After 200,000 signatures on the petition launched against Disney following the unveiling of a sexified Princess Merida, they have decided to return her back to her original self. If only plastic surgery was this reversible for some no? Merida was unlike other Disney Princesses but much like Tiana, Disney’s first Black Princess in its 76 year history of 12 Princesses, a working class girl who works two jobs to realise her dream of owning her own restaurant, she represented something much bigger than the other doe-eyed Disney princesses, she was a cultural awakening and a new identification for black girls who only had Snow White, Cinderella etc to go by. Merida is another Princess who breaks the mould and steps outside of the Disney cotton candy, genteel, Princess box. Merida sends a message that beauty need not conform to a particular niche, it comes in all shapes and attitudes. Merida said it was cool to be different. In that way it gave a broader definition to beauty, hence the petition garnered as many signatures. We felt cheated, as if Disney was telling us that Merida in her modest gown, bow and arrow totting, fuller figure and feisty demeanour, was lacking.
Merida was a relatable princess who looked just like a regular teenager wanting to find herself in a world she felt didn’t understand her. AKA; Adults. In stark contrast to most other Disney Princesses, she was curious and adventurous not sitting pretty waiting to be rescued by Prince Charming and she stood for more than just the archetypal fairy tale. She didn’t want tradition to dictate her options, she wanted the power to to make her own decisions. To make her mistakes and learn from them. In a subconscious way, she represented girls from certain backgrounds who don’t have the freedom to make those choices… yes I read that deeply into her character.
Some argue the transformation wasn’t that big a deal to have incited such kerfuffle but I disagree. Even if the change was slight, which it totally wasn’t, it would still a problem because it sends the wrong message. The new version had a more grown up look about her, slimmer figure, smaller waist, a cleavage scheming gown we know the original Princess Merida would’ve loathed, even her stance was different and she was rid of her bow and arrow! She was completely sexed up right down to the way her hair flowed.
With Princess Merida, Disney gave us a girl who we would expect to be the heroine of her life so to speak, the one breaking the rules and making a little trouble out there, for something she felt passionate about; ultimately, her own identity and freedom. The story line was different; she threw out the rule book. And in this sense her looks were part of her empowerment, she embodied the regular girl and she was more relatable. By changing her image they tore down everything she stood for.
This practise is very much like what we see in magazines today, the use of photoshop to completely alter the look of models and celebrities, one of the most extreme being the Lady Gaga September Issue of US Vogue cover, where the finished product was a far cry from reality. Image is a powerful tool when sending a message and the most effective form of communication, especially to a child, and for goodness sake this is a cartoon; imagine what message that sends to children who identify with her.
As the saying goes, “a picture paints a thousand words” there was a wider issue at play here, it loomed larger than just the drawing, if Disney didn’t see that before, I’m glad they see it now. Or whatever the reason for their about turn. The message we send to children of this generation matters, especially in an age where most of what they see is not encouraging for their futures. It does matter. So thank you Disney, for restoring our faiths in the little things with bigger messages, and Merida’s face back to the one we have come to love. Thank you.