The Merida Situation

New_MeridaLook, you guys know I care a WHOLE DAMN LOT about body image. A whole damn lot. But this crazy hullabaloo over Merida getting a makeover? I’m not on board.

To summarize, if your twitter feed hasn’t been as aggravated by this as mine: This past week Merida of BRAVE fame had her official Coronation as an official Disney Princess, and to celebrate, the Imagineers (or whichever the correct department in charge of Princess merchandise is) gave her a little bit of a makeover. Yes, I love the fact that her story doesn’t revolve around her love of a boy as much as the next raging Feminist. Sure, she’s a little painted up for a sixteen year old. True, they made her waist smaller which is lame and sucks. And yes, they took away her weaponry. Rabble rabble rabble because our children need more weapons to play with. I’m not saying I’m going to throw a party over Merida’s new look, but let’s be serious. She’s a cartoon character who was tweaked to match the other cartoon characters in the line of merchandise in to which she is being inducted.

Women of Earth. If we are going to make this big of a deal about an imaginary woman being redrawn to more “womanly” proportions, then we sure as hell better be ready to make a whole lot bigger of a deal when they do it to actual women and pretend it’s not happening.

Here’s another before and after shot that made the rounds on the Internet:

kim-kardashian-complex-before-after-cellulite{via}

That’s Kim Kardashian, of Supermarket tabloid fame, in case you live under a rock or only shop at Farmer’s Markets. While she’s not exactly the poster child for natural beauty (where by beauty I mean routine and application, not underlying facial structure) she IS a living breathing human being. Y’know, one who we and our daughters are a lot more likely to see in that airbrushed photograph, one of many which are not disclosed as such, and think that that is what we are supposed to look like. As opposed to a CG character who has been cartoonized to aesthetically match the rest of the line of which she is a part.

Eva Longoria{via}

As of this morning Disney capitulated to the heat and changed the photo on their Princess landing page back to the original Merida. The one who blatantly doesn’t match the makeovers that were already given to the ten Princesses that came before her, that I don’t remember there being such a huge stink about.

Princesses (Because if you think Mulan or Pocahontas looked even REMOTELY like that in their respective films you are drunk. And Rapunzel may seem wide eyed and sweet, but lest ye forget she is technically holding her love interest hostage for the better part of the film.)

I worry that there’s been a missed opportunity here to make this about something more than a cartoon character (albeit a beloved one). Instead of connecting the issue to the greater societal problems surrounding body image in general, there’s a false sense of victory now surrounding the Merida Makeover.

416072-airbrushing{via}

Where is the daily outrage and we’re not gonna take it attitude towards this happening to real women? Why aren’t we banding our platforms together across the Internet pushing a petition via Change.org to shut down the practice of photoshopping REAL LIVE HUMANS beyond recognition and then showing THOSE pictures to children as if they’re real?

britney_airbrushed-1{via}

My daughter is three and obsessed with Princess culture. I know some of my fellow feminist Moms balk at that, but I don’t. It’s such a small part of the world she lives in, I don’t see the problem with a little fantasy based pretend play. And for Delilah, it’s hardly about the movies or the stories or the underlying messages at all. She doesn’t actually like the movie Beauty and The Beast because it’s “too scary” but the moment she saw a real-life person dressed in a Belle costume at Disneyland, Belle became her favorite princess, and the one she dresses up as daily. She doesn’t like Belle because Disney added tendrils or longer lashes when they inducted her in to the Princess line. She likes Belle because she is a three year old girl and that big yellow dress was the most frilly, sparkly, elegant thing she’s ever seen. So no, I’m not worried about what Merida’s makeover might do to her sense of self or body image. Not nearly as much as I’m worried about the images she’s bombarded by during the rest of her day of REAL women being held to unattainable ideals.

[Full Disclosure: I'm a regular contributor at Babble, which is owned by Disney. While I appreciate the paycheck, it has no bearing on my opinions here. In fact, I published this post here instead of on Babble Voices where I really could have used it towards my monthly post quota so that it might have a chance at not being dismissed as having been paid for by Disney. Did it work?]

21 Responses to The Merida Situation

  1. Mindy says:

    Here’s my thing – I’m not, like, protesting the Disney offices or anything, but I am upset about the makeovers they keep giving the princesses to make them thinner. I could care less about make up, big hair, weapons, earrings, blah blah. I don’t like that with every “re-imagining,” the princesses come out with thinner and thinner waistlines. And I (I’m not speaking for everyone, just me) truly believe that being surrounded by this, through cartoon characters and airbrushed magazine covers, DOES start warping the minds of young girls at an early age. And I’m not a fan.

    • Morgan says:

      I don’t disagree. I don’t love the makeovers. I just think we’re distracted as a society when it’s rampant in all forms of entertainment and a re-imagined cartoon is what gets all the attention.

      • Mindy says:

        I think part of the problem is that we never see the un-airbrushed images that are featured in magazines. To us, they are just “normal.” But when a mom is watching BRAVE every day because her daughter is obsessed, and then she sees this New Merida online, you can compare the two immediately and it’s such a stark difference.

  2. I love this so much. Especially after taking Madison to Disney World and watching her experience meeting the Princesses in real life. It was fantasy come to life for her. The whole day was magical and it was just that the whole concept of these princesses was abstract to her and suddenly they were real life people she could hug. It was seeing her imaginary world come to life right in front of her eyes. I loved every minute of it and I’m quite confident none of it had anything to do with messages about body image.

    Call me crazy, naive or whatever… but I sort of think it is up to me and my husband and the other positive influences we put in Madison & Hannah’s lives to teach them about body image and real beauty and how waist size and cheek bones don’t determine self worth.

    If she wants to grow up wanting to be a princess…. so be it. It worked for Kate Middleton, didn’t it? :)

  3. So I don’t have daughters, but my 3yo son LOVES princesses. And I thought the Merida hullabaloo was silly. It’s not like they took an overweight (or even thicker) character and turned her tiny. They just made her look like the rest. Do I think that is stupid? Yes, yes I do. It makes me cranky that the princesses from when I was little (Cinderella, Snow White, etc) all look weird to me now.

    The other stuff? The REAL women being air-brushed SIGNIFICANTLY to be thinner? That is upsetting to me. In fact it makes me pissed.

    As a mom to boys, I don’t want them to think that is what all women “should” look like. I want them to find beauty in what REAL looks like.

    And cartoons are not real. Do I think we need to quit making the “fat” characters the “not cute side kicks”? Yes.

    Do I think the ones that are skinny are giving our kids complexes? No. Just like I don’t think the coyote and roadrunner will turn my son violent. Of course, without any conversation and communication those things have a better chance of happening, but still…they are not REAL.

    Photographs are perceived as real. They are passed off as “real”. When the media alters them so that girls think they are not pretty if they get rolls when they bend? That is wrong. We all get rolls when we bend. Even the skinniest people ever.

    It’s easy to tell a kid a drawing is not real. How do you make kids understand photographs are not real when their heads are telling them they are?

    Great post. Sorry I blogged in your comments :)

    • Morgan says:

      Great reply. You can blog here any time ; )

      • Katie says:

        I should ALSO say I feel the same way about Barbie dolls.

        AND I should say the fact that Merida had to be changed to “fit in with the rest” is worse message here, in my opinion.

        Ok I am done. Maybe. Probably. Yeah, I’m done. :)

  4. I think you can be a princess, Morgan, without photoshop. And to me that’s the whole point of the uproar about Merida. I have four daughters, all of whom grew up watching Disney movies and loving characters and fantasy. So I get that. Merida was created to be different. To break the pretty princess mold. And I’m biased, because Merida’s creator, Brenda Chapman, is both my friend and my client, so I’ll say that right up front. And these are my opinions, btw, not hers.

    But to your post above I say why can’t we be outraged by ALL of this? Why can’t we demand change? When do we care enough? When our daughters (and our sons) have already been tainted by all the messages, tacit and subliminal, that they have body self-esteem problems? Is that a good time? When do we just stand up and say we’re tired of all this crap, and tired of media of all kinds depicting women and girls in unrealistic ways and demand change?

    My social media stream has been inundated these last few days by Disney Moms being entertained by Disney, so there’s been an explicable silence on this topic, which also makes me sad. Women who normally care about empowering girls and women fall strangely silent when faced between choosing speaking out or a potential sponsorship relationship. And really? I get that, too. People have to eat.

    I care about Britney being photoshopped and Kim being photoshopped – and everyone being photoshopped. I also have to ask at what point does a woman (especially a celebrity) say no? What responsibility do they bear in allowing themselves to be skinned up, anti-cellulited and smaller-butted? What role do brands and marketers here play and what responsibilities are theirs and ours (I’m a marketer, too). When do we women quit carting home People magazine and Glamour and Vogue and all the others filled with unrealistic images of unrealistic women and reading them in front of our girls?

    So my greatest point here is that children should, most definitely, be permitted to fantasize about being princesses. And they can look like Belle or Aurora or even Merida. And all those princesses don’t have to look the same – nor should they. And this is where the mass merchandise machine (and image machine) that is our society, and that is Disney, comes into play. Let’s have fancy girls and tomboy girls. Let’s have sporty spice and posh spice, and let’s create fantasy characters that hate dresses and personify strength. Let’s celebrate our differences and, most importantly, let’s be honest with our kids about what is real and what is fantasy.

    Absolutely we should be concerned about the images you point out above. But to trivialize the uproar about the redesign of Merida, who for many is way more “real” and certainly modeled after a real girl and a real relationship with her mom than celebrities living unreal lives doesn’t seem like the right path. At least it’s not the right path for me. And that doesn’t mean that we can’t take our girls to Disney and let them enjoy the fantasy that is a visit to the Magic Kingdom.

    We can do more. We can care more. We can affect change. But we, collectively, have to care enough to want to do that. And that means caring about the sexualization of a cartoon character, the sexualization of little girls (and women) everywhere, in all forms of media, the unrealistic portrayals of women in media–all those things matter. It is our apathy and our opting to not get worked up about crazy “feminist” things like this that got us here. I truly believe it’s up to women and parents (including dads) impassioned about changing these stereotypes and making a better world and better self-esteem for our daughters as they grow up to demand change. Fantasy is great – and a wonderful component of childhood. Seeing, teaching and sending real messages is as well. Who says they can’t both work together? Most importantly, on this issue and similar ones women and participants in these conversations can ask ourselves: if not now, when? If not us, who?

    There’s really no right and wrong here. Only what’s right for you and what’s right for me and what’s right for anyone reading about this issue. What I’ve articulated above is, without doubt, what’s right for me. And I appreciate you sharing your thoughts (and your readers sharing theirs) about what is right for them. It is discussions like these that, hopefully, keep us moving forward.

    • Morgan says:

      You are a class act Shelley. I don’t mean to trivialize anyone’s outrage over Merida’s makeover, I just worry that it’s polarizing bigger issues when many of the same voices have been silent over the same treatment of real women. I believe we naturally understand pictures to be real and cartoons to not be. For me, the outrage seemed to disconnect from the issues anchor in reality when there was an opportunity to use it as a platform. Instead, I believe we’re now lulled by a false sense of victory while the bigger issue remains.

      • Sara says:

        I love that we are having this conversation and I’m not sure it matters at all which door we use to enter into this discussion.

        What’s happened with the Merida makeover shows us that our collective voices do have the power to change the actions of even the hugest of the huge corporations. So as opposed to feeling this is a false victory, I believe we can look at it as a small victory and be empowered to move on to the other manifestations of this issue in our society that aren’t serving ourselves or our children.

        My signature is on the change.org petition and when they asked the question “why is this important to you?” I responded: “Because my 8 year old daughter feels ugly because she doesn’t look like a princess”. A month or so ago she told me that” Disney Princesses ruin childrens’ minds because they make them feel that if they don’t look a certain way they will never find love” and it was heartbreaking to hear.

        Princesses weren’t pushed or panned in our house and we did try to deconstruct the stories but she still came away feeling like the girl down the street with the long, flowing, hair is beautiful and she is not.

        So although I am with you that these airbrushed images are also harmful and I would add my signature and voice to a petition to combat undisclosed airbrushing, I can’t help but feel that for little girls these princesses are the first and very influential exposure to the message that a certain standard of beauty determines a woman’s value and worth.

        (On a side note, I always liked Belle the best of all the princesses because she was smart and different, loved books, did not fall in love at first sight based on looks but rather got to know the Beast and loved him in spite of how he looked and although it challenges the typical Disney love story it still drives home the message that he loves her because she’s a “Beauty”.)

        So do I feel like Disney reverting to the original Merida is a false victory? Absolutely not. Do I feel like conversation is over? Not by a long shot.

        Thank you for your post and your perspective and for continuing this conversation in a thoughtful and respectful manner!

        • Morgan says:

          Great perspective. It’s interesting to see that it does have an effect on the older kids in a real way — I’m saddened (and a little eye opened) hearing the stories of kids that noticed.

          • Sara says:

            Just an FYI, A Mighty Girl just posted on their FB page 29 minutes ago the following:

            “Unfortunately, Disney has not relented nor have we declared victory. We’ll be putting up a statement on it shortly as there have been many confusing and largely inaccurate stories circulating in the media about this in the past day or two.”

          • Morgan says:

            Interesting, thank you for sharing, and I’ll definitely be following this. Disney did change the image on their landing page though.

    • Andy HInds says:

      *stands up* *slow claps*

  5. I can’t stand how the body image of women is portrayed. Real women dont look like any of those Disney characters. Even real women are being photoshopped. How can young girls ever live up to the image that is set for them. Once upon a time Marilyn Monroe was the most beautiful woman in the world, Presidents desired her. Elizabeth Taylor was also curvy, another beautiful woman. Thats’ what young girls need to see. Real women but they must also be taught that beauty is far more than just how you look. Thank you for this…

  6. But we also have to be careful of classifying “curvy” as normal and beautiful. What will that girl who is naturally thin without curves feel about herself. It’s a matter of teaching different is beautiful. And as cliche as it sounds, that beauty is composed of more than your figure. In fact, that plays a minute role in the composition of a beautiful person

  7. I agree with your position on the importance of beauty and “real women.” But this goes much deeper than that. Merida is a character based on a real mother/daughter relationship. Brenda Chapman not only created this character, but had to fight tooth and nail to keep her vision for this strong independent, female hero. That was a hero’s journey in itself. It is unprecedented. You should definitely google her and read about it. Merida is the first of her kind when it comes to princesses. Branding might be a good excuse for business. But when a company has that much power and influence over young girls, they have a responsibility to their customer and their customer’s daughters. It might not happen quickly, but over time, as we mothers raise strong young women, it won’t be very good for their bottom line. It takes a while to cause change, but little by little, change happens and people are heard. We have an obligation to keep the “big guys” on their toes.

    • Morgan says:

      I am very aware of the story behind Brave and Brenda Chapman’s involvement, I’m a fan of the film, and I applaud Merida as a character (I wrote about some of that HERE). I also agree that it takes the action of little guys to change big ones. But magazines and the beauty industry are big guys too. I worry that failing to connect this issue to the real life version does a serious disservice.

  8. Some of them don’t even look real in the touched up photo. I wish magazines had real looking people in them. Merida should not be having a makeover.

  9. Andy HInds says:

    FWIW, I feel like there’s an almost constant hue and cry about photoshopping in fashion mags; whereas the stuff about body image and kids’ toys/shows/characters only surfaces every couple years.

    • Morgan says:

      I disagree — I think the general population is totally blind to airbrushing in fashion mags, there’s a constant rumble from insiders that happens in a vacuum.

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