Brave’s Merida is Herself Again. But for How Long?

burningquestions-merida630-jpg_213828The has been much Disney fanfare welcoming the “new and improved” Princess Merida from the movie Brave — a new image, and an official induction ceremony at Disney World, complete with a live Queen Elinor, and adult Merida, taking her “rightful” place next to all the other princesses.

But Disney’s Merida makeover — sexy or sexist? —  caused so much outrage from girls, that some Merida fans started an online petition calling for Disney to change Merida back to her real self. No one at Disney should have been surprised at this outcry if they really knew who Merida’s fans are — tween and teen girls, struggling with their adolescence, railing against their own mothers, just as Merida does when it comes to her royal duties that require her to tame her tresses, be more like a “lady” and possibly give up her beloved archery so she can find a man.

Not to mention that Brave pretty accurately portrays the strains in any relationship between a mother and early teen daughter:

The online outrage built as word got around about Disney’s decision to morph Merida’s looks from a girl with a gaze of wide-eyed wonder to an adult with come-hither bedroom eyes and a redesigned off-the-shoulder, fitted dress with a tiny nipped-in waist. As a result of so much online protest, Disney has, at least for the moment, changed Merida’s official portrait on the official Disney princess page back to her old, or should I say young, self.

I asked my 13-year-old daughter — a girl who is firmly in the Merida target demographic and is also a wise media consumer — what she thought.  When I described the change, it didn’t make much of an impact.  Then, as any good seventh-grade researcher would do, she found that double image you see at the top of this post. She was pretty shocked — not so much about the new image itself, but she couldn’t understand why it made any marketing sense to change something that was already doing so well. And she was annoyed that the change in Merida’s appearance suggested what lots of others thought — that Disney was trying to put Merida into the traditional Disney princess mold, without realizing that Merida had already broken it.

I did wonder, though, what else my daughter was thinking about Merida’s changed body and appearance that she wasn’t saying.  Again, because she’s thirteen, I know my daughter, sadly, already is questioning how her own changing body looks to the world. She won’t talk about it now, but I know her body image insecurity won’t be helped by this attempt at princess revisionism.

Not surprisingly, Brenda Chapman, the woman who created Merida, and won an Academy Award for directing the movie Brave, isn’t too happy with these changes. After all, the character of Merida was based on her own 13-year-old daughter, Emma. She specifically created Merida to be a different kind of princess for girls of today. One of Chapman’s representatives has reached out to The Broad Side to see if we’d like to talk with her as this story unfolds.  Of course, we said “Yes!”, and we’ll keep you posted.  But in the meantime, the only outlet she’s spoken with so far is her hometown newspaper, and Chapman is pretty outraged:

“I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida. … When little girls say they like [the new version] because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy ‘come hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible! Merida was created to break that mold — to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.”

Merida should probably ask Mulan about the whole Disney-fication process. Remember Mulan? She started out as a daughter who rails against the idea of an arranged marriage (like Merida), disguises herself as a boy to go to war in her father’s place, is smarter than the guys and saves China from the Huns.  Yes, she ends up with a man at the end, but that’s not what she was looking for.  And then what happened in Mulan 2? You can probably guess it involves more girly swooning than taking charge of her own life.

Many Disney fans probably let the changes in Mulan slide because they were related to a not-so-great sequel.  People weren’t paying attention. But how could Disney not have known that the moral of the story in this last princess snafu would be that you can’t create a new style of princess in an effort to resonate with a new demographic —  girls who are older and becoming critical thinkers — and then revert to the traditional Disney stereotype of a damsel in distress who needs a man to save her, and then expect those empowered girls to take it sitting down and with sparkly tiaras on their heads?

Stay tuned here for more from Brenda Chapman, And for more on whether Merida’s miraculous reversal is permanent or just a temporary move to quell the masses!

UPDATE: Brenda Chapman granted The Broad Side one of the first interviews about Disney’s Merida snafu after the push-back over “sexy Merida” began.  Find out here what she has to say about the importance of keeping Merida as a feisty teenager and why it’s important for her to stand-up for her creation.

Joanne Bamberger is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Broad Side.  She was formerly known around these internet parts as PunditMom, but now she is trying to be herself. She is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (an Amazon.com bestseller and now available in E-book form!). She was recently awarded the Campaigns & Elections Magazine/CampaignTech 2013 Advocacy Innovator Award.

Image via Yahoo! Movies

  • Amy McVay Abbott

    I love that your daughter weighed in on this. What messages do we give our girls, and so early? Good piece.

    • Amy, I figured I had the perfect representative of the target demographic right in my house!

  • My teen and preteen only said that’s stupid. I don’t think they look to cartoon characters as images they want to emulate. My oldest did take up archery last summer, but that had more to do with The Hunger Games than Brave. If anything she has tried to look more like Katniss than Merida. I have stressed that this stuff is fiction and have been teaching my daughters from a young age that beauty comes from within. However, I am not ignorant to the fact that during these times of great changes there is definitely a lot of uncertainty. I just don’t believe that a chubbier wild haired cartoon character was more of a desire for her looks and rather it was for the character and who she is to begin with. If our girls are trying to emulate cartoons, then we have a larger problem. As I said in my own blog on this subject, Jessica Rabbit was the way unattainable body image of a cartoon of my time and I never once thought I should have boobs the size of gallon jugs and a paper thin waist, that was absurd. None the less the decision by Disney made no sense and I’m happy they removed it albeit quietly. My own curiosity has me wondering how they do justify the change to begin with and kind of makes one wonder did they watch their own movie?

  • Monica, For me, it’s not the worry or concern about our daughters trying to outright copy a character, but the underlying media messages they get. What is the unspoken message many girls will take away from Disney’s decision to change Merida? The idea was to give tween and early teen girls a “princess” who wasn’t the run of the mill princess — that she had the attitudes and look of a girl their own age, not a mini-version of a glamor queen. I don’t think for a second that my 7th grader is trying to emulate Merida or wants to be her (and I agree with you on the Katniss thing — my daughter was more excited about that movie as entertainment). But what I do know is that my 7th grade daughter is at the point where she is a young adolescent with all the body changes and body image issues that entails. In a world where our girls are inundated with media messages about what is attractive, especially with Disney princesses, there is a powerful negative message that comes from changing Merida from a tomboy (both physically and mentally) and into a sexpot. My 7th grader daughter is arleady worried that certain body parts on her aren’t good enough. And trust me, that message doesn’t come from us.

    • But I think even without media we would still have those insecurities because change is a difficult thing to deal with. I have a 14 year old daughter and an 11 year old daughter. Completely different personalities between the two of them. My older daughter would rather hide her changing body, but not because she thinks it’s not good enough, but because she’d rather not change. My 11 year old is embracing the changes her body is going through. They have both been exposed to the same things and the same parenting and yet being two different people they naturally view their changing bodies differently. I’m just honestly having a hard time with this belief that the media is to blame for everything. Disney thought they were making a good move for whatever reason whether it’s the age old sex sells or whatever it was. It turned out it was a bad move considering Merida sold just fine to begin with and people have said as much. It just didn’t make sense to many of us. The good news is, at least for the time being, that Disney listened to its consumers and they pulled it. We have had Disney princesses influencing my girls since they were babies. I don’t think playing dress up all of their lives has caused my daughters to view their bodies negatively just because a princess looks a certain way. If they are anything like me they just like the twirly skirts and what it looks like when you spin. Their own insecurities are what every girl from the beginning of time has likely felt. I think they compare themselves more to their classmates in the locker room than to characters from movies and that’s what has them feeling they aren’t good enough, more than anything. I mean think about your own teen years. The girl’s locker room was BRUTAL.

  • Here’s what my daughter (8) had to say when she saw it while I was scrolling on my computer:

    “What’s that? Let me see.”
    “That’s Merida.”
    “That’s not Merida.”
    “Yes it is. Disney kind of redesigned her to fit with the rest of the princesses.”
    {horrified expression on her face} “Why would they do that? She was beautiful just the way she was. She doesn’t need to be changed.”

    Why do I hate the redesign? Basically because Disney just told my daughter that she isn’t beautiful just the way she is, but that she’ll be prettier if she looks like everyone else. No thank you.

  • If you’re upset about the Merida Makeover, you can support the petition we started that was mentioned in this article at https://www.change.org/keepmeridabrave. It’s now up to 183,000 signers and growing fast! To learn more about A Mighty Girl’s “Keep Merida Brave” campaign, visit our post about it at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog/?p=3253

  • frankenmouse

    Just a quick note on Mulan: While she’s one of my favorite Disney characters, she did NOT rail against an arranged marriage. In fact, she desperately wanted her matchmaker meeting to go well, and was frustrated and disappointed that she couldn’t seem to reconcile her inner self with her desire to make her parents proud (via the marriage). She doesn’t run off because she wants to avoid an arranged marriage, she leaves so that her father, who is infirm, doesn’t have to serve in the army and (in her mind) most likely get killed.

    • Actually, Mulan doesn’t want to get married — she will do it so as not to dishonor her family, but she “rails” against it in her own way. And while she does join the army to help her father, that is her way of avoiding marriage and bringing honor back to her family. Remember, even when Disneyfied, Mulan is a Chinese character, and culturally, she would not disobey her parents in the way Merida did. But there’s no question she did not want to get married.

  • Shaun

    You sound like a very good mother, and this was a very well-written argument against these changes to Merida’s character. I think its disgusting, yes there are bigger problems in the world, but this just really annoys me – it shows how low Disney are prepared to sink for mass market brand appeal.

  • Rob

    I find it interesting that the actor in the induction ceremony actually looked and dressed very much like the original character, complete with the bow, and not at all like the stupid redesign. It makes you really question just how much thought of any sort at all went into this whole fiasco? Was Disney not even communicating with itself internally?

  • Lisa Solod

    Disney has screwed up a lot of princesses and their stories. I prefer and always have the original fairy tales and not the silly versions which appear on screen. I am glad people are making a stink.

  • Sam

    I think everyone is a bit too sensitive about this photo, this is a cartoon! At some point her character will mature and slowdown, just like everyone does as they grow old. To me one photo is the characters as young girls not, quiet a woman and the other more womanly. This photo is also not in any way offensive. Her dress is long and the rest of her body is well covered.

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