The Hypocrisy of Hating the new Merida

In world where more than 80% of ten year old girls admit to having been on a diet, it behooves us to pay attention to the messages we send little girls about their bodies.  So it is not without much thought and consideration that I say that I find the hysteria over Disney’s new iteration of their newest Princess, Merida, to be crazily out of proportion.

(Insert pause for the sound of people frothing at the mouth and biting my head off here)

Now before you go saying that I have already admitted, on this very blog, to have partaken of the Disney Kool-Aid, let me assure you that despite indulging in a little corporate Kool Aid, I am still fully capable of forming my own opinions – positive or negative – about Disney. So can you. Take a look for yourself:

Merida before and after

Is she a bit more glam? Sure. Does that make her any less strong? I don’t think so. – Image from Yahoo Shine

Sorry.  But I just don’t think it’s that egregious.  Every time I see Ariel from The Little Mermaid I cringe at that ridiculous waist.  Ditto Jasmine. But this?  Not so bad. (And I’m not the only one who thinks so – check out what my friend Pilar Clarke has to say about it here. )

Here’s a bit of background:  when Disney announced that Merida, from the spectacularly successful movie Brave, was going to be officially welcomed into the Disney Princess coterie, they also officially sent out the new 2D image of the 3D heroine.  This set off a firestorm of complaints that Disney had sexualized and glamourized the character thus ruining her as a role model.

Really?

Is the 2D Merida wearing a fancier gown?  Well, yes.  But she was heading to a cornation.  Is the 2D Merida a bit more doe eyed and full of lip?  Yes to that too.  But so what?  It’s not as if they gave her huge boobs and a teeny tiny waist. I don’t see how people think she’s tarted up.  And as to the other complaint, that she’s missing her signature bow and arrow.  I was at the coronation, people, and Merida rode in on a horse, Bow and Arrow in hand.  I saw girls wearing the Merida costume they’re selling – no glitter, and yes bow and arrow. So chill.

The other complaint came from the artist community.  How dare Disney take the creative work of the artist – Brenda Chapman, who created Merida with her own daughter in mind – without consulting her first? That animated features take hundreds of artists, and thousands of people to make aside, here’s what she had to  say in an interview with her local paper: “I forget that Disney’s goal is to make money without concern for integrity. Silly me.”   Now come on. If artistic integrity and control were so important to Chapman she wouldn’t have gotten into bed with Disney in the first place.  Let’s just be honest here.  She’s made tons of money (Not to mention become the first woman to win an Academy Award for an animated film) from Disney.  I guess I admire her for biting the hand that feeds her – that shows integrity.  But it’s easy to be holier than thou while you’re raking it in from Disney’s corporate culture.

And what about the hypocrisy of it all?  Merida’s look – glamorous, Tom Boy, or somewhere in between – doesn’t make her who she  is. By making such a big deal about what I see as not such a big change to her look,  the protestors are saying looks are Merida’s defining characteristic. What kind of message is that?

Look,  I get that it’s refreshing to have a Disney Princess who doesn’t ride off with a prince.  But it’s not as if Disney invented the Princess stories it popularized.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid.  These are not “Disney Princesses.”  These are the characters from decades (in some cases centuries) old stories that Disney has co-opted.  They didn’t make these characters go off with a Prince in the end – Hans Christian Andersen and The Brother’s Grimm did. Let’s give Disney credit – when they did create their own Princess – this is who they chose: an independent, athletic, strong girl.

So how about we protest rampant sexual assault in India and Egypt, or sex trafficking of young girls right here in the US.  Let’s start a petition about how awful it is that 20-25% of kids in this country live below the poverty line.  And how about we remember – Merida’s an animated character.  One that has international appeal, it’s true.  But let’s have some perspective.  She’s a cartoon.

I want my daughter to have strong role models.  And if those role models also happen to be attractive, great.  If they’re less conventionally attractive, that’s OK, too.  But if you’re relying on Disney to tell your daughter who she is, then you’ve got a bigger problem than a doe-eyed Merida.  A much bigger problem.

Comments

  1. says

    I do agree it is blown out of proportion since it isn’t actually a “new” Merida but just a piece of 2D art that has only appeared on Target’s website.

    That said, she’s freaky looking, “sexualization” aside. It is tough to turn a Pixar 3D character with a large head into something 2D and I don’t think this was successful–purely from an aesthetic point of view. I don’t find this artwork at all appealing.

    I don’t mind the sparkles but I don’t think there was no need to push her dress off the shoulder.

    Finally, what I think is really upsetting people is that the whole essence of Merida the character is that *she* would hate this makeover. She wouldn’t be standing there proudly showing off her new look…she’d be running to the nearest lake to scrub off the make-up. And I could even deal with all of this if they had kept the bow and arrows.

    Although I am not particularly fired up about this issue, I think it is always a false dichotomy to say that there is this much bigger issue we should all be protesting…people can have an opinion and spend time on more than one issue. And I do think media representations matter and affect these larger issues. As consumers, we have a right to say to companies that we are not buying what they are selling. I don’t think parents who protest this are relying on Disney to tell their daughters how to be women. In fact, part of protesting this could be showing their daughters how to express your opinions in a constructive way. And it would be impossible to ignore the effects of popular culture on pre-teens…first and foremost we need to be the role models but we also need to create the type of society we want our children to live in.

    I think Disney is moving in the right direction–seeking to empower girls with these princess stories they love. However, I think this particular image was a misstep.

    • says

      And to me, your response is measured, smart, and well considered. You can not like the makeover, tell Disney you’re not buying what they’re selling, etc. I agree that that’s a GREAT lesson for girls. It was the scope of the response that got to me. And yes, people can be upset about more than one thing – but my point was perspective: she’s a cartoon. The scale of the outrage just seemed outsized.
      But you make great points, too. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  2. says

    Finally! I didn’t even NOTICE she changed until I started seeing all these posts! That’s how much I care! (and further more, my two little girls {age 6 & 9} didn’t even notice either!)

  3. says

    I grew up with Barbie and never thought that I had to be blond, have big boobs, and a teeny tiny waist to land a Ken. Although it definitely would have helped in some circumstances.

    The doll, the image, the whatever, is based on the character from the movie that resonated with so many little girls. Little girls who AREN’T sexualized and yet we’re making them way by calling attention to issues like this.

    It’s an overused phrase but it so applies here. This is a first world problem. Do your job as a parent, love your children, reinforce their confidence and teach them to be kind. And then let’s spend our time focused on much more important issues of women being sexualized.

  4. Gigi S. says

    I’m wondering if you asked your daughter what she thinks?

    I have a 9 yr old girl who I have always described as the girliest tomboy ever. She loves glammour and wants to wear only clothes with sparkles, but she also hangs out with boys looking for bugs and thinks she can do everything better/. She loved the movie and Merida.

    I’ve been reading recently about all the petitions to keep Merida as she was in the movie and haven’t fully decided which opinion I agree with.

    This morning after reading your blog, I asked my daughter which one she liked better. She said definitely the “Before”. Why? Because she looks “more Brave”.

    That’s all I needed to hear.
    If I remember correctly, a big part of the movie was about Merida not wanting to wear fancy gowns or fix her hair. So even if she was going to a coronation, she would probably still wear her every day dress and carry her bow and arrow. Because that is just who she is.

    If at the end of the movie they would have shown her in the second dress then I wouldn’t see a problem with it. But changing her now is not the best idea.

    Just my opinion. Would love to know what your daughter thinks.

  5. says

    Like you, I was at the coronation, and I saw a very “Merida” looking princess. She was of course a woman playing the role, so she had a woman’s body. But she was just as Brave as ever. We also have the dolls, etc and I don’t see any huge changes there. It was just a 2D image on Target’s website!

    However, it is great feedback for Disney that the audience prefers the original artwork and depiction. But it would be nice if people had just calmly said, “Hey we like the original better,” and not completed freaked out. Oh well.

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