Controversy transpired as Disney released its new look for main character Merida of the Oscar-winning animated film Brave. Though originally presented as a redheaded tomboy, her inclusion into the Disney princess collection left her, well… take a look.
Note the changes in the photo of Merida: plunging neckline, smaller waist, sparkly dress, and a little makeup. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a little sparkle and makeup, but there is also nothing wrong with the absence of both. And that’s exactly what the change says, that this absence is unacceptable. The pressure on Merida and her physical appearance directly parallels the issues of women today concerning physical appearances. As long as you meet a certain visual standard, then be whomever you’d like. Nobody cares to point out the storyline, what Merida does or does not do. Rather they only care about what she looks like, emphasizing her physical appearance.
A petition was presented to the studio, demanding that Merida be returned to her original form. Brenda Chapman, creator and co-director of the film, expressed her disgust with the change, stating that Merida’s original look was intended to break to mold and presenting young girls with a strong, self-accepting role model1.
The movie-going public agreed with Ms. Chapman, and loudly complained about this obvious sexualization of Merida's appearance. Rather than support the idea of a strong female role model at center stage in their films, the industry had once again used an outdated and sexist standard of physical beauty. The message continues to be that young women who fall outside the "standard" of beauty aren't quite good enough.
I’m a 90s baby. I grew up on ladies like Belle, Ariel, Mulan, and Cinderella – the Disney princesses of the decade. Looking back retrospectively, each character presents a different representation of the capabilities of women, some more “damsel in distress-like” than others. But it is not necessarily the plot line that irks me. I mean, yes, the incessant “search for love above all else” is played out, but it’s the physical representations of these women I call attention to. All of are thin, busty, makeup-wearing women.
This voyeur-esque attitude is outplayed and outdated. I applaud those who have taken action, advocating for an array of Disney princess representations. Now we can all wait for a bigger-than-size-2 princess, or an emphasis on personal characteristics beyond looks. Baby steps, I suppose.
Tori Whitworth, NOW Intern
1 Child, B. (2013, May 16). Disney retreats from princess merida makeover after widespread criticism. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/may/16/disney-princess-merida-makeover