Karen Green: Out Of My Element


My Children's Reaction To Princess Merida's Makeover

A terrible princess makeover becomes a teaching moment

When Disney announced that they were giving Merida a makeover, I rolled my eyes (hard) but wasn’t that surprised. If there was ever a concept I would never expect to see, learn or pass on to my children from Disney, it’s gender equality. To whit: the kids finally get a realistic, relatable, strong female protagonist, and Disney wants to whore her up.

Like I said, it’s disappointing, but I expect no less.

I am not a Disney cheerleader, but we have visited (some of) the parks, watched (some of) the movies and owned (some of) the merchandise. I am not keeping Disney from my kids, or keeping my kids from Disney, but it’s not that special to our family either. It’s one aspect of their childhood, just like it was mine. No biggie.

But I am conscious of the fact that I have daughters, and the Disney princesses of today do not look like the Disney princesses of my youth. In fact, Disney wasn’t big on the princesses when I was little; they were more into animal heroes, so the princesses I grew up with were the retro, original princesses of the 30s, 40s and 50s. Still not beacons of feminism for sure, but neither had they been subjected to 21st century tarted-up makeovers yet.

Brave was the first Disney princess movie I took my girls to see, and the fact that Merida was stubborn and carried a bow and arrow had a role to play in my decision to take them to see it. They loved it. I loved it (more for the mother/daughter dynamic than the bear-wrestling, but still). I felt good about them seeing it. I was fine with them later owning the DVD, and a doll version of Merida as well (gifts, both).

But now? With this potential makeover, Merida enters the ranks of the helpless; clear eyes replaced with come-hither expression; bow and arrow replaced by resplendent gown, practical for saving herself from neither suitors nor ghost-bears.

Like I said earlier — hardly surprising, but disappointing nonetheless.  

But what was more important to me was not what I thought, but what my daughters would think. Would they too reject this Merida as a churlish, weak version of a beloved hero? Or has the media machine, despite my best efforts and despite the values I have tried to instill in my kids, exerted its influence beyond my own? Because the truth is, my girls like to play dress-up. They like to play Mommy and Baby where gender roles are paraded in their fullest, most traditional, hetero-centric, societally-normalized way. They like to pretend to slay dragons, but they also like fancy dresses and fancy things.

Would they like this new, fancy Merida better than the original, too? I took a deep breath, called them over, and showed them the two Meridas. I held my breath as they studied the pictures. Then we talked about it. 

Me: So which one do you like better?

Mischa, age 8: This one (points to original Merida)

Cassidy, age 5: This one (points to original Merida)

I exhale and thank god I’ve raised my babies right.


Me: Why do you like that one better?

M: Because it looks way better.

C: Yeah, that’s the real life one. The other one looks like she was drewn. {Ed’s note: yes, she said drewn, and it was really cute. Correct her and I’ll cut you.}


Me: And what do you think of the other (new) one?

M: (Makes a face) I don’t like it. It’s weird.

C: Yeah, it’s weird! And her hair is all messed up!

M: And MOM!

Me: Yes?

M: WHERE is her bow and arrow?

Me: Good question.

M: She needs her bow and arrow. Merida always has her bow and arrow.

C: Yeah, to fight bad guys and bears and her little brothers and stuff!


Me: So why do you think they want to change her?

M: I don’t know! Who would do that?

Me: Disney would.

C: Disney doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

M: Yeah, Disney doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Me: I couldn’t agree more. Now run along and slay those dragons.


Image: Disney/Pixar