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Brave’s Merida gets a makeover – and a 100,000 strong petition to Disney

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee
New Merida, left. Original Merida, right.

 I liked Brave.

It was one of those movies where contrary to most Disney films where you leave going ‘Well, thank god she got her man,” (or, “Yay, they lived happily ever after!” if you’re eight), you left Brave going “I am empowered.”

Not to meet a prince, not to while away the days singing out a window waiting for a princely figure to miraculously appear, but empowered to live, to grow, to change. To meet life on your own terms. And also to maybe be nicer to your Mum.

Enter Disney, with their prettify-the-world, ‘let’s make as much money as humanly possible’ mission statement.

What did they do?

They gave Merida a makeover, complete with thinner waist, frizz-free locks and a ‘girlier’ dress. Worse, they took away her bow and arrows.

Why? To boost sales of merchandise, presumably, as Merida has just been crowned into the Disney Royal Court as Disney's 11th princess. 

A growing number of girl heroes/heroines these days are secure and comfortable within themselves – they know who they are, or they have the courage to find out. They aren’t too concerned with being glamorized for glamour’s sake. Think Katniss, who was fairly horrified by her forced makeover in The Hunger Games. Think Hermione, who valued knowledge and friendship, and knew her way around a spell or two. If you’re a Nineties’ child, remember Buffy and Xena, both of whom had more important things on their mind than starring in their own personal L’Oreal commercial.

I’m not vilifying looking your best or the immensely important job of modelling. Both of these are worthwhile pursuits and ten points to the girl who can wield a hair straighter correctly, because I sure haven’t mastered that one yet.

What I am saying is perhaps there are more important things that we can teach our kids. Merida didn’t know what was out there for her, but she was going to meet it with courage, integrity. She was going to choose her own fate and stay true to her own heart. That’s the message we need to give to our kids, especially our girls. They need to know it is okay to be themselves – without anyone telling them they can’t be.

Yet what are Disney saying here?

It’s better to be pretty, rather than to go adventuring through the forest. (Or life, if we really want to expand the metaphor.) It’s better to be skinny, to play nice and fit within the mold of who we expect you to be, rather than who you are. To use a little-used blogger expression but one that hopefully a few switched-on kids are saying - it just sucks.

In fact, it sucks so much that girl empowerment website A Mighty Girl, has sparked a petition on asking Disney to ix-nay the new, “improved” Merida and give back the girl we all know and love.

The petition has well over 100,000 signatures at the time of writing and continues to spark interest – and signatures - around the world.

Jessica Banks commented, “There's no need to sexualize a strong, young, active rolemodel. Instead of making Merida fit the princess model, maybe Disney should change the princess model to fit girls like Merida.”

“Girls have so few highly visible role models which demonstrate that other attributes can be as important as, or more important than, stereotypical beauty. Please help show young girls that there are other things to strive for!”  Kat Howlett wrote, from Australia.

Troy Hughes is also concerned: “Leaving her as she is defines her as the role-model kids today need. A "perfect" princess pushes us further away from accepting imperfections - not the goal we should have.”

That’s the thing about content –once you release it out into the world it engages other hearts, other minds. Merida engaged a generation of girls and boys and their parents who liked her for who she was, not who Disney clearly wants her to be.

When I have a kid, she’ll certainly be watching Brave – but for now, no merchandise please.

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