Merida Makeover: Disney's 'Brave' New World Meets a Backlash

“Our fate lives within us.  You only have to be brave enough to see it,” Merida valiantly proclaims in Walt Disney’s 2012 Pixar-animated film Brave.

But Merida’s bold notions on fate fell short this month as Disney announced Merida would be part of its official “Princess Collection.” The new title came with a sexy makeover for her character and heavy criticism of Disney for dramatically changing the look of this beloved character.   

Merida is beloved for her daring achievements and audacious behavior. She quickly became an icon with her unruly red curls and crooked smile. Little girls have started to prance around in floor-length, less-than-glitzy hunter-green gowns with bows and arrows at their sides. Mothers and fathers exhaled a sigh of relief, as there was finally a female character whose life story didn't revolve around scintillating dresses, blue eye shadow, and a male hero saving the day.

But all of this has changed pretty quickly.

Wild curls are now beachy red waves, there is no bow-and-arrow to be found, and Merida's rugged "ready to take on the world" dress is now off the shoulder, blindingly shimmering, and tightened to show off her slimmer waistline. 

The changes caused a tsunami-sized wave of disapproval, with over 220,000 signatures on a Change.org petition, “Say no to the Merida Makeover.”

The old notion, "Do as I say, not as I do" came to mind after Disney released a statement last week addressing the backlash. "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," the statement read. 

Disney has taken down the new images from its official U.S. website, but the new Princess Merida look will remain as a part of this limited-edition princess series and can still be viewed on the Target website

Brenda Chapman, the creator of Merida, described the character as a “love letter” to her own real-life daughter who she based the character on. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Chapman describes Disney’s decision to change the image of Merida as unacceptable but not unanticipated.

“Sadly, I wasn’t surprised, I was just incredibly disappointed. Disney is Disney, and I’ve been rather disillusioned with a lot of their choices over the years,” Chapman said. “I don’t take it personally because I know they’re not doing personally, they’re doing it, I think, for a business reason, but that reason is very misguided. I think they need to look at other marketing methods in respect to the message they send little girls. I think they do have a responsibility, and they’re shirking it by creating this kind of image.”

What remain of this Merida makeover scandal are firm statements from Disney PR professionals that spin the changes as limited and the criticism as an overreaction. Critics remain disapproving and disappointed that the once-empowered female heroine has now been lumped into the already-high number of stereotypical pretty pretty princesses.  But the most disconcerting things that remain of this controversy are
the confused little girls tangled in this new-found reality. 

Perhaps the four-year-old girl, Riley Maida, whose YouTube video quickly went viral in 2011, said it best. “Why do girls have to buy pink stuff and boys get to buy all kinds of colored stuff? Why do all the girls have to buy princesses and all the boys get to buy super heroes?” she said in the video.

The girls who found something special about Merida’s uniquely real exterior and unflinching demeanor are now left with yet another sign that sex appeal and beauty are paramount for success, even for a fairytale princess. 

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Shannon Leocata

BS in journalism from Boston University and gender studies minor at the University of Sydney. Also has self-given degree in life studies while traveling the world as a fairly destitute English teacher. Now a marketing pundit in the spirits industry in NYC, she is best described as a curly haired policy nerd that simply finds bliss in the written word.

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