Disney is backing off its (supposed?) makeover of Merida from Disney/Pixar’s Scottish-fantasy film Brave (2012) and the film’s creator and co-director has also had things to say about it. That follows an online petition whose signers asked Disney not to force the spunkier, less-orthodox heroine into yet another (apparent) beauty-queen and even sultry corset-constrained mold.
As mentioned in our May 11 news item, I myself signed this petition, not from Christian or “secular” fearmongered motives, I hope, but for this reason:
Every little bit of fun culture that we cede to ridiculous sexualization is an unloving act against children and people. We will increasingly worship sensualized icons rather than love real humans.
Since then, Disney has defended the made-over Merida as a one-off image, not a marketing template. But folks still aren’t happy:
On Tuesday, Carolyn Danckaert, the activist behind last week’s wildly popular online petition to “Keep Merida Brave,” announced via Facebook news from supporters that “the new makeover version of Merida is no longer appearing on Disney.com.” But the controversially modified version of the princess still appeared on Target’s Disney princess website, where new product tie-ins are sold.1
Meanwhile, Brave creator and co-director Brenda Chapman (I was wondering if she would speak up) also thinks this worth a controversy:
There is an irresponsibility to this decision that is appalling for women and young girls[. …] 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.2
Note that Disney spokesmice haven’t said: I can’t see the difficulty, really; maybe this is a lot of controversy over nothing. It may well be. And some Disney staff may well be thinking that — but if you’re a corporation, you can’t say that.
Of course, there are arguments to be made that this is indeed one of those synthetic controversies. Some Spec-Faith readers are still making them, in response to Keep Merida Brave on May 11.
For example, this from Timothy Stone:
Her “makeover” persona looks older and so on, but I would hardly think of her as sexed up. It looks like the same women, one in her teens and the other older. If a real-life girl looked like Merida in the movie and the first picture, you would expect her to likely resemble the second pic once she got older.
It’s not that I don’t share the concerns about the over-saturation of sexual imagery in our culture. I do, as any friends could attest to. I just don’t think this is a case of it.
And this from Kaci Hill, also a former SF contributor:
I don’t think Merida looks like a dominatrix in that second image. She’s wearing makeup and has a fancy dress on – neither of which she’d actually wear, apparently, which is the biggest – and probably only – sin.
A few thoughts.
1. This Disney fantasy-film princess-makeover isn’t a solo incident.
I first heard of it from my wife, who at the time was working in a children’s store. All the princess products included amped up versions of Disney-princess film characters, designed to fit a certain contemporary-beauty/sexuality template. In her words, they were all given lower-cut dresses, Bratz-doll eyes, and push-up bras.
2. However, the Merida changes strike fans as even more annoying.
Why? because many fans thought this character a welcome departure from the usual Disney princess storyline: spunky girl has her dreams come true by marrying a prince, one way or the other. Merida’s story in Brave is very different.
3. Critics aren’t saying the outfit looked “dominatrix.”
Rather the criticism goes that she’s been made curvier, has the effect of a push-up bra, and certainly has those Bratz-doll-like eyes.
4. Perhaps the criticism is not so much a simplistic “she’s too sexy now.”
It also isn’t, or shouldn’t be, as simple as “the character wouldn’t do this.” It’s marketing. The image is more like an icon, not a character.
5. Instead the criticism is, or should be, something like the following:
In this marketing image, Merida is being made to fit a particular Disney-princess template. At best that’s needless, at worst it’s an attempt to reject even slightly variant beauty types in all Disney films’ female leads, in favor of a what-counts-as-beauty-now mold.
6. Ironically, this is happening even as many women are enjoying looking back to and experimenting with previous eras’ concepts of beauty.
Thanks in part to the samples of history reflected on the internet, “Vintage” is in, particularly styles or style-tributes derived from the 1950s and 1980s. So to force all the princess into a singular 2010s-only “fashion” is both uncreative and missing out on a trend.
How might Disney make waves, gain positive attention, and show itself more “progressive” in the right way? Perhaps by restoring Snow White to her 1930s look, Cinderella and Aurora to their ’50s look, Belle to her ’90s look, etc., showing a true picture of diverse beauty (even with all these idealized versions!) for fans to see.
7. However, all this debate could be reflecting a pagan view of culture.
The Yahoo article references the author of a book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Its title gives the impression, not unlike many evangelical Christians, that we are hapless subjects of this thing called Culture unless we Fight Back. Its description fleshes this out:
The rise of the girlie-girl, warns Peggy Orenstein, is no innocent phenomenon. Following her acclaimed books Flux, Schoolgirls, and the provocative New York Times bestseller Waiting for Daisy, Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter offers a radical, timely wake-up call for parents, revealing the dark side of a pretty and pink culture confronting girls at every turn as they grow into adults.
Cinderella, either in her idealized-1950s-fantasy version or any 2010s makeover, did not eat anyone’s daughter. Sin nature has done this. Sin nature would “eat” us all, using pop-culture sin-spice as mere flavoring — that is, if not for the counter-Kingdom of Christ.
- Update: Disney’s Response To Princess Merida Controversy At Odds With Petitioners, Shine.Yahoo.com, May 16. ↩
- ‘Brave’ creator blasts Disney for ‘blatant sexism’ in princess makeover, Marina Independent Journal, May 11. ↩