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?
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.