Have you looked at the evolution of the Disney princesses lately? If you have, you may have a few questions: Did Belle get Botox? Did Merida get an eating disorder? Did Rapunzel get a lobotomy? Why does Cinderella look like Taylor Swift?
These are also the questions being asked by Peggy Orenstein following Disney's makeover of Merida, the princess in Brave. As the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, she's appalled that one of the only self-rescuing and imperfect princesses ever showcased in a Disney movie is being revamped to look more docile and sexy. She's been given a slimmer waist, more shoulder exposure, a dress that her character reviled, and her bow and arrow have been taken away. "Because, in the end, it wasn’t about being brave after all. It was about being pretty," Orenstein says of Disney's decision.
Orenstein isn't the only person who's upset about this sexy makeover. So is the co-creator and writer of the animated film, Brenda Chapman. She describes Merida's transformation as "a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money."
To be clear, this isn't Disney's first salaciously motivated makeover. Most of the princesses have gone through quite the metamorphosis in the last few years.
Looks like Belle has undergone some "major surgery" says Orenstein.
Notice how the non-white ladies are being slowly pushes to the edges?
Sure, some of the changes the traditional princesses have undergone have been subtle. They all started out pretty gentle and sexy, and those same characteristics remain but have become exacerbated over time.
What makes Merinda's makeover worse, though, is that she started out completely unconventional. She was the character that taught girls that they could be complete without having to be married/rescued/sexy/gorgeous/thin. Now, the princess is being reformatted to fit the stereotypes that her character was designed to counter. Chapman thought up a character who was a tomboy, and Disney has unilaterally decided to crush that vision.
This outrage has prompted a Change.org petition campaign asking Disney to reconsider their decision to change Merida's image.
"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 [...] 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 petition reads.
Brenda Chapman has signed the petition. She's also given Bob Iger, president of Walt Disney International, a piece of her mind. "There is an irresponsibility to this decision that is appalling for women and young girls," she said. "... Disney marketing and the powers that be that allow them to do such things should be ashamed of themselves."
Sure, children may say that they prefer sexier characters, but does it mean that we need to respond to those trends by giving them something that's harmful to them? Kids love to ride roller coasters and sleds without seat belts, but does it mean we should design toys that are dangerous just because they like them? Of course not.
Research shows that girls as young as six years old are already self-objectifying. A study published by psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg found that almost 70% of young girls aged six to seven years old chose a sexualized doll as their ideal self. When they needed to chose which one they wanted to play with and which one they thought was the most popular, a majority of the subjects chose the first doll. Can we all agree that a 6 year-old wanting to look like the first image is slightly problematic?
Chapman explained that, as adults, we need to take responsibility for the messages we're sending to children. "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," she said.
Moreover, it's not like children and parents aren't craving for more diversity in female characters. Brave did immensely well, even when Merida was a tomboy. The movie brought in more than $550 million in the box office and earned the recognition of film critics by winning a Golden Globe, an Oscar and the Bafta Award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
So wait, why are we making changes to Brave's character again? Looks like the only one who needs a makeover is Disney, not Merida.
Sign the petition now.
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