‘Brave’: new Disney Princess Merida gets girly Mattel makeover
'Brave,' Pixar's latest animated movie, stars its first female lead. Princess Merida is a strong, independent female character, who, like Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games,' is not concerned with her looks. So, why is Mattel marketing her as a stereotypical Disney princess?
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a children's media culture expert. A professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University, in Salem, Mass., her research focuses on girls and media. The author of "Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life," she blogs about children's media and popular cultur and lives with her husband and son in Peabody, Mass.
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Compared with Mattel’s typical fare, the Katniss doll was refreshingly unsexualized – reflecting the character’s positive portrayal in the film. The Katniss doll is flat-footed (no Barbie-style feet molded for high heels), and she is dressed for battle (not in a gown or dress).
Compared with the typical Barbie doll, Mattel’s Katniss wears very little makeup. Only her eyes seem made up, but the colors are neutral, suggesting this is actually meant as contouring to make the doll’s eyes appear more three-dimensional.
In the beginning of June, Mattel released another doll based on a strong female character: Merida from Disney/Pixar’s "Brave." (The film was released June 22.) Merida is an atypical princess: Like Katniss, she is strong-willed, independent, and a skilled archer.
Unfortunately, unlike Mattel’s Katniss doll, Mattel’s versions of Merida leave much to be desired. Melissa Wardy of the Redefine Girly blog was shopping at Target, and she was shocked by Mattel’s small doll treatment of Merida. The small doll is a 6.5 inches tall, fully plastic doll priced at $5.99. Regarding this doll, Melissa wrote:
"The toy that comes out of the package looks nothing like the character on the package. The toy looks like Merida’s hot older sister, who despite living in the Scottish highlands during medieval times, got her hands on some serious eyeliner and lipstick."
A quick Internet search indicates that Mattel’s other Merida dolls aren’t much better. Their 13-inch fashion doll version is priced at $17.95. You will notice the incredibly long eyelashes, the impeccably groomed eyebrows, the rosebud lips, the gentle expression, and the dainty body language. Also, she is wearing the dress Merida is depicted as hating in the movie, for she is obliged to wear a restrictive corset beneath it.
For a few dollars more ($20.99), Mattel also offers a “Gem Styling Merida Doll,” dressed for archery … and sparkly fashion fun.
The product description on Amazon explains that girls can “decorate Merida’s hair or outfit with sparkly gems,” and that “girls will love reenacting their favorite scenes from the movie.” (Um, sorry, Mattel – there are no gem styling scenes in the movie. Poor Merida!)
Compare these dolls to any image of Merida from the film, and you’ll see that Mattel has feminized Merida, making her much more stereotypically girly and much more conventionally pretty than she is in the film.
Merida is lovely just the way she is. Mascara? Who needs it?