Princess Merida, the young Scottish girl who broke tradition and took a decidedly feminist stand against being married off to the winner of an archery competition in Disney’s “Brave” (by using her kick-ass marksmanship skills to win her own hand) has officially been inducted into the sacred sisterhood of the Disney Princesses, taking her place alongside the likes of Cinderella, Belle, and Ariel.
But before Merida could join the ranks of her more mature counterparts, she had to undergo quite a makeover. First, her dress — a functional frock, suitable for her outdoor adventures, was replaced by a much brighter, frillier, more low-cut number, reminding young girls that looks trump comfort. And because there’s nothing feminine or damsel-like about packing heat, her beloved bow and arrows were apparently confiscated.
Equally disturbing were the changes that were made to her previously young-girl-like figure: her waist had clearly been cinched and her bust noticeably increased, she was given flirtatious lashes and rosier cheeks, and her adventurous, slightly defiant-looking smile gave way to a sultry smirk. After critics lambasted the made-over Merida for over-sexualizing what was supposed to be a young girl to whom real young girls could relate, Disney quietly pulled the image from their website and replaced it with the Pixar original.
We’re not surprised the backlash was so intense, because while we agree that the over-sexualization was a major problem, we think it went beyond that.
Let’s go back to the dress thing for a second, as it particularly bothered us. During the aforementioned scene in which Merida competes to win her own hand in marriage, she makes her feelings about a formal dress that her mother forces her into wearing (which looks remarkably like the post-makeover dress) quite clear. When the restricting gown keeps her from being able to shoot an arrow, she says, “Curse this dress,” before tearing the sleeves and bodice at the seams — clearly symbolizing her rebellion against the passive look-pretty-and-be-quiet gender roll being put upon her. We remember cheering this moment (and Merida in general), and applauding Disney for taking some major steps forward in providing young girls with a more relate-able and progressive roll model.
The marketers behind the makeover not only changed Merida’s physical appearance, but in so doing effectively robbed her of some of her most impassioned, admirable, and accessible character traits. With this recreation, Disney regressed — they robbed young fans of a heroine in whom they could see themselves, and replaced her with yet another passive, pretty princess to aspire to become.
So, in short, we’re glad to see that Merida’s fans are just as uppity as their heroine — they let their arrows fly and, sure enough, they hit their target.