Damn the Man. Save Merida!

Warning: rant ahead. These are my own initial thoughts and impressions, though I doubt I’m alone in my observations.

Remember when Brave came out? I don’t. I don’t pay much attention to movie releases. But I do remember the first time I saw it, after it came out on DVD. I was blown away. It was funny, and heartwarming and a little frightening at times. It was a story about love, but not about finding a prince.

And Merida. Kicked. ASS.

Here was a princess I could get behind. One who pushed against the expectations that strangled her, who embraced what freedom she had and used it to ride, to shoot, to live in the beautiful word around her, to climb fecking mountains when the mood struck. Her little rebellions were believable in the context of the movie, and when she felt helpless, she went out and tried to figure it out on her own. Sure, that backfired spectacularly and she came off looking like a total brat a few times, but that was part of the charm. She was real. And she sure as hell wasn’t the Disney princess type. She was athletic. Her legs were strong, her boobs those of an actual teenager and not a twenty-something playing a teenager, her stomach strong, though not tucked into a perfect hourglass figure.

And her hair. That wild, frizzy, breathtaking, defiantly red hair that captured everything that she was. You could tell just by looking at her that this isn’t a girl content to sit and brush her hair and pretty herself up and sit around doing princess things. She was as wild as her hair, as frizzed-about-the-edges, as passionate as the colour and as unpredictable and defiant as every randomly-bent corkscrew.

I case you haven’t guessed, I cheered. I fell in love with this strange, kind of odd-looking girl who was allowed to screw up and make her own mistakes, who learned something about herself, who changed her world, and who did it without the help of a prince.*

Did you see this?

Merida is taking her place in the Disney Princess line-up. They just had to change a few things about her.

Now, before anyone accuses me of overreacting, I want to say that I’m aware that some changes are due to a shift in the style of the art; 3D animation deoesn’t translate directly to 2D drawings very well, and stylistic changes are necessary. I’m fine with that. The movie would have been just as enjoyable in a more classical animation style. Whatever. I’m also mostly ignoring the fancy-schmancy dress, because Disney is always altering the ladies’ outfits to make them look good together. Because why not.

It’s the other changes that are pissing me off. Did you notice the different body proportions? There’s less of her. Her waist is smaller. Her boobs are still small (thank goodness), but the neckline of that dress sure is showing them off better. Her thighs and butt look downright dainty. Her distinctive face shape hasn’t changed, but her lips and eyes are emphasized to make her look prettier. *squints* Does this girl even have freckles?

And her hair is still wild, but do you see it? It’s not “girl who just finished a physically demanding and spiritually rewarding adventure” wild. It’s sexy wild. It’s controlled wild. It’s pretty. As noted above, this is partially due to the shift in art style, but it’s more than that.

Yes, it bothers me. A lot.

I have no problem with girls wanting to look pretty. I do it myself, once in a while. But here’s what I see in the new Merida:

  • She’s lost her big, powerful lower-body muscles. This new girl doesn’t need ’em, and they were just making her look fat, right? God forbid a girl should be strong instead of sexy.
  • The dress. I know, I said I was fine with it, but I don’t see how the lower neckline was necessary except to make her look prettier. Again, pretty is fine, but Merida is a girl who wears clothes because she can move in them without falling out. That v-shape at the neckline on her original dress was functional. Now it draws attention to her bust. Sure, change her outfit, but not in a way that re-defines her character.
  • Facial expression. Merida in the movie is expressive. Her jaw drops, her lip curls, she snarls, she cries, she rolls her eyes, and she often looks goofy or unattractive doing it.  This new girl could do all of those things, but you can bet she’ll look camera-ready when she does. Every expression will be effing adorable and pretty.
  • Does this new Merida have adventures? I’m sure she does. But I suspect she has safe, approved adventures, and if she gets her face dirty or messes up her hair, it’s going to look good.

Someone posted this picture in a discussion of this on Facebook and said, “Well, she looks like that in the movie, too:”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what the problem with that argument is. Merida wears this outfit for a tiny portion of the movie, and it’s very symbolic. This dress squeezes her into a more-feminine shape that’s not her own. It makes her look demure and smooth, and it stuffs her into the shape of what her society expects a princess to be. Notice that it also covers up the hair that basically defines her character, trying to make her look the way they think she should. They way that will sell her to the visiting suitors, hiding who she really is to make her visually appealing. It leaves her passive, unable to move freely, able only to be acted upon, to be chosen, to be pretty, to be acceptable.

In the movie (yay!), Merida busts out of these constraints. Literally. She gets frustrated when she can’t be her own badass (and yes, disobedient) self in that dress, and literally rips it to make it suit who she is and what she needs to do. It’s a brilliant and cheer-worthy scene.  She becomes her own self again, she takes action, and her actions change the very people who wanted her to fit their standards.

Boom. That’s my girl.

Merida is a different kind of princess. She’s not beautiful in a traditional way. She doesn’t behave herself, she doesn’t let people control her. She knows she has value outside of being pretty and good, and she’s willing to fight for the right to just be who she is. Disney’s make-over tells us that all of that is well and good for a movie, but if she expects to fit in with the real princesses, the ones who matter, she’d better make herself fit our society’s expectations of what a princess is.  Be yourself, Merida, but be better- and by better, we mean be what you’re not. Sexy. Pretty. Made-up. Easily controlled. You have no value if we don’t think anyone would want to screw you.

So yep, I signed the petition at change.org, much good it will do anyone. Please, Disney, let Merida be the wild, strong, brave girl who’s a role model for girls who need to feel OK about not being what everyone expects them to be. Don’t tell kids that Merida is better when she’s thinner and sexier and fitting in.

(for a more professional article, see the Huffington Post piece here)

*Nothing against princes, mind you, I just think there should be more girls who are complete and happy without ’em.

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

18 responses to “Damn the Man. Save Merida!

  • L. Marie

    Wow. I didn’t kow this change had happened. 😦 After I waited so many years to see a heroine like Merida–someone beyond the status quo–once again it all comes down to a tiny waist. She looks almost like a tavern wench about to slide a tankard of ale down the bar. Great post, Kate!

  • Kathy Dunlavey

    I signed too!!! We love Merida! She is a strong, independent role model because of who she is!!! She rocks because of her being true to herself. She is fantastic, partly because of her appearance, NOT in spite of it!!!!! I hate the makeover…the slangy, flirty eyes, the boobs, the tiny waist and sexy dress…PLEASE!!! She was perfect!!!! Leave her alone!!!!!

  • Briana Vedsted

    I’m 20 years old. I grew up watching Disney movies. But until Brave came out, I didn’t think it was fair that all the princesses had to be so beautiful. Just like Barbie dolls. It forces little girls to think that that figure is what everyone should look like. Now, I’m overweight, I rarely wear makeup, and I work on a farm. Merida was someone I could relate to. (Of course, I argue with my mom sometimes, too, so that was another thing I felt we had in common.) I really don’t like Merida’s new look. Her face isn’t the same, it’s too prim. Her figure doesn’t bother me that much, because I suppose when she’s lined up with Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine, and Snow White, we don’t want Merida to be the pudgy one of the bunch. But I disagree with the dress. There is no point for a low cut dress on this character. Hello! These movie are for LITTLE GIRLS! I don’t have children, but I wouldn’t want my five year old to think she needs to dress or look like all those princesses on the posters. I want her to be a regular little girl. She should play and run and be free. Not worry about her looks.
    Hmm, well it looks like I made a post nearly as big as yours Kate! I should probably end this here.
    (Great post by the way! I usually ignore rants like this, but I saw Merida and was curious. Glad I did!)

  • Amira K.

    Great post! I haven’t seen Brave (but now I think I might have to) but I think it’s really important to bring people’s attention to the girls-must-be-sexual stereotypes that abound in our culture. It’s this whole notion that without sex appeal, a girl is worthless, that is frankly disgusting and is contributing to the ongoing oppression of women. I hope Merida gets her strength back (not to mention her age – in the new version, she looks about five years older than she does in the original), because that fiery red hair is sexier without a hairbrush.

    • katemsparkes

      You have to see it! Hands-down my favourite Disney movie. It’s about family and forgiveness and mistakes and love and taking control of your life, not about finding a prince and maybe having some incidental adventures along the way.

      I can’t even begin to say how much the sexualization thing bothers me. It’s like, “yeah, you can be smart/funny/clever/adventurous/whatever, but if the outside package isn’t something I’d want to have sex with, none of that matters.”

      Pardon the language, but I think this quote from Tina Fey applies:
      “[T]he definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.”

      Even now, that’s how a woman’s value tends to be defined. Women in politics, female authors, etc. are constantly judged on their looks when they have NOTHING to do with her career or what she’s contributing to society. It’s socially acceptable to say that a woman’s opinion has no value because she’s overweight or poorly dressed. And little girls pick up on that. This is worse than just having a physically perfect princess to begin with. This is taking one who doesn’t fit the usual standard of beauty and changing her, because she wasn’t good enough when she was athletic and muscular and kind of goofy.

      Breaks my heart.

  • Charles Yallowitz

    I’m a little confused here because I don’t see that much of a difference. I was thinking this is caused by the difference in animation and them making her older than she was in the movie. I do agree that the hair looks tamer and she should have her bow.

    What is the new picture supposed to be from? Is it a toy line or a new animation that they’re doing?

    • katemsparkes

      I’m confused about why they want to make her older, though. Other than that making a younger girl sexy is frigging creepy, and those princesses are all pretty hot. Why can’t little girls have a normal-looking role model who’s closer to their own age, rather than having to aspire to being grown up, made-up and skinnier?

      As to what it’s from, she’s joining the “Disney Princess” line. She’s being assimilated. 🙂

      • Charles Yallowitz

        They really are like the Borg from Star Trek. To be honest, the guys don’t have it any better. All the modern day male heroes are buff, charming, great teeth, and perfect. Even Beast transformed into an attractive man. Maybe Disney simply doesn’t know any other way, which is truly pathetic.

        Something that’s clicked in my head here. Was there any outrage when Jasmine got put into the line-up and made froofy princess material? Behavior-wise they would have changed her, but not physically.

        Hey, what about Jane (Tarzan), Megara (Hercules), Esmeralda (Hunchback), Alice, and the female characters that don’t even get attention because they aren’t princesses? The entire thing is a horrible franchise.

        • katemsparkes

          That confuses me, too! Alice has a big following, but others get ignored. And it’s kind of arbitrary; Mulan isn’t a princess, but she’s included in the line.

          I think they all tend to get wussified after their first movies, but I wouldn’t know; I don’t watch Disney sequels. Unless they’re Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, in which case they were pretty much passive wusses to begin with. 😉

          And yes, it’s bad for guys, too. At least there are some less-attractive male heroes who get tons of love, though (I don’t think the Dr Who guys are attractive in a manly-man way, but fans adore and/or lust after them for their… Awesomeness, I guess?). I say we need more not-stunning heroes of both genders, and more ladies who only increase in their kick-assitude with every sequel. 🙂

          • Charles Yallowitz

            If we’re going with royalty then shouldn’t Nala be in there too? Maybe Queens don’t count.

            I remember Jasmine retaining her female badass levels through the tv series and other movies. Ariel kept her non-wussiness for her tv series as well. It’s when all of the princesses get together that they fall into this wussy style. Maybe the older, pampered princesses have too much seniority and pull. Can you imagine Snow White getting dragged along on a magic carpet adventure through a crumbling cavern? Off topic, but what’s with the sudden warrior versions of Snow White that have been popping up?

            If we wander out of Disney we get some ‘meh’ guys and female butt-kickers. Wolverine from the X-Men is rather scruffy and gross. There’s always Wonder Woman, Lara Croft, and Catwoman. You also have Xena and Buffy from the old days.

    • katemsparkes

      (and it’s ok if you don’t see the difference. It’s kind of nice, really)

  • explorerleslie

    Thanks for your post! Couldn’t agree with you more. I’m glad you didn’t wait to post…I’m a big believer in raw, unedited emotions in writing. Makes it so much more real…like Merida should be, actually. What angers me most is that this isn’t the first time Disney’s done this. I wrote a piece on this: http://explorerleslie.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/dear-disney-marketing-dont-photoshop-the-disney-princesses/

  • picturemereading

    Love this post..I know Disney is particularly bad about this!

  • Eden

    Reblogged this on A Garden of Delights and commented:
    Hadn’t seen Brave, but now I want to, before they ruin Merida from being a “real person” and not a formfitting waif

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