Recently, Disney released images of a new Merida (Brave) design, which will be used on merchandise along with the original 3D version, according to reports. If you need a reminder, Merida is the feisty, bow-and-arrow toting princess from Disney’s Brave (click here for my review), a 3D Pixar adventure that came out last summer. For a story about a young woman rebelling against tradition, including making herself up for the sake of looking beautiful by others’ standards, I was surprised and disappointed with this new version. Rather than accept Merida as she is, Disney felt the need to make her “fit in” with the rest of their princesses–that is, they’ve made this new Merida sparkly, pretty, and glamorous just like all the others.
Just compare this new look to Merida’s original design, as seen in the movie. Part of the difference is of course just the change in media, but the face of this new Merida looks slightly older, as if she were wearing makeup. If you look closely, Disney has made her paler with perfectly rosy cheeks as if she’d just applied blush with a demure, cheeky expression, instead of the natural, red-cheeked round face full of enthusiasm and energy that we all know and love. Disney may have been trying for attitude in the way they designed the expressions and body position in this new Merida, but I’m not getting teenage rebelliousness from these images. I’m getting cute and pretty. Her expression isn’t strong enough to suggest determination or stubbornness nor is it energetic and loud enough to show Merida’s bright personality. It’s just…subdued, which isn’t Merida’s personality at all. I guess a big smile or a set jaw and furrowed brow just didn’t make her look pretty enough.
In addition, Disney appears to have slimmed Merida’s waist so her hips and chest look more pronounced. It’s a bit hard to tell in the image with her arms crossed, but look closely at the original Merida in comparison to the new image with her hands at her hips. I swear the new Merida must be wearing a corset! That really bothers me since she’s perfectly slim in the original version. I’m not sure if Disney has heard, but we have a little issue called anorexia among girls in the U.S. and in many other countries as well. Part of the problem is that girls see so many unrealistic portrayals of beauty, including how thin is beautiful. I was reading comments on blogs from readers’ reactions to Merida’s new look and one person mentioned that if Merida were a real person, these new images would be like an airbrushed and photoshopped version of the real person. I completely agree. This is the slimmed down, smoothed out, and amplified Merida. To add insult to injury, Disney also made Merida show more skin in a dress that shows shoulder and cleavage that the original dress does not. Thanks Disney.
The interesting thing about this issues is, if these images were completely unrelated to Merida from Brave or weren’t official images from Disney, I wouldn’t be half as fired up about it. I’d probably say, “That’s pretty,” and move on. The problem lays in the fact that Disney doesn’t seem to understand that a female character doesn’t have to be ultra-glamorized to be popular. There is more to a female character than just making a pretty face with a sparkly dress. Disney doesn’t seem to get that audiences, both female and male, love Merida for her spunk and sense of adventure. More kids have actually started picking up archery in the U.S. because of Merida and other strong, bow-and-arrow wielding female characters that have hit the big screen in the past year or so. That should give Disney the message that it isn’t Merida’s sense of style that is inspiring viewers. In fact, while the original Merida is accessible to both genders, this new Merida screams, “I’M FOR GIRLS!” (Because, you know, only girls like sparkles and boys couldn’t possibly be interested in a female protagonist.)
This isn’t the first time Disney has done this to a female character that is as brave as any male character, rejects gender roles, and could easily be marketed to both boys and girls, even in this very gender stereotypical and gender segregated market. Disney’s Mulan told the amazing story of a young woman who was gutsy enough (despite her fears) to take her father’s place in an army and go to war while trying to hide her identity and find herself, but the only thing Disney wants to market is a pretty girl in an elaborate gown. (If you want to read more about that, click here and here.) That was more than a decade ago and now Disney seems to be making the same mistake in 2013. So, if Disney wanted to rip away everything that makes Merida stand out and make her look like one of the crowd, they’ve accomplished that splendidly.