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:
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.
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.