Monday, May 13, 2013

The Princessification of Another Hero

Right now, my teenage daughter is sitting in our dining room in a pair of skinny jeans and a lacy top from Urban Outfitters. She's studying for a Bio quiz, translating a chapter of Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, and reading book eight of Homer's Odysssey. If she gets it all done, she might stream an episode of "Pretty Little Liars."

There's no getting around it. Our Disney Princess days are over. 

Sometimes I miss my little princess. We watched all the classics together: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella. We went through a Beauty and the Beast phase and a Little Mermaid period. I was pleased when Disney introduced some diversity into their royal lineup with Pocahontas, Jasmine, Mulan and Tiana in The Princess and the Frog. By then though, my daughter was already outgrowing the house of mouse. 

But, my oh my, we sure did amass some serious syndicated merchandise before it was all over!

My weary brain couldn't possibly account for every Disney Princess that entered our home in some shape or form. There were Disney Princess books, CDs, and DVDs, Disney Princess pajamas, Disney Princess bandaids, Disney Princess dolls, Disney Princess board games, Disney Princess tea sets, Disney Princess art kits, Disney Princess fruit roll-ups, Disney Princess costumes, Disney Princess melamine dishes, Disney Princess hair accessories.

And so on and so on and so on.

Although my daughter is no longer under their magic spell, my little niece is just starting to experience all the Disney Princess enchantment. (She's also wild about Disney Fairies, a new series in which Tinkerbell is joined by a pretty posse of other half-naked nymphs and they all wreak havoc. There's probably a reality show on the horizon.) 

This morning, my brother alerted me to a new development in the Disney Princess drama that — while it's par for the course — saddens me.

Disney, apparently, is inducting the tomboy heroine of Brave into its Princess Hall of Fame. That's all well and good, right? Merida is a rather progressive princess; she isn't mooning over a man. In fact, she's trying to avoid marrying a prince by using her own smarts and skills.

But, her smarts and skills won't be enough for her new gig. So, the fine folks at Disney have given her a princess makeover. They put her on a strict diet (she wasn't exactly chubby to start with), gave her a new flowing do and some cosmetic surgery to boot. Either that or she has a fairly accomplished makeup artist now.

The point is, in her new exalted state, Merida has to adhere to  the same sexy (and sexist) stereotype as all the princesses before her. Whether you are a princess or a pauper, the objective is to look as much like a Barbie doll as you can. What a realistic goal to set for our daughters!

If you think I'm irritated, you should hear Brave's creator and co-director Brenda Chapman. Very close to her material (she modeled Merida after her own tween daughter), Chapman is fuming:

"Merida was created to break that mold — to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance. When little girls say they like it because it's more sparkly, that's all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy 'come hither' look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It's horrible!"

And Chapman may be the most vocal about this development, but she is not alone. The website has collected over 125,000 signatures from  moms and other concerned feminists, asking Disney to abandon the newer, shinier princess and go back to the spunky character from the movie.

I just signed and I hope you will too.

So, how did Disney respond? A spokesperson explained with a bit of a non-explanation. "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."

Yep, I can see that. She's the same strong and determined Merida, except for the hair and the eyes and the waist and the gown and the accessories. Look, she's traded in her bow and arrow for a really fetching belt.

I guess she looks the same to Disney. But not to me.

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