Disney seems to have buckled under pressure and pulled down the sexier version of the tomboy princess from ‘Brave’ from its website. But can a Disney princess ever be a good role model?
If you bother to visit the Disney Princess website and scroll through the line-up of chosen princesses, you will make a handful of observations.
At first glance, they seem to be carefully planned representative bunch. Of course there is the quintessential Barbie-girlesque gang: Cinderella (from Cinderella), Aurora (from Sleeping Beauty), Belle (from Beauty and the Beast), Snow White (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), and Rapunzel (from Tangled). Ariel is pretty conventional except for being a mermaid – but since there is no such thing in real life, I’m not sure if that counts as diversity.
Then there is also Pocahontas who’s native American, Chinese Mulan, Jasmine (from Aladdin) from the Middle East, Tiana (Disney’s first ever dark skinned princess from The Princess and the Frog). That’s the ten Disney Princesses you will find on the website, at least if you look at it today.
A couple of scrolls around the carousel later another observation may strike you. All ten princesses are skinny and kind of evenly shaped. All have tiny waists, nice hair, big eyes, long legs, and demure smiles.
That’s what made Merida special; Merida, the eleventh and latest Disney Princess, who has been noticeably missing from the carousel for the past couple of days.
Making Merida ‘proper’
Sword fighting, arrow shooting, horse riding, quick-witted, messy haired, round faced Merida, from the Pixar movie Brave is often touted as the closest to a role model a Disney princess has ever been.
This is presumably why a high profile outrage followed the revelation of Disney’s 2-D avatar of Merida. The Merida on the Disney Princess carousel reportedly depicted a visibly sexed-up version of the original.
We’re not just talking about the new sparkles on her dress; 2-D Merida’s neckline plunged a little more, her frizzy red hair translated into voluptuous curls, her face wasn’t as round…
It didn't take long for somebody to start a Change.org petition which has been signed by over 2,20,000 people so far.
"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," says the petition.
The most conspicuous supporter was none other than the creator of the character herself, Brenda Chapman.
“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,” Chapman, who left the Brave production halfway through citing “creative differences” is quoted as saying in her local newspaper.
Disney initially tried to shush the issue with vague statements on the lines of “Merida is still the same person,” but a few days later reports began emerging that Merida had been pulled down from the Disney Princesses website. As of today, Disney does not seem to have issued any official statement, but it seems as if the petition may have worked.
Not everyone is as convinced however. Some, like Peggy Drexler in a CNN.com Op-Ed argue that even the original Merida was undeniably ‘sexy’. She chooses (a little strangely?) to focus on the implication of the petition that “that pretty girls can't be role models.”
Then there is the glaring fact that at the end of the day Merida is a princess. So Disney and Pixar, in the words of author Jaclyn Friedman in a Guardian article still “couldn't figure out how to tell a story about a human girl without making her a princess.”.
(Nandita Jayaraj writes about her encounters with the strange and interesting. You can send her feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also tweet her @nandita_j )