Apparently, Disney would. This was my reaction, more or less:
I only just found out about the newest Princess controversy that has emerged, just as I was inwardly celebrating Merida’s coronation into the Disney Princess Club. The Disney Company decided to change Merida’s look when they featured her on Disney Princess merchandise. Here is the picture that causing rage amongst feminists, Brave fans, and plain old Disney fans:
Every time I look at her new appearance, I feel so frustrated and confused. Why was this necessary? She’s actually not the only Princess subjected to this; they’ve all been “upgraded” to look even more glamourous and sparkly than before. But it’s so weird to see this happen to Merida because her character wanted no part in sparkly dresses or makeup. Yeah, it looks like she’s wearing makeup. There’s nothing wrong with makeup and pretty dresses, but not every girl likes those things, and Merida certainly doesn’t, so why do the people behind Disney merchandising pretend that she does? The company’s official response to the criticisms doesn’t make any sense if you’ve seen Brave:
“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.” (Yahoo! Shine, http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/disney-princess-makeover-sparks-outrage–merida-petition-goes-viral-175251230.html)
The “strong and determined Merida from the movie” ripped her pretty dress so that she could hit the targets with her arrow better, and she made it clear to her mother that she hated wearing it. Somehow, I can’t imagine that Merida striking this new pose.
Many fans are upset and worried that this redesign will hurt little girls’ self-esteem. Others scoff and say, “It’s a cartoon. If you’re letting fictional characters be role models for your children, something is wrong with your parenting decisions.” I have to say, no, there isn’t. Even if parents are strict about what their own children watch, they can’t parent every child. Kids will still interact with other kids who are allowed to play with Bratz dolls or watch Disney movies and dress in those sparkly gowns. They may still go over to a friend’s house and find out that that kid gets to play M-rated games on his older brother or sister’s Playstation 3. Worse- from the parent’s point of view- they may see all these things and think, “This is great! My parents don’t know what they’re talking about!” or they’ll seek out those things because they’re forbidden for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t restrict materials that they consider harmful for their children. That’s a good thing; it shows responsibility (though I’m personally going to raise any future children on a steady diet of Disney movies). I just don’t think it’s fair to criticize parents for reacting this way to Merida. They want to instill good values in their children and they’re legitimately upset because the rest of the world isn’t helping them.
Furthermore, I don’t think most kids look at super-skinny Barbie and think, “I need to be just like her; I must start dieting!” It’s not that obvious. I think this sort of thing is more subconcious; as we get older, we are still told that blonde hair, blue eyes, and an hourglass figure are the epitome of beauty, and that beauty gets you wonderful things: an equally attractive man, money, a fancy car, a high-profile career, etc. That’s the thing: it is not fair to blame Disney for everything when they are part of a much bigger view of the world. The Disney Princesses are extraordinarily beautiful. Barbie is extraordinarily beautiful. High-profile singers, actresses, and models are extraordinarily beautiful. Magazines give up tips on how to look more beautiful than we already do. And when a character isn’t beautiful, like Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or in a non-Disney example, ogre!Fiona in Shrek, it is made to be a big deal. “You’re beautiful just the way you are!” the world insists- through the mouths of beautiful people.
That said, when I was growing up, I never really cared about how I looked. When I started reading feminist critiques of Disney Princesses, I wondered why that was, because I had lived and breathed Disney, and I still love it today. My favorite female characters are Mulan and Cinderella. But I’ve never had any issues with my body or worried about what clothes I was wearing. There are probably several reasons for this: 1) when I was growing up “Disney Princess” didn’t exist; it was just the girls in their movies, and the movies themselves have very positive messages and focus on who the girls are, not how they look (heck, for Snow White, her beauty put her in danger!), 2) I had other interests besides Disney: Beanie Babies, American Girl, etc. and 3) I was already bullied for being shy and weird, so I didn’t see how a pretty dress would change things. But most of all, I had God. Every day I went to Catholic school and I learned that God would always judge us on how we treated other people and He didn’t care at all about how we looked. Heck, He made us the way we are, so He must’ve liked the way we looked just fine. So I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Fine, it’s not important.”
But that was me. Other girls have different experiences or may see things differently than I do. Maybe they have heard that loving message, but it’s hard to accept when the rest of the world is screaming the opposite. And why not celebrate beauty? Looking beautiful is nice.
It’s just that there are other things that are much more important, and by glamorizing Merida’s appearance, Disney is denying that her inner qualities have any value. If it’s really not such a big deal, then why did they have to change how she looks? No, I don’t think Merida alone could change our perceptions of beauty with her wild red hair and beloved bow. But she provided a good change of pace, just as Lilo and Nani’s realistic character designs did, and the way Tiana, Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Mulan’s non-Caucasian ethnicities did. Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Cinderella’s blonde hair and blue eyes. She is beautiful. But so is Tiana, and so is Kida, and so are Esmeralda, Vanellope, Lilo, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, Kairi, Mulan, the Muses…you get the idea. I think what little girls really need is some more balance and need to be shown more diverse examples of what makes someone beautiful. And it can’t be shoved in their faces either, because when you constantly tell kids, “Look! She’s overweight, but she’s STILL beautiful!” or “Look! She doesn’t have pale skin, but she’s STILL beautiful!” or “Look! Merida’s hair is wild and tangled but she’s STILL beautiful,” the more it is said that somebody is “still” beautiful, there’s a risk of reverse psychology setting in- in other words, the fact that you have to tell people that someone is beautiful gives the impression that she really isn’t, and that there will be plenty of people who still find something wrong with her appearance.
Wow, I am so sorry to anyone who’s still reading. That was an unexpectedly long post, and honestly, I don’t want to bash Disney because I still love those princess movies so much. I just don’t understand why Merida’s looks had to change, especially when this new look doesn’t reflect her character at all. And makeup? Sparkles? On Merida? Really?! It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and I’m hoping Disney goes back to portraying her as she really is: an athletic girl who loves how untameable her hair is, and whose favorite pastimes are horseback riding and archery. And while we’re on the subject, leave Pocahontas, Mulan, and Jasmine alone too. They didn’t have any interest in wearing fancy clothes either, and that should not be a signal to redesign or ignore them. Remind the world that there’s no one way to look like a princess and that we should all aspire to be loved, not worshipped.