The 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.