Merida’s Makeover (Or “The Tale of Beautiful Tough Girl”)

Last week, Disney announced its new addition to the Disney Princess series: Merida, the fiery red-headed star of Disney-Pixar’s movie Brave, had made it to the immortal ranks of little girls’ childhoods all around the world. My three nieces absolutely adore the adventurous, bow-and-arrow wielding princess who tries to change her fate of an arranged marriage. She’s tough; she runs around, rides horses and climbs mountains. In the eyes of a little girl? She is totally cool. However, her unveiling to immortality was received with wide criticism.

To be a matching set alongside Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine and Rapunzel (just to name a few!), Merida had a makeover. With a pinched waist, tighter dress and smoother hair, she is also saliently missing her bow and arrows. This caused outrage from mothers, saying that they had “sexied” Merida up, making everything she stands for irrelevant. One person went as far to say that her new look is subconsciously allowing young girls to take in a “sexy, come-hither” attitude.

So let’s take a look at the doll in question, shall we? New-look Merida doll featured for sale on the Target website.

Before I begin, I understand how sensitive a child’s self-esteem is. I know little girls who don’t think they are pretty because they don’t have blue eyes like their Disney role-models. It would be a hard thing for a parent to watch this, you don’t want your own little girl to feel different because you know exactly how it feels yourself. However, the sad reality is that battling inner-thoughts is a part of life and finding self-worth at 5 years old is no more challenging than trying to find it at 25, 35 or even 45. The process of finding self-esteem sucks, no matter when you find it.

Having said that though, hasn’t this gone a little too far? Is this protection reversing the role, saying that because Merida is now pretty, she can’t be brave? Only people with frizzy hair can wield a bow and all pretty people are damsels in distress?

The best example of this argument is: Barbie. Barbie has been the subject of ridicule for many, many years. She is judged by her looks, despite being a vet, doctor, pilot, nurse, firefighter, gymnast, big sister and more. She has even been a special education teacher! If you want the full list of her occupations, jump over to Wikipedia. This girl’s resume is longer than her luscious blonde hair. Yet she is continually judged by her looks despite her long career of helping people. A bit hypocritical, no?

Regardless of what she looks like, Merida will always be a strong, brave girl in her own way. Rapunzel will always be a brave, strong girl, again in her own way. Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, Mulan, Tiana, Jasmine: they will always be strong, brave girls regardless of what they look like or sound like. One of my favourite female characters in the popular Game Of Thrones series, Brienne of Tarth, who struggles with her own femininity, says to Catelyn Stark, a traditional mother of five: “You have a courage; a woman’s kind of courage.”

That is what this issue comes down to. Growing up, I played with Barbie and I watched Disney movies over and over again. They influenced me, just in the same way reading The Hobbit did when I was 12, but I have no desire to have hairy hobbit feet. If you have seen Brave yourself, this is exactly what Merida discovers. You can dream and hope as much as you want when you are little, but a girl’s real role models are the women around her: mothers, sisters, aunties, teachers; not a doll from Target.

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3 Comments

Filed under Ruby Views, Square Eyes

3 responses to “Merida’s Makeover (Or “The Tale of Beautiful Tough Girl”)

  1. I think the issue in question is not actually the doll, but rather the updated look in terms of the marketing image, a criticism that has also been levelled at the new redesigns for the rest of the princesses. If you take a look at the links, you can see that they have all been polished to look more “glamourous”, so that rather than emphasising that women can be pretty AND badass, the exercise ended up saying that women HAVE TO BE pretty in order TO BE badass, which is a problematic subliminal message to be saying. The value is not on the ability, but the appearance; you have to be “polished” to be worth spruiking.

    What’s really interesting is that Merida isn’t the only princess to have been unnecessarily spruced up. The new Pocahontas design is garish and over-the-top with her excessive feather jewellery, and Mulan looks more like the scene where she’s taken to the matchmaker (easily the point in the film where she is most uncomfortable) than the parts where she really shines – when she is in the grit and the guts of battle.

    And that’s what the issue is: there are plenty of princesses who have ‘being pretty’ as part of their character alongside being complex characters: Ariel and Belle are both characters who buck what the system expects of them and who are both glorified for their beauty. The redesigns make traditional, commercially viable beauty a prerequisite for princess-hood, and that still makes me really damn angry, especially since by making the decision to change the designs, Disney has effectively betrayed the personalities of some of their best female characters.

  2. Tara

    I have to agree with Noni’s view here (and she expresses it much more eloquently than I could).

    My main issue is that the Merida doll bears little resemblance to the movie character. Yes, it is certainly possible to be both beautiful and brave, but by ‘enhancing’ the doll, you are sending the message that she wasn’t beautiful enough the way she was.

  3. Bomber

    Disney are damned if they do, damned if they don’t!
    Disney own the copyright to those princesses, if they wish for them to have a wardrobe filled with outfits let them!
    Also for the issue of ‘enhancing’ the rest – they added feathers to a native american Indian whose culture used bird feathers in nearly everything – if anything it is Disney’s attempt to incorporate her culture. Mulan – in the end she is once again wearing a dress, what kind of message are we sending girls if we say to a girl oh during a specific part of your life you wanted to wear pants and get down and dirty you are not allowed to dress up in a dress. Mulan yes she was comfortable wearing men’s clothes, but she was also comfortable wearing a dress and looking ‘pretty’.
    I am so over this whole argument that the Disney princesses are sending a bad message to our girls about what ‘beautiful’ is.
    I watched and adored the Disney movies as a young girl – I didn’t look at the princesses and compare them to myself and see discrepancies. All I saw was my favourite CHARACTER. Please take adult ideas away from children who don’t have the same perspective as an adult!!! If you want a perfect example re-watch Grease! Think of what you thought as a child watching it and what you pick up now as an adult!!!

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