Re-branding Merida

When Disney came out with the movie Brave, I loved it. That’s probably not surprising. I identify with the heroine, Merida, on the levels of appearance and heritage, for one thing. But, more importantly, writer Brenda Chapman is from my home county of just 30,000 people. And, even better, this is one of only a few “fairy tales” I’ve ever witnessed where the heroine’s ultimate happy ending does NOT come in the form of a guy.

And then THIS happened.


This image showing the sexualization of Merida is borrowed from Monika Bartyzel’s story in The Week, which is linked below.

I liked her so much better when she was spunky, independent, and NOT oozing sex appeal.

But what’s really interesting to me is that so many Disney story lines tap into female rebellion as a positive thing. Think about it. How many Disney tales begin with women (girls?) resisting arranged marriages? Just off the top of my head, I count Merida, Mulan, and Jasmine. Often enough, these characters are refusing to be valued solely based on their attractiveness to men. And yet the visible rhetoric associated with their brands tells a very different story. It’s as if Disney is in the business of selling safe rebellion–it’s OK to be independent, spunky, rebellious, a feminist–but only as long as you outgrow that phase in the end. Ugh.

Monika Bartyzel tells it better than I can in her recent story, “Girls on Film: The real problem with the Disney Princess Brand.” What really frightens me about Bartyzel’s take is the part I didn’t notice:

“The characters of color have it even worse, with their features audaciously whitewashed: Mulan changes from a young Chinese woman into a girl with white, ruddy skin and plump lips; Pocahontas, meanwhile, gets lighter skin, chin implants, larger eyes and lips, and a much smaller nose. (Jasmine’s makeover is more subdued — but like Mulan and Pocahontas, her skin lightens with every updated look.)”

Yup, there it is, something awful that my own privilege made invisible to me. So go check out “Girls on Film: The real problem with the Disney Princess Brand.” It’s smart stuff.


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