By Amy Vernon
Look, I’m no fan of the whole “Disney Princess” canon. I’m not even sure most of them are actually princesses, but that’s really splitting hairs.
I usually don’t give it much thought, though, except to betray my feminist leanings and be glad I have boys and don’t have to deal with shelves of pink when we go to the toy store (let’s face it, I’d still be shopping in the toy car and superhero section even if I had girls).
But when news broke the other week that Disney was adding Merida from Brave to its princess collection, I was a bit taken aback at the image I saw.
Gone was the frizzy hair. The dress they put her in was the shiny, princess-y one she hated in the movie, not her preferred garb. Her eyes were rounder and had a certain come-hither look to them. Suddenly, her waist was Barbie-sized and she had breasts.
Gosh, I guess she grew up fast.
Most egregious, though, was that they took away her bow and arrow. What made Merida such a kickass heroine, such an excellent character – whatever her gender – was that she was her own person; her bow and arrow was as much a part of her as her hair, which was frizzy and unkempt.
The entire movie was about her accepting her mother for the choices she had made, and her mother accepting that her daughter was not going to be her carbon copy. It was about women being able to be more than some role set out for them.
It also was the first Pixar film with a female lead character. The first animated film directed by a woman (Brenda Chapman, who stood up for her young ward) to win an Oscar in its category.
Brave, and Merida, meant something to women, to girls, and to the industry.
So to sexify her – a 13-year-old girl! – is really repulsive. Of course, most of the Disney princesses are far younger than they appear to be, all gussied up as beautiful ladies who are waiting for their Prince Charming.
Since I first posted about this on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else that would listen, the news came out that Disney was pulling back and wasn’t going to go ahead with sexifying Merida. That’s right, they removed Sexy Merida and brought back the original version.
In the U.S., at least [kind of].
The Australian version of the site still has Sexy Merida. Sure, they gave her back her bow and arrow, and changed her gown back to her everyday wear, but kept the dress off-the-shoulder and left the smoothed-out hair and sultry look on her face.
Those Australians probably don’t have access to the Internet, and aren’t likely to know what’s going on, I guess.
What that says to me is that Disney didn’t actually listen to the complaints. They heard them, sure. They heard a bunch of angry moms who weren’t going to buy Merida dolls for their daughters. And changed it. But if they’d listened, they would have changed Merida everywhere. They would have left a kick-butt character who’s pretty adorable anyhow to be somewhat of a role model for girls the world over.
One female commenter on my Facebook post chastised me as needing to “lighten up” because there were much worse problems in the world, with people dying of starvation and civil war.
I mean, let’s face it. This is a cartoon character, basically. In the broader scheme of the world, does how she look really matter?
Problem is, it does. As I told this commenter, it’s part of how society perceives women and girls – and how they end up perceiving themselves.
In a time where slut-shaming is taken to new levels with gang rape photos gleefully shared on the web – by the rapists – and anyone who speaks up against a sexist remark is immediately greeted with a wave of violent, sexist comments by anonymous people across the web, we need to stand up against turning our children into sex objects.
How can you tell girls they’re sluts for wearing revealing clothing when everything shows them they’re supposed to look good for men? How can you tell girls they should feel good about how they look when they have the typical acne and fly-away hair of a teenager and all the magazines and dolls they see have perfect everything?
In some ways, Merida is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Disney’s other princesses pretty much looked the same when they were turned into princesses as they did in the original films – many of which were made a long time ago when Cinderella and Snow White weren’t anachronisms.
We all – male or female – need to make our voices heard. Or else the next generation of girls will grow up, continuing to believe they need to be perfectly pretty with big eyes and smooth hair and tiny waists in order to be worthy.
Amy was the top female submitter of all time on Digg.com (and a top 15 user overall). A 20-year veteran of newspaper journalism, she is general manager of social marketing for New York-based tech startup Internet Media Labs, which creates tools and platforms to help tame the social Web. She is married, has two boys and a Siberian Husky, and spends too much time on the Internet. She also owns the original Battlestar Galactica series in the Cylon Head box set.