UPDATE: Brave's director, Brenda Chapman, has weighed in. And she is, shall we say, not happy:
“I think it's atrocious what they have done to Merida,” Chapman said in a letter to her local newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal.
“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 mould - 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.”
h/t to Bizzarobot who just posted this on Facebook.
UPDATE 2: And then this happened. . . Sexy Merida has been replaced.
And it's official. Merida from Pixar's Brave is officially the 11th of the Disney Princesses. In a ceremony at Walt Disney World in Orlando earlier today, Saturday, May 11, Merida officially became part of the Disney Princess line. (h/t to InsidetheMagic.net for some awesome coverage fo the event, including tons of pictures and video.) However, not all is right in the house that Walt built.
Somehow, in order to join the ranks of Cinderella, Ariel, and Belle, Merida had to get a little makeover:
So, obviously Merida had to lose a few pounds from her waist, gain them back in her chest and hips, get a new hairdo, put on more makeup, lose her iconic bow and arrow, and wear the dress that she hated in the movie Brave.
And because this is unsettling to oh so many, a petition to Bob Iger, CEO of Disney
and future supervillain sprang up on Change.org, asking for Disney to please return Merida to her original body and image. Already nearly 100,000 people have signed the petition called Disney: Say No to the Merida Makeover, Keep Our Hero Brave!
Does this matter? In a word, yes. For those unfamiliar with a feminist critique of Disney Princesses, it was fairly simple: most of them were nitwits, waiting for a prince to come and save them or somehow complete their existence. Merida was the exact opposite of that. She had no interest in her boy suitors, preferring the woods, her bow and arrows, and adventure. She took charge, and when her mother was cursed, she took action herself to set things right.
One of the petition signers, Kris Dorman of Utah, wrote: “Merida was the anti-princess for all of us who don't wear makeup, let our hair rampage free, and prefer to wear real clothes that let us hike, climb mountains, and ride horses. Please allow Merida to remain the fiercely confident young woman who doesn’t need glitter or skin to know she is of incredible strength and worth.”
Peggy Orenstein, author of the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, described the changes on her blog: "There’s the hot hair, the coy expression. Also the obligatory exposed shoulders (moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because “princesses don’t cover their shoulders), slimmer waist, and the bow and arrow replaced by…what is that, a low-slung belt? And she has what appear to be high-heeled shoes. Or at least slimmer, pointier feet. . .Because, in the end, it wasn’t about being brave after all. It was about being pretty."
As a focus-group of 1, I had my 7 year old daughter look at the pictures of Merida and ask her what she thought. "Dad, I like the new one better. She's prettier," she told me very matter-of-factly.
And yes, that's her, dressed as Merida for her last birthday party. So, she has some affinity for the character. When I pointed out that Merida was missing her bow and arrows, that they made her skinnier, my little girl didn't see any of that. The merchandising-lust welling up in her eyes, I could see those Disney marketing geniuses knew their stuff, issues of feminism or body image be damned!
That is, perhaps, what is so damaging here. It's not that they're changing Merida in ways that sexualize her, or remove the bits that make her a strong heroine, it's that the target demographic doesn't get the subconscious signals being sent their way.
In case you were wondering, it's not only Merida who's been given a makeover:
At least in this one, Merida still has her bow. So, for comparison, before:
And yes, the subreddit r/Disneyporn just exploded in underage semi-porn ecstasy, and the folks on DeviantArt making Disney Princess sexy pics are going to have to shutdown for "copyright infringement." I kid. But I'm kidding on the square.
It's not that we at BSR are prudes, nor are we generally uptight over these sorts of things. If I go to Dragon*Con and see a sexy Merida cosplay, that is one thing. Because that is for adults. But when you take a girl, and tell her that to be "pretty" means losing weight, gaining a cup size, wearing makeup and a strapless dress, and batting some sexy eyes, that's another thing entirely.
Of course, the best way to send a message to Disney is with your wallet. If sales dip with this redesign, they'll know why. Unfortunately, I fear that whatever the Disney version of a Brony is will more than make up for loss of sales from parents like me.
But backing down from doing the right thing is not what Merida would do.