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.