My latest piece for Sojourners
Having a 3-year-old daughter opens your eyes to a world that you did not know existed, the world of princesses. Disney has cornered the princess market; there are currently 11 official Disney princesses, and if you are brave enough to travel to Disney World/Land or even a Disney store, you will soon find out that there is a plethora of accessories — dresses, placemats, and cups (just to name a few).
Disney has come under fire in the past for focusing only on Caucasian women — Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and others. But over time, non-white princesses were introduced, like Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Tiana.
Disney’s latest princess was Merida from the film Brave broke most of the Disney princess rules. She didn’t like pretty gowns, she liked to shoot bows and arrows, and her crowning glory was frizzy, wild red hair. Some people believed that Disney had finally broken the mold of the “damsel in distress” model of princesses that has been a dominant theme throughout many of the films. The trend actually started with Pocahontas and Mulan; maybe the theme of strong women role models would continue. Brave was a cute film with a wonderful message. Merida had a round face and was rough and tumble with her triplet brothers. She didn’t want fancy dresses or even want to be a princess; Merida just wanted to be Merida. She was the example of girls being girls, no matter how they look.
However, in a recent update, Disney decided to take the idea of Merida in Brave and throw it out the window. Merida, for her official induction into the Disney princess cohort, got a bit of a makeover. Merida 2.0 was taller, skinnier in the waist and had a slimmer face. Her famous bow-and-arrow set are missing, and her iconic wild hair has been tamed.
After the uproar that followed, Disney quietly pulled the newer version of Merida.
But my question for Disney stands: Why? What was so wrong with Merida that it warranted the change?
Disney made a statement with the creation of Merida, and it inspired girls around the world to live into who they wanted to be, not what society wanted them to be. Merida’s makeover told girls that, yes you can be who you want to be, but at some point you are going to have to fit in.
Brave’s director called the change “atrocious” in an interview with the Marin Independent Journal.
She continued: “When little girls say they like it 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.”
Girls today need characters and princesses that are strong and powerful and reflect the society of today. I know that no one princess or character on Disney will ever be 100 percent inclusive of all people, but Disney at least needs to try.
Maybe sexualized images are more marketable, but that is not the point — empowering our girls is. I’m pleased that Disney has reversed its decision to alter one of their best examples of an empowered girl. I hope the trend of strong princesses started by this character continues.