Merida Makeover & The Princess Problem

MERIDAoldLast week I wrote about my adventure with Bean at Disney Princesses on Ice. Despite my initial hesitation, we had a great time and enjoyed one-on-one time together.

Well, less than a week later Disney was in the news for the controversial makeover of Merida, the unconventional princess from Pixar’s animated film Brave.

All I can say is WTF, Disney.

Merida Maelstrom

If you missed the news, Merida was recently crowned Disney’s 11th princess, becoming the first Pixar character to join Disney’s elite princess ranks.

The coronation itself wasn’t cause for uproar. What really ticked people off, including the film’s director, was the way Disney ‘sexed up’ Merida’s look while simultaneously de-emphasizing her strength.


The new Merida, Disney 2013-

Oscar winning director, Brenda Chapman, had this reaction in an interview with The Washington Post:

I thought ‘typical,’ when I first saw the artwork. So wrong-minded, [especially] when the Pixar crew and myself worked so hard to give them a completely different kind of princess — one that kids and parents today can relate to in many different ways. And Disney turned her back into the same old thing, taking away her symbol of strength and individuality, her bow and arrow, and sexing her up. Not cool.

~ Brenda Chapman

At the time the article was published, more than 220,000 supporters had agreed with her, signing the online petition Disney: Say No to the Merida Makeover, Keep Our Hero Brave.

Despite the media backlash and huge response to the petition, Disney responded by saying that Merida simply wanted to ‘dress up’ for her coronation ceremony. As you can imagine, that statement did nothing to appease fans or protestors.

There are so many things I could say, but Rebecca Hains does a great job summing it up in Disney misses the point in response to Merida petition.

The Princess Problem

All of the Merida coverage, including a hilarious segment on The Daily Show, got me thinking about the proliferation of princess propaganda today. (Points for alliteration, please!)

Despite the fact that Bean has never seen any of the full-length Disney movies, she still knows about the princesses. And, like most girls her age, she’s drawn to the pretty gowns and sparkly tiaras. We went to a wedding in January, and she’s still talking about how the bride looked like a princess.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel beautiful. The real issue is how we define beauty. Do we let society’s idea of beauty define us?

Looking at the original Merida, we see a strong, confident, beautiful young woman. The reason so many people are outraged by her makeover is not the image itself, but the message being sent.

For Merida to join the Disney princesses, she had to slim down, tame her locks, get a glamorous gown, and ditch her bow & arrow.

The message: being yourself is not enough.

That’s certainly not a message I want to send my girls.

Time to Think & React

Jon Stewart’s satirical remarks about the Merida Makeover should make us all pause:

…the point is this, Disney, you need to reconsider this makeover because you have an arrangement with the parents of America of which I am one. 

Our job is to make sure the children are sitting in front of the screen. 

Your job is to raise them right. 

And if you keep teaching them the wrong lessons, then we’re going to have to start doing it ourselves and that’s not cool.

~ Jon Stewart

Are we letting movies and corporations teach our kids what’s right and wrong? The Bloggess echoed the same sentiment last week; if you haven’t read her response yet, check it out.

To some extent, we can’t control everything our children see and hear, and we should be realistic about the things they’ll be exposed to outside of the home.

So, what can we do? We can do our best to combat the negative messages they’re bombarded with and engage them in meaningful conversations so they understand what they see in movies and magazines is not real.

We can expose them to more positive messages and continually reinforce those lessons. We can teach them to believe in their own self worth, to never doubt it based on what someone else says.

We can lead by example and show them that real beauty lies within.

Last week I talked about indulging my inner princess. I still think it’s ok to do this every once in a while. But maybe our inner princesses should take a page from Merida’s book and embrace our individuality and strength. Because that’s what makes us truly beautiful.

Merida images by Disney 2013-

How do you define beauty? Parents, how do you talk to your children about the images they see in the media?

23 thoughts on “Merida Makeover & The Princess Problem

  1. Such a good topic. I think Barbie’s and all the dolls were originally made innocently the way they are, but now SO much spotlight is on looks. Girls idolize these dolls so I agree- they need to be more realistic. My hope is to teach Gentry to love her body and hope she can look past these types of campaigns.
    Maybe you should write Disney?! Or maybe you and Bean can create your own line of REAL dolls!
    Emma @ a mom runs this town recently posted…Why I’m NOT an Ironman (well obviously) ok an IronwomanMy Profile

    • It’s amazing to look at my mom’s original Barbie and compare to today’s version. My mom’s Barbie had black hair (which my mom chopped off!). Gentry is lucky to have a strong, confident mom! You’re an awesome role model for her!

  2. Yes to all of this! I was wigged out by the Merida makeover as well. I get that princesses are appealing to little girls, but what bothers me is the sexualization of those princesses and the associated message of “the most important thing is to be pretty.” Peggy Orenstein wrote a great book about this (Cinderella Ate My Daughter), which I’ve read portions of and fully intend to buy in spades if I wind up having a daughter. Thank you for writing about this! :)
    Lillian @ Seize the Latte recently posted…MIMM: A Lovely WeekendMy Profile

  3. I think another question is “do you let the media define any how you perceive yourself?” We have to take responsibility for what we think and believe. Just because something exists out there doesn’t mean that each person has to partake in it.

    Oh, and an aside. I sing a song that I made up about beauty to Susanna each morning as we look in the mirror. I sometimes sing it when we’re not in front of the mirror, too, for the sake of reinforcing the message when she cannot see reflection. Plus, she loves the familiarity of the song.
    Wendy @ New Moms Talk recently posted…Postpartum SnacksMy Profile

    • Yes Wendy! So true that we have to take responsibility for our thoughts & beliefs! And we have to teach our children to do the same. So sweet that you have a special song for your little girl.

  4. ah don’t you love the bloggess?? i heart her. I think the thing that bugs me most about the merida makeover is that they sexed her up. they didnt just put her in glitzier dress and take away her bow/arrow, they sex-ified her. those bedroom eyes are NOT what little girls should be striving for in their mirrors. they should be striving for the perfect soccer goal or perfecting their science experiments. that is all.

    ps sorry im late to the comments today- since 7:45 this morning everything that could go wrong at work has gone wrong at work. ohh mondays.
    Charlotte @ Commitness to Fitness recently posted…Mixtape Monday: Cool Kicks!My Profile

    • ‘They should be striving for the perfect soccer goal or perfecting their science experiments.’ And that’s why I heart you Charlotte!!

  5. Although I haven’t seen Brave, I loved the previews. She seemed to me what a strong woman should be and we can do great things. Having boys I try to teach them that beauty is really from within for everyone. I didn’t like what they did with Merida because it sends the wrong message again to young girls that this is what true beauty is and that’s not cool.
    Kristina Walters @ Kris On Fitness recently posted…The Hills…My Profile

    • Thanks for reminding us that we need to teach our boys the true meaning of beauty! We tend to focus on the impact the media has on our girls, but we can’t forget that boys are bombarded with the same messages!

  6. I just briefly saw this and thought..oh no Disney! Not a good move! The conversation about Beauty and what it ongoing and we need to continue to be the advocates for what beauty really is. Great post!
    Katie recently posted…That’s it..My Profile

    • Yes, we are the best advocates for our children! I love all of the positive conversations about real beauty that are happening today! Thanks for being a part of that conversation!!

  7. It’s sad, but I’m not surprised with this. I first heard about this through Miss Representation, an organization focusing on women’s issues whom I receive email updates from. It will be a glorious day when the discussion focuses around women’s achievements with no mention of their bodies. But I don’t even know when that day will come.
    Emma @ Culturecopia recently posted…The phone call every college student makes [weekend recap]My Profile

  8. Wow, I didn’t hear about any of this–I guess I AM living under a rock! :) I agree that Disney blew it on this one, and parents are right to be ticked off about it, but I do wonder: do young girls really notice the difference? I don’t ever remember looking at Barbie as a kid and thinking, “I should look exactly like this!”
    Kim @ healthy nest recently posted…I never thought I’d be able to say thisMy Profile

    • Good point! Good thing I wasn’t trying to live up to Barbie standards as a kid. My chest would have fallen woefully short! ; )

      Part of the issue today is the sheer amount of images and messaging our children are exposed to. No ipads back in the day; I spent my time buried in actual books!

  9. I must have been living under a rock because I didn’t hear any of this! Thanks for all the info and links!
    Although I don’t have kids, I have an impressionable 3-year-old niece who loves princesses despite my sister’s best efforts! My sister really promoted Merida because of her wild hair and spunky can-do attitude without wanting a boyfriend/husband.
    I think parents just have to do their best to teach their kids (especially daughters) what beauty really is- whether it’s brains, strength, humour, artistic talent, athleticism, kindness or a combination.
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted…Keeping your canine happyMy Profile

    • Laughing, you don’t live under a rock. We’re just highly attuned to all things princess right now! Completely agree with you that parents (and awesome aunties) have to do their best to teach children that true beauty lies within.

  10. I think beauty is confidence. Nothing says beautiful like a confident woman or man for that matter. With a baby girl on the way I certainly think of these things more and more. I was at the pool over the weekend and observed some pre-teen kids interacting and it got me thinking which type of girl I hope my daughter to be and it all came down to her just being confident in who she is and what she has to offer. Now, how I teach that? I am sure that will be one of my biggest parenting challenges so any tips from anyone are certainly welcome!
    Rosi recently posted…Workout #10 Bridal Boot Camp SeriesMy Profile

    • Confidence is definitely beautiful! I feel the same way about teaching my girls to be confident in who they are. If I figure out the secret to teaching confidence, I’ll let you know! Right now my 3 y/o is pretty darn confident. ‘Mommy, I’m beautiful.’ Hmmmm, maybe we need a lesson on humility too! ; )

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