought it’d be busier. I guess it must still be term time, and I suppose it is quite a lot of money to spend wandering round a hole in the ground. Still, it beats wandering round outside in what is basically a giant mist-shower with all the hot water gone. Claire shivered and pulled her jacket tighter. As they descended deeper into the cave system she began to wish she, too, had an extra fleece tied round her waist.

They followed the guide in single file down a narrow corridor. The weight of the hillside pressed down on Claire’s head. She wondered if she did in fact need to add claustrophobia to her list of new fears. Behind her, bodies pushed her forwards; preventing her legging it back to the car park. She was trying to decide whether to squeeze past the canoodling couple when the confined space opened into a large cavern.

Claire gazed around in confusion. Where are the pointy things, stalawhatsits that they were always going on about at school? It looked more like a giant had sneezed inside a cathedral and sprayed every surface with multi-coloured snot. It was certainly cold enough to be a church.

She tuned into the guide’s voice but he was rambling about the history of the cavern and the intricacies of mining, so she zoned out and looked at the people. The young couple were standing at the back, whispering to each other and giggling. The older couple stood either side of the guide, asking intelligent questions and turning occasionally to take a photograph. The little girl had both her parents running as she tried to get past barriers and fall down holes. Her infectious laugh echoed round the room, until it sounded like a whole preschool of kids.

And so it went on. Claire oohed at a giant petrified waterfall, ahhed at a rock balancing like a ballerina and eventually was rewarded with her stalactites and stalagmites. She glanced at her phone and tried to calculate how long they had been underground. The tour was meant to be an hour long and it felt as if they’d been below ground for twice that. Shocked to see it had only been forty minutes, Claire wrenched her attention back to the guide who seemed to be telling them something. Then the room went dark.

What the hell?

Claire froze, scared to move a muscle even though she knew she was nowhere near any kind of drop. Her heart thumped out a base beat that seemed to echo off the walls around her. Then the little girl began to wail and the guide turned the lights back on with an apologetic laugh.

Ha bloody ha.

By the time Claire had climbed up the steep, narrow stairway to the surface, pulling herself up by the handrail, she felt like she’d completed a tough spinning class and a 10km run. The mother with the little girl came behind her, having climbed the whole way up with the baby on her hip. She was still smiling.

I hate her. They must give you extra muscles in the delivery ward.

Claire blinked as she returned to the car park, even the low grey cloud seeming bright after the gloom of the Cavern. In her mind she jumbled words around, trying to work out how she was going to turn the trip into something entertaining enough for Josh’s faithful followers.

In the interim, it’s definitely time for cake.