Disney Princess Makeover Sparks Outrage: Merida Petition Goes Viral

Presenting the old and new Merida. Photo: Disney/PixarSo it turns out that Merida, the rebellious redhead star of Disney’s Pixar film “Brave,” is true princess material after all, and Disney is coronating her as its 11th official princess on Saturday at Walt Disney World to prove it. But wait, there’s a catch.

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Turns out that Merida’s only joining the royal lineup after a corporate makeover that’s rendered her skinnier, sexier, and more glamorous than her original spunky, tomboyish self—stripping her, at least in some images, of her trusty bow and arrow, and putting her into the very dress that her character detested in “Brave.” It’s sparked outrage among thousands of mothers for whom Merida offered, finally, an empowering Disney role model for their girls.

“Merida was the princess that countless girls and their parents were waiting for—a strong, confident, self-rescuing princess ready to set off on her next adventure with her bow at the ready,” reads a Change.org petition, "Keep Merida Brave," asking Disney to reconsider the character’s redesign. The petition, created Saturday by "A Mighty Girl," a blog and online girl empowerment marketplace, had already surpassed 50,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.

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“She had a uniqueness that people really loved, so when they took that away, it was a real affront to a lot of people,” Carolyn Danckaert of “A Mighty Girl” told Yahoo! Shine. Danckaert solicited opinions from her Facebook followers before starting the petition, and said she was quickly bombarded with more than 800 comments, “overwhelmingly negative and very passionate.”

Signers of the petition, who include Peggy Orenstein, author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” object to what they’ve called the sexualizing of Merida’s image, in which the character now appears older, with a tinier waistline, sultrier eyes, a coquettish expression, tamed curls, and more exposed skin peeking out from a bedazzled, off-the-shoulder version of the constricting teal dress she so resented in “Brave.”

A Disney spokesperson offered the following official statement about the controversy to Yahoo! Shine: “Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate, and confident and she remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world.” 

But the makeover—put in place, at least in part, to lend Merida more easily to product designs, according to a report in “Inside the Magic,” which covers Disney news—was still inspiring impassioned criticism at a rapid clip as of Friday.

“My little girl has unruly curls, wants to climb trees, run with wind, and challenge stereotypes everyday AND she is only 4 years old,” writes one petition signer, Kerri Gaskin of Canada. “How can I possibly tell her that her favorite character has given in and given up to become an overly sexualized pin-up version of her former self?”

Other signers call the new Merida “arm candy,” “unrealistic,” “vacant looking,” “too sexy,” and “vapid.”

“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,” wrote petition signer Kris Dorman of Utah. “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.”

Orenstein wrote about the redesign on her blog with a tone of resigned disgust, noting that, “in the end, it wasn’t about being brave after all. It was about being pretty.” She continued, “I’ve always said that it’s not about the movies. It’s about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen. Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it’s normal.”

For the parents who say that Merida is “only a cartoon,” asking, “Why does it matter?” Danckaert says, “It’s sending a message,” which is one that puts forth a very narrow definition of beauty. “This is how children pick up cultural messages about what is important,” she adds. “Young children don’t really distinguish between reality and fantasy, and these characters are their role models.”

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