Disney’s “Brave” can be considered the iconic brand’s first feminist film. The movie’s protagonist is Merida, an unwilling princess more interested in refining her archery skills than settling with a suitor. I cheered for “Brave,” eager to counterbalance the Belles, Ariels and Snow Whites for my two toddler nieces.
I was especially intrigued with the line Merida spews in earnest: “Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.”
Disney sees the value in Merida. This month the company announced she would be included in its official “Princess Collection.” Merida’s new title came with unexpected consequences. She no longer flaunts a bow-and-arrow, her dress is sexier to showcase her slimmer waistline and her unruly red curls are sleeker and shinier than ever.
This is sex-kitten Merida, not the cute princess wanting to define her own destiny. More than 220,000 crusaders agree, signing a Change petition titled “Say No to the Merida Makeover.”
Brenda Chapman, the creator of Merida, based the character on her own daughter.
“Merida was created to break [the] mould,” she said. “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.”
She has expressed discontent at Disney’s decision to amp Merida’s sex appeal.
“I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida,” she wrote to the Marin Independent Journal. “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!”
She’s also said she doesn’t take Disney’s decision personally because ultimately Merida is a small facet in a larger business.
“I don’t take it personally because I know they’re not doing personally, they’re doing it, I think, for a business reason, but that reason is very misguided. I think they need to look at other marketing methods in respect to the message they send little girls. I think they do have a responsibility, and they’re shirking it by creating this kind of image.”
Disney has removed the revamped images of Merida from its website, but she will still be retailed as is. The brand believes this showcases who the princess is.
Disney chairman Bob Iger said in a statement:
Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate, and confident, and she remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world.
Writer Shannon Leocata sees Merida’s revamp as a sign that girls can never prosper.
“The girls who found something special about Merida’s uniquely real exterior and unflinching demeanor are now left with yet another sign that sex appeal and beauty are paramount for success, even for a fairytale princess,” she writes.
Others agree, including writer Erin Riordan. She thinks Merida’s redesign reinforces White privilege.
Disney princess have a history of representing thin, sexualized, and often white beauty (the first princess who was not white was Jasmine, introduced in 1992),” she writes. “The princesses both reflect and perpetuate standards of beauty in Western society, and have done so for decades. With expansions into more and more products, from dresses to dolls to lunchboxes and backpacks and plastic dishware, their influence only continues to grow and inform culture.
Riordan also sees the transformation as a complete unraveling of the film’s message.
“Merida is meant to exemplify bravery, athleticism, and other less-typical princess traits that create a substantive role model for children,” she writes. “In redesigning her, Disney has undone this work, and reinforces the idea that what ultimately matters is to be pretty, not smart or funny or kind or brave.”
Children, including my two toddler nieces, deserve the Merida they’ve come to recognize as their princess.
Are you bothered by Princess Merida’s transformation?