Disney Princess Merida makeover: A 7-year-old’s verdict on the 'Brave' heroine

The Disney Princess makeover of the ‘Brave’ character Merida, causes one chubby little red-head looking at all the curves and makeup to ask: “Is that the Evil Merida?”

The Disney makeover. On the left, Merida from "Brave" — disheveled and normally-proportioned. On the right, sketches of the new Merida post-makeover, posted on Disney's website until they were taken down yesterday — slimmer, glitzy, and... evil?

The newest, most feminist-forward Disney princess, Merida of the animated film "Brave" asks, “If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?”

Disney corporate answered with a resounding “No!” when it stuck to gender-typed tradition and converted the disheveled, feisty, normally-proportioned, self-reliant archer to a slimmer, glitzy, doe-eyed version, sparking a petition by outraged fans.

Worse, it disappointed a chunky little red-haired girl I babysit for because it put her princess dream back out of reach.

Merida was crowned as Disney’s 11th official princess last Thursday at Disney World. Sadly, it wasn’t the sassy Scottish lassie who won her own freedom with archery and willpower who took the stage at the coronation. Instead Disney marketing missed the target again where the good of little girls is concerned and sexed-up the character with more cleavage and a vapid look.

“Yuck!” squeaked Laurel when her baby blue eyes saw the side-by-side before and after versions of Merida on my computer this morning. Laurel, who is 7 and has wavy bright red hair, likes to hover at my right shoulder like a ditzy little angel in the mornings because I blogged about her and she’s always on the lookout to see her own face on my screen.

“Yuck?” I responded. “Which one’s the one you like?”

A chunky little finger went to the old Merida. So I asked her why, and she responded with what, for Laurel, is a super cohesive answer: “The one in dark blue is smiling and her hair’s prettier 'cause it’s more like mine and 'cause the new one’s scary-pretty with all that blowy hair and cat-eyes. The new one looks mean and I don’t know her.”

Then she made my day and my blog by pointing back to the make-over Merida and asking, “Is that the Evil Merida?”

It took Herculean restraint not to say, “Yes! Behold the demon Disney spawn that is a slimmer, girlier, and more stereotypical version wrought in the cauldron of marketing’s poisonous spell.”

Instead I simply explained that Disney had given her a make-over. To which Laurel simply replied, “Oh. That’s too bad.”

For those, like me, who agree with Laurel’s assessment of the Disney-engineered damage to how girls view themselves and their future roles as women there is a petition “Disney: Say No to the Merida Makeover, Keep Our Hero Brave!” It's online at Change.org 

The petition, created by the webmasters at A Mighty Girl reads in part: “The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls' capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value -- to be recognized as true princesses -- they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty.”

The petitioner also quotes "Brave" writer and co-director Brenda Chapman in a 2011 interview with Pixar Portal: "Because of marketing, little girls gravitate toward princess products, so my goal was to offer up a different kind of princess – a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn't be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they'd be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’ ”

This new Merida is definitely the opposite of what her creator intended.

So I found myself signing a petition in support of an imaginary girl because I believe in real girls like Laurel having a fighting chance at hitting the target of self-esteem in life. I believe that they like themselves a little more and dream with a bit more confidence when the waist lines and imaginations are slightly expanded in their role models.

If you had the choice to change a little girl’s fate of self-loathing and obsession with makeup, hair, and wasp-waisted fashion slavery would you? I would, and I don’t even have a daughter of my own. Also, as the mother of four sons, I want more of the old Meridas out there in the dating pool for them to meet.

The Golden Rule of parenting is to be consistent and not mix messages. Disney is exhibiting some poor parenting of its brands with this move. It’s also making the error of telling us “Do as I say and not as I do.” "Brave" succeeded because it resonated with all of us who might not have ever fit the princess mold, but who have risen to be queens of our own castles by being brave enough to overcome the stereotypes that weighted us down early in life.

If you want to see a real princess, cast your gaze back at England’s late Princess Diana when she walked the minefields of Cambodia in support of children who’d been disfigured by the devices. Diana looked every inch a princess of the realm than when she wore that plastic face shield, helmet, and khakis as she championed the Land Mine Ban Treaty. While Princess Diana was often noted for her fashion sense and beauty, she also had the courage to help people while not looking like a fashion model.

As the Queens of our own little realms we must unite the feminine clans against this dark army of old school marketing shills that has captured our princess.

Personally, I’d love to see moms put on a Disney princess protest in their own areas by dressing their girls up in their favorite princess costume, but with messy hair and a few dirty smudges on their cheeks, tiara rakishly askew.

I vow to tilt my crown, roll up my frilly sleeves and let Disney and little girls everywhere know that being a good ruler is a dirty job. Instead of asking little girls “would you change your fate” I’d rather ask Disney, “If you had the chance to change your mind, would you?” Let’s hope they’re brave enough to admit defeat and retreat from this attack on progress.

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