Over a hundred thousand sign petition against Disney’s Merida Makeover

To celebrate Merida of the Pixar film Brave “officially” joining the Disney Princess line, Disney released some new illustrations of her. In the new illustrations, Merida is even thinner than her already-thin movie version (as Alyssa put it, “what appears to be rib-removal surgery”); her dress has been redesigned into an off-the-shoulder number; she has much thicker eyelashes (and in general, her face seems much more stereotypically feminine); her hair has been changed from out-of-control curls to waves; and her attitude is much, well, flirtier.

I’m not sure that Disney’s Merida makeover represents a conscious strategy on their part. At the, er, official coronation ceremony at Disneyworld, Merida’s appearance seemed modeled on the movie version, not on the new illustrations. (See this photo, for instance – note the covered shoulders, and curly wig.) Nor did Disney seem to shy away from Merida’s tomboy aspects – she made her entrance on horseback, and finished the ceremony by posing with her bow and arrow.

But because it (probably) wasn’t conscious doesn’t mean that it’s not bad. It suggests that Disney subconsciously and reflexively turns their female characters into the same dull and predictable flirty, glittery pin-ups without any thought even being required. (Ever notice how impossible it is to find any Mulan merchandise showing her dressed up for war?)

Put another way, for the folks in Disney marketing, the path of least resistance appears to be a very sexist path.

Except that this time, they’ve encountered a lot of resistance. A petition started by girl-power website A Mighty Girl has gathered 130,000 signers (and counting). The petition says:

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.

Disney seems to be taking note: As InsideTheMagic notes, the new Merida design has disappeared from the Disney Princess website, replaced by images of Merida as she appeared in the movie.

One really unusual thing about this is that Merida’s creator, “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman has gone public with her unhappiness about the makeover, calling it “a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money.”

I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida. 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.

They have been handed an opportunity on a silver platter to give their consumers something of more substance and quality — THAT WILL STILL SELL — and they have a total disregard for it in the name of their narrow minded view of what will make money. I forget that Disney’s goal is to make money without concern for integrity. Silly me.

* * *

Alyssa writes:

To a certain extent, Disney’s attempts to democratize what it means to be a princess are admirable. You don’t actually have to be born into a royal title, or obtain one by marriage. […] You don’t have to be white, or European, or in the case of Ariel, the star of The Little Mermaid, necessarily based on land.

But two restrictions remain. You have to be young. You have to have a very particular body type and long, perfect hair. The edits to Merida reflect those priorities.[…]

If it’s important that girls of color and girls of different economic classes be able to recognize themselves and find aspirational stories in the Disney Princess line, why shouldn’t it also matter that girls with wild hair and variable body types see themselves there too?

Although I agree with Alyssa, it’s important to note that Merida’s body type, as seen in the movie, represents only the smallest of small departures from the Disney standard. Don’t get me wrong – I love the movie Brave, and I love the work Pixar did to present Merida as someone who delights in the things her body can do, rather than the way she looks.

But the range between Merida’s body and face type, and that of the typical Disney princess, is pretty darn small. The top of my wish list for Disney princesses – even higher than my wish for a Jewish princess, already! – is that Disney, or Pixar, add a fat character to the princess line.

More reading:

Seriously, Disney, I’m Trying to Take a Little Break Here– MUST YOU? Peggy Orenstein points out that Merida’s makeover is actually part of what seems to be an ongoing project to make all the Disney princess characters more vapid than their movie versions.

Disney’s makeover of its Brave princess is cowardly | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett | Comment is free

The Problem with Merida’s Princess Makeover

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Body, Popular (and unpopular) culture. Bookmark the permalink. 

25 Responses to Over a hundred thousand sign petition against Disney’s Merida Makeover

  1. 1
    Hugh says:

    Yeah, while I agree what they’ve done here is crappy, I find Chapman’s objection kind of self-congratulatory. She wanted to give girls an attainable role model, and she came up with THAT?

  2. 2
    nobody.really says:

    Good content blah blah blah.

    But at Merida’s coronation — they couldn’t spring for a velvet dress? I mean, what’s with that fabric? I surmise that Disney is trying to model something that they can mass-produce cheaply for Halloween costumes. But the juxtaposition of the hair against the rich green velvet is so awesome. And the substitute fabric is so — not awesome.

    Screw the gender norms; must we forever sacrifice art for commerce? Maybe it’s ‘cuz I’m a theater guy, but I’m oddly pissed about this.

  3. 3
    Sebastian says:

    What’s with the total disrespect to her weapon? Leaning against a strung bow? Does she think she is too pretty?

    Yeah, I know that her bow is a prop, but what if her fans try to emulate her and get a facefull of splintered wood?

  4. 4
    Sebastian says:

    Now that I look at the bow, why is she using a Scythian recurve that she cannot string herself, that makes no sense for a foot archer, and which was probably not all that common in Ireland (Scotland, Wales?) in medieval times?

    Terrible cultural appropriation! Why, if my ancestors were horse archers who took pride in their ability to invent, manufacture, string, and pull arguably the best and factually the most powerful bow in the history of archer warfare, I would probably be very offended by the portrayal of a teenager being able to handle one. As it is, my heart bleeds for them. I hope my Tatar friend does not see this movie, because he will probably be scarred for life.

    And, no, you can’t say that her bow is just a scaled down version with a low pull. You do not spend the time and resources to manufacture a complex, composite (no tree grows in this shape) bow when you live on an island where yew thrives, unless you want a beast of a bow.

    Yeah. Not only does Disney mess with little girls heads by turning their heroines into pinups, it also makes a moquerie of the cultural heritage of Mongolians, Hungarians, Tatars, Turks, Persians, etc…. Evil, evil Disney.

  5. 5
    myra hirschberg says:

    Also, one side effect of the off-the-shoulder neckline is that she can’t raise her arms high enough to use the bow, or do much of anything else active or useful.

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    No expert on all this, but I’m looking at the facial expressions. On the right we have “I’m so pretty” and on the left we have “I’m’a shoot your ass.”

    Always did have a weakness for the red-haired girls. Must be the Irish in me. The disposition of the girl on the left fits a lot more to my experience with them than the one on the right.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Myra, that’s a really excellent point.

    Now that I look at the bow, why is she using a Scythian recurve that she cannot string herself, that makes no sense for a foot archer, and which was probably not all that common in Ireland (Scotland, Wales?) in medieval times?

    My nerdiness wants me to point out: In the movie, Merida is in fact shown shooting from horseback (and this seems to be her preference), although when the situation compels she also shoots from foot.

  8. 8
    Sebastian says:

    You too? Petar, my Tatar friend is also letting me know that I went off on the wrong tangent. Turns out the Welsh did have horse archers, and in fact were famous for it. He also says that the Scythian bow was known in the British Isles, because it was imported by effing Roman auxiliaries of effing Scythian descent. They were just incredibly expensive to manufacture and very hard to maintain, because of the wet climate. Which is not a problem if she is a princess.

    So I guess I completely and utterly made a fool of myself. This is what happens when you think you can coast of what you have heard from an expert, as opposed on what you have learned by yourself. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    She STILL should not be leaning on that bow, or even little the tips touch the ground.

  9. 9
    Adrian says:

    This is a tangent, but I’d like to recommend Island of Ghosts, by Gillian Bradshaw, to Peter and Sebastian and everyone else interested in how Scythian bows came to the British isles. It’s historical fiction about some of the Sarmatians sent to Hadrian’s Wall to serve with the Roman legions (ie, when Rome had just conquered Sarmatia, and wanted to get Sarmatian warriors as far from that border as possible.) It’s not Bradshaw’s best work, but it’s full of interesting things about collaboration and ptsd and how hard it is to stop fighting when war is all you’ve ever known…I love it.

  10. 10
    Grace Annam says:

    She’s not leaning on that bow. She’s holding it behind her back. Which, given the character, is equally bad or worse.

    Try it. Put your hand behind your back, thumb-up. Now imagine bearing any weight on it.

    Also, I love her hair, though I have never had hair like that and never will have hair like that. I understand that it is symbolic of her fiery temper and her independent nature, and to that I say, “Go, Merida!” But if strands of that hair ever blow around enough that they drift in front of the string as she draws it back to her ear and looses from the same vicinity, which seems likely… well, she’d probably be tying her hair back to clear for action, unless circumstances rushed her.


  11. 11
    Grace Annam says:
  12. 12
    Sebastian says:

    Grace, the actress is leaning on her bow in the publicity pictures. You can tell that her bow is a piece of wood or papier-mâché with a loose cord tied to it, but doing it with a real strung bow is rather dangerous. My wife dropped a traditional bow on concrete when we went to Prado, and my friends unstrung it at once, and examined it before restringing it on a stand (which they never do otherwise, macho exhibitionists as they are) Youtube is full of videos of bows coming apart in people’s hands. A strung bow feels very put-together and solid, but once you see someone string a 90+ pounder traditional or horseman style, you realize the strains it’s under. Few people do. The author of The Hunger Games, whose character keeps her handmade, wooden hunting bow strung 24/7 certainly does not.

    As for the drawing on the right, you are correct, it’s ridiculous. She is holding it below the center of mass, with the string forward, with the wrong hand, with her wrist in an anatomically impossible position. But hey, the Lord of the Rings also got the hands wrong when the elves marched into Helm’s Deep. I guess they did not have a single archer amongst the actors. Or all elves, except for Legolas, are left handed. But the heroine is right handed, judging from the drawing on the left.

  13. 13
    eilish says:

    All those people distracted by bows: the subject here is action figures. Concentrate.
    Mulan as Ping was never made into a doll because Ping golf clubs claimed trademark. I don’t think Disney was really sad.

    I have always been concerned about Princess Jasmine, as she was clearly missing several ribs and a couple of necessary organs. I am most distressed to find Merida is now being similarly incapacitated.

    Brenda Chapman is obviously not planning on working for Disney/Pixar ever again.

  14. 14
    Grace Annam says:

    Sebastian, I am no kind of expert on bows, but I have a passing familiarity, and have both strung and shot modern recurves. I have a good deal respect for the capabilities of even a 20-lb bow. I know a bowhunter who hunts with a 25-lb bow and has put a hunting arrow all the way through a deer with it (like, the arrow came out the other side; clearly it did not strike bone).

    I thought we were talking about the images in the post.

    Anyone who leans on a weapon of almost any kind (except for a staff) should have it taken away from them. It drives me NUTS, the sword-handling I see in movies and whatnot. (And I’m not an expert with a sword, but I’m also not a beginner.)

    The wrist position in the right-hand image is not anatomically impossible for me, but it would not surprise me if it’s out of reach for some people. I am momentarily in a similar wrist position occasionally when practicing with a jo. However, I’m having a hard time conceiving of any circumstance when you would hold a bow that way.

    Don’t get me started on movie interpretations of The Lord of the Rings. *spit*

    eilish, you want me to talk about action figures when there are people talking about weapons? That’s just crazy talk. That said, I share your concern about the wasting disease apparently prevalent among the Disney princesses.


  15. 15
    Hugh says:

    @Sebastian: I think you don’t have to apologise. Scotland and Wales aren’t the same place.

  16. 16
    Copyleft says:

    Arrrrgg! Disney movies lack historical accuracy and combat realism! Who shall I complain to? This is the greatest atrocity in the history of ever.

    I love the Internet.

  17. 17
    Sebastian says:

    Hugh: Sebastian: I think you don’t have to apologise. Scotland and Wales aren’t the same place.

    Hell, if I had said they were, I’d be running, not apologizing :-) I just have not seen the movie, and I could not say where it was set. I vaguely remember seeing woad painted people in the preview or in posters, but they would be a thousand years out of place.

    Grace: Sebastian, I am no kind of expert on bows, but I have a passing familiarity, and have both strung and shot modern recurves.

    I’m no expert, either, although I just may have tried to pretend to be (and we all saw the results) It’s just that I hang out with people who are a tiny bit obsessed with medieval weaponry, the kind that think that SCA is not worth even spitting on and who crash ARMA practices and hold their own against the instructors. (I’ve seen it. I was amazed that everyone walked away on their own legs. Who knew that armored sword-fighting involved wrestling moves?)

    One of them is a Hungarian, who thinks he’s a Hun, who consults for Hollywood, (although to hear him speak, he mostly gets ignored) makes his own traditional composite bows, and sell personalized arrows for $100+ each, and one is a Bulgarian, who thinks he’s a Tangreist Tatar, who has trained one of his sister’s horses for mounted archery, and who has an award from some Japanese harvest festival where he succeeded in the archery challenge, on an unfamiliar horse, with a type of bow he never shot before, as he insists on pointing out.

    When they end in the same room, and if you are interested in medieval weapons, you can learn a lot, as long as you can make your testosterone poisoning check. Even for Eastern Europeans, they are a bit over the top.

    I don’t mind going shooting with them, but although I can pull their bows (I’m bigger than the two of them combined) I’m not crazy enough to fire hundreds of arrows per day, and ruin my fingers and elbows for life. Also, switching to a bow does not save you ammo money if you don’t go home until you have ruined a few arrows.

    By the way, where is it legal to shoot a dear with a 20 pound bow? I know for a fact this is illegal in South Carolina and California.

    @Copyleft I know, it’s silly to complain. But you know, even talking about the princesses is depressing. Mulan and Tiala (?) have become caricatures of Asian and Black women. Pocahontas is the only one that looks remotely human-proportioned. If I ever have girls, I do not know what role models I’d put in front of them. Twilight/Hunger Games is shit, Disney is vapid, the fairy tales are pushing the wrong kind of message, my favorite authors write men-with-tits, and, in my personal opinion, there’s a bit too much men-hating in the feminist written books I’ve personally read. Crazy as it sounds, I think the best female role models are in history, not in fiction.

  18. 18
    Copyleft says:

    How about TV? I learned a lot as a kid by watching Spock, MacGyver, and Quincy. (Although I never actually cared what they looked like.)

  19. 19
    Grace Annam says:

    The Bloggess weighs in, with this hilarious characterization:

    so I’m going to give my big, fat, stupid, irrelevant and probably wrong opinion on the changes Disney made from the original I-might-trust-her-to-babysit-my-kid-when-she’s-a-little-older Merida to get-the-fuck-away-from-my-husband Merida.


  20. 20
    Robert says:

    Hell, if I had said they were, I’d be running, not apologizing

    Not to worry. We Scots are distracted, locked into our permanent ongoing war to the death with our mortal enemy, the Scots.

    And of course, the Welsh are easily redirected from vengeance. Just gently mock them for being too poor to afford any proper vowels, and slip away while they sob in one another’s arms.

  21. 21
    RonF says:

    Grace, my wife was sitting in the living room laughing with a book. Then she said “You should really read this book” and handed me a book by The Bloggess. “Have you ever heard of her?”

    Yes, she has a blog. You think this is funny, you should read her blog.


    Gah. Funny stuff. Must be interesting being married to her, but at least she’d have no excuse for puting up with my $h!t.

  22. 22
    closetpuritan says:

    I showed the new Merida to my eight-year-old and she assumed that it was Merida’s evil twin. [from The Bloggess’ entry]

    We do often make fictional female characters look sexy/slutty when they turn evil. She’s probably picked up on that.

  23. 23
    Ayana says:

    I for one do NOT wish to see a “fat” Disney princess. Are you honestly sitting here typing about proper roll models and body image, then swing right into saying that there should be a “fat” role model? Are you insane? Have you forgotten the fact that obesity is a growing epidemic, and that it is extremely UNHEALTHY lifestyle!?! That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. Next you’ll be asking for a crack addicted Princess for girls to look up to.

    If you don’t think that the two are a fair comparison, then consider the fact that it is far more likely that a young girl will suffer or even die from illness associated with obesity than their chances of getting involved with hard drugs. That’s terrifying, and you’re solution is to validate the end result of inactive, and unhealthy eating habits by making a poster princess for it saying that it’s “ok”. I’m not ok with body shaming, but there is a point where you have to take a good hard look at what you’re trying to sell here. Yes, it’s hurtful being called fat, however, if you’re fat, you’re fat. It’s a state of being, and one that happens to be very unhealthy at that. Making excuses for being overweight only serves to sweep a very real, and very dangerous problem under the rug.

    My younger sister is struggling with gaining weight at a young age. It’s already hard enough to try to positivity teach her about healthy eating habits, and being active without her becoming developing poor body image. Nevermind having to contend with this additional self denial people are pushing about accepting obesity as being “OK”. Hurtful or not, it’s not ok. That’s not media fueled model worship, it’s the fact that I don’t want my little sister, or any person to ever be limited by their bodies, or health problems caused by bad habits. Diabetes; heart disease; high blood pressure; back pain; stroke; cancer; osteoarthritis; sleep apnea; insomnia; gallstones ect. ect. ect. are real problems associated with being overweight. So unless your new princess is going to have a tale about how she struggles to preform everyday tasks because of her health problems, then I would say that would also be pushing unrealistic expectations on young girls.

    Health is beauty, I think that should be what Disney keeps in mind for all upcoming princesses. Not only physical, but mental; emotional, and social health as well. Additionally, I don’t know if you guys know what perspective is, but you’re saying that the new design is thinner? No, no she’s not. It’s a side profile. Go watch the movie, Merida’s waist is tiny when she is viewed from the side, not 3/4 which is depicted in the movie picture you guys have shown. That logic is like saying that a character’s boobs are bigger in B rather than A, then show a front profile for A, and a side profile for B. Talk about unreasonable, and unfounded arguments. If you actually look at the proportions, you would realize that if there is a change, it in the hips. Her hips look wider because she’s wearing a poofier dress, and a thicker belt. Gah! Burn big belts, and poofy dresses, their sexist GAHHHHH!

    I think the fact that many of the new princesses are reflecting healthy lifestyles by being active; assertive about their rights and feelings instead of being passive, and being hard working is a good thing. Of course Merida is skinny, she’s active, and in shape and climbed a cliff in a dress, which is BAD ASS! Why would you ever say that this is a bad thing? I happen to like her new design. As a tomboy I don’t like the fact that anyone thinks that it’s somehow a disservice to women and children everywhere that a strong female character be able to dress up and embrace her femininity. That line of thinking just reminds me of all the guys that attack active feminists in this society by saying things like “If you’re such a “feminist”, why are you wearing so much whore makeup? Clearly you just want attention from guys”. It’s like saying that no strong woman can be feminine, or embrace femininity and has to look butch otherwise everything they say or do is invalid.

    Merida is awesome. Her new design is pretty and reflects that beautiful women can be beautifully strong and outspoken about their beliefs. I don’t think Merida is being objectified, or devalued any less than when I decide to put on a dress, and do my makeup.

  24. 24
    Ayana says:

    Additionally, my waist is as small as Merida’s in picture 2 from the side, and I in fact do have all my ribs, and internal organs. I am also a healthy adult with a realistic body image. I know this may come as a surprise to some people, but they’re called the transverse obliques. They act as the body’s natural corset stabilizing your internal organs, as well as protecting your spine. Not enough people work them out, and is another reason why so many people are developing serious back injuries at younger and younger ages.

    Honestly, if you guys don’t recognize that this to is body shaming, then I think I may just loose faith in humanity. “Look at her, she’s too skinny!”, “Her waist is too small”, “Her hair is too smooth” = “Look at her, she’s too fat!”, “Her waist is too thick”, “Her hair is too messy”. It’s the same thing, and there are plenty of healthy people out there that actually do have a similar body shape to Merida and are very healthy.

    In fact, having a small waist (little body fat around the stomach area) is linked to having significantly smaller risks of heart disease, stroke, and numerous types of cancer. But hey, if you want to push to have an overweight princess and act like the health risks associated with obesity aren’t a real, and serious issue… this is a free country after all. I mean, who am I to point out that focusing more on the physical appearance of a character, rather than their actual personality, and their story actually serves to objectify, and devalue them…

  25. 25
    Diana D. says:

    A fat princess? No! And let me tell you why I think it’s not a good idea. Fat isn’t healthy, it shouldn’t be encouraged! Young girls shouldn’t think it’s perfectly fine to be fat. That would hurt them later in life, socially and by health related issues.
    And I know what I’m saying. My cousin had a tendency to get fat since she was little…and she loved to eat, a lot…mostly “junk food” too. When she was getting upset because someone would call her “fat”, her mom would assure her she isn’t. WRONG attitude! Take the child to a nutritionist, or to a doctor, and see where the problem is…she will tank you later. Needles to say that by the time she was 12 my cousin was almost obese and had breathing problems. She was in total denial, thanks to her mom, the scale was “lying”….she wasn’t fat…”she had heavy bones”.
    Then later in her teens she had a wake up moment and decided to do something about it, which she did…and it wasn’t easy. She’s at a way better weight now, but the bad was done and the marks will always remain. (like stretch marks and flabby skin)
    There’s a difference in Disney making a black princess,a ginger one with freckles or even one with a disability…because people are born with those and it’s wonderful to give the kids a reason to embrace them, if they have any insecurities. “Fat” on the other hand is due to carelessness, in most cases, and not something to just embrace.