Did you hear that Merida got a makeover? Merida is the disobedient, frizzy-haired, bow-and arrow-slinging princess who starred in Disney’s latest picture, Brave. Animator Barbara Chapman was inspired to create the character of Merida by her own, redheaded, strong-willed daughter.
In the original story Merida is a strong young woman who defies an age-old custom to marry the man picked out for her by her parents. She seeks help from a witch in the village in order to put a spell on her mother, but she doesn’t realize that the spell will turn her mother into a bear. After the spell takes effect Merida spends the rest of the film trying to undo the harm she has created. Merida is a strong, fierce character, who hates the formal dress her mother wants her to wear, and who loves to shoot things with her bow and arrow. She doesn’t seem to care about her looks, and her body has normal, healthy proportions.
So what is all the fuss about? In early May Disney crowned Merida as the 11th Princess at Walt Disney World. But her new title came with a new look. The new Merida has smoothed-out hair, a more angular face, a more revealing neckline, a narrower waist, and no bow-and-arrow. “For a wedding or prom, even a tomboy is going to dress up for a special occasion,” says a source that is familiar with the product line. But did the original Merida look like a “tomboy”? Is she being called a “tomboy” because she was defiant and could use a weapon? Is she only acceptable to Disney if she is sparkly, thin, and overly feminine? Barbara Chapman says, “Girly girls are fine…. As long as you dress appropriately, it’s fine if that’s who you want to be. It’s just being allowed to be who you are without someone telling you that you’re supposed to be something you’re not and that’s what bothers me about this image of a so-called princess.”
When I look at the pictures below I can see a difference. I think my daughter can see a difference as well. To me it seems that Disney made a choice between a strong girl and a princess. My question to Disney is: can’t a girl be strong and still be a princess?
Tara McElfresh is SWSG’s Administrative Intern in our Pittsburgh office. She was introduced to SWSG while searching for programs to bring to her daughter’s public school that empowered young women.