Staying True To Merida: Why This Fight Matters

keep merida brave I have been overwhelmed at the supportive response that A Mighty Girl’s petition on Change.org has gotten and I’m thrilled and optimistic because of it.

But we’re not done. Regardless of the support the petition has received the campaign is not over. And it is still important to speak up.

In response to the overwhelming amount of support this petition has received, Disney has only backed down a little. They have yet to make a definitive statement that they intend to restore to Merida her original look, staying true to her character, on all future merchandise. The sexier, slimmer version of Merida with a come-hither look and an off-the-shoulder dress is still very much out there. In fact, it remains to be seen what is “limited” about this current iteration of Merida. Instead, it seems like a very intentional image created for the benefit of future merchandising. Disney’s move of restoring Merida’s bow and arrow seems like a hastily applied band-aid, hoping to quell the uproar about these unnecessary modifications to a beloved girl.

As I have said before, Merida was created to be a different kind of princess — a princess with a strong will, a stubborn streak and a lot to learn. She makes mistakes along the way and learns from them. But she is not obsessed with what she wears or focused on looking good to attract a man. She’s a young girl — not remotely ready to think about romance or marriage. That doesn’t mean she never will. That doesn’t mean that those things are bad. It just means that she is an individual who has her own interests. And that’s not bad, either! In fact, that’s exactly the way that children should spend their childhood and adolescence — being kids and pursuing the things that make them happy. That’s why Merida has become such a beloved character for so many young girls — and even grown women. Why on Earth does that image need to be changed?

The message Disney sends to the public in changing Merida is that she is not good enough the way she is. In doing that, they are making the same statement to all the young girls out there. Merida is a character that young girls look to and say, “I can be like her — she’s not that different from me!” Or even better, they look at Merida and say, “Merida is like me!” So now when they see what Disney Consumer Products has done to Merida, it tells them that they aren’t good enough unless they lose weight, wear tighter, sexier, “girlier” clothes, wear lots of makeup and coif their hair.

I created Merida for my daughter — inspired by her strong willed spirit — of which I am in complete awe and very proud. But despite my best efforts to guide her away from what media images and female stereotypes say to our children, it breaks my heart when she thinks she is too fat or too ugly because she doesn’t look like a certain TV star or that “other girl” who is so much more beautiful in her mind. The majority of our children feel that way, and lack self-esteem about their own looks because of issues exactly like this one.

I am certainly NOT saying that wearing makeup, getting dressed up or being a girly girl is bad! I think it’s fun, too — and if that is who you are and what you like, then go for it! That’s great! I am specifically saying that Merida is a certain character, created as an alternative to all the girly girl princesses that are already out there. Why put her into that mold when the market is already flooded with those kinds of toys and images? Why not make something that speaks to the girls (and the boys) who aren’t into that kind of thing? Why not let Merida be who she is? After all, that’s her appeal. That’s why Merida has become so beloved, by kids and parents everywhere. She is who she is — and proud of it.

Although the character of Merida is obviously near and dear to my heart — this campaign and my passion for it is not just about this character. The reason I’m lending my voice and supporting this campaign is to bring this discussion to the forefront of the public’s attention. The images our children are being exposed to and influenced by through toy merchandising and general mass marketing is incredibly detrimental to young girls and boys alike. If you just take a look at the magazine racks, TV shows, movies and Internet advertising, society as we know it is all about superficial beauty.

Our children — and adults — are bombarded daily with the message that what you look like is the only thing that really matters. The lesson being taught is that if you’re not beautiful or handsome or perfect in every way, you are not good enough. This is especially the case for young girls, who become obsessed with their weight and looks at much too young of an age. If the issue of Disney changing Merida to be, in their opinion, “more marketable” and the public uproar that has resulted as the result of that bad decision makes people think a bit more deeply about this issue, I think that’s great. And more importantly, I think it’s necessary. The time has come to change these perceptions and if we don’t do all we can to do that, then our children inevitably suffer as a result.

Let’s collectively work to stop sending messages, explicit or implied to our boys, that girls are here just to be eye and arm candy and should only be valued based on their looks. Let’s stop sending messages to our girls that they are the sum of what they look like as opposed to respecting them for their intelligence, their abilities, their skills and their strength. This is how we can help lead girls to achieve positions of leadership, in school, in society, in the workplace. And while this battle may seem insignificant, over a cartoon girl and her appearance, in reality it’s about so much more. And the conversations taking place as a result of this campaign can potentially have a HUGE ripple effect.

Truly, Merida is just the tip of the iceberg.

Make no mistake, Disney is watching what we do. If we stop now, if we appear to be pacified by their unconvincing claims of “limited” release of this image, we’ll be playing into their hands and they will continue on the same path. But if we continue the journey, hang tough and continue to speak out, we may just convince them to rethink their marketing strategy on Merida…and hopefully future merchandising.

Are you in? I hope so. What can you do to help? I’m glad you asked. Our friends at A Mighty Girl, the group that started this whole campaign and to whom I am incredibly grateful for forcing awareness of this issue, have created a Take Action page where you can learn how to make your voice heard: http://www.amightygirl.com/keepmeridabrave/take-action.

This post originally appeared on the A Mighty Girl blog

Image via A Mighty Girl

  • Dwight Chapman

    Thanks for speaking out for the “kids & adults” who do not fit into the media mold that everyone has to look or act a certain way to be accepted or successful. Again, I am very proud of my “little sister” for being her own person and encouraging others to be themselves. You have taught me by example how to see individuals instead of “putting everyone” in the same mold! Love you!

    • brendachapman

      Thank you, Dwight… but I don’t think I taught you… I think you taught me. You’re my big brother, remember? xo Love you, too.

      • http://twitter.com/ShapingYouth Amy Jussel

        We teach each other. That’s why it’s so important to have the cultural context and open space to do so without narrowcasting roles…THIS lovely sibling mutuality/respect is a tribute to why it all matters, especially in childhood as we begin to frame how we walk through the world! Love this dialog…calling my big brother now. ;)

        • brendachapman

          Awww. That’s really so nice! :)

  • Cristian I. Fabio

    Incredible, as I promised, the question as well; free and independent,
    what of the topic, since the delay” until the end of the world.
    Congratulations, i loved the post.

    If he could not see, as she was angry with the types, here is.. Thank you very much. Since Chile

  • Cristian I. Fabio

    Part. Two…Part. Three, Part. Four amd part five.

  • http://amyvernon.net/ AmyVernon

    Thank you, Brenda, for creating Merida & for standing up for her against Disney.

    • brendachapman

      You’re welcome… and thanks for liking her the way she is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michele.price Michele Price

    Yes the story and what it stood for was what attracted me. Why do people think interfering is improvement?

    • brendachapman

      When they think they can make money. Thanks for the support. :)

  • DanaVFX

    Signed the petition & emailed my disappointment. My sister’s theory is they are trying to slowly transform Merida to unload Cinderella dresses at Disneyland that are not selling, as the real Merida keeps upstaging them. Our Brave heroine is changed on almost a daily basis.
    According to the Disney store: She is a cross between Tinkerbell and Cinderella at the palace ball with a sparkly little tiara and elegant little bow & arrow.

    • DanaVFX

      In all fairness; at least they got the curly hair correct.

      • brendachapman

        Oh, good lord, I think you might be right!! The hair is it. ARGH! LOL

  • http://www.scottwiser.com/ Scott Wiser

    I’m so glad you wrote this Brenda. I hadn’t given the subject much thought and now I completely agree with you. I could understand rendering the character in a different “style.” But they changed the soul of the character … one we’ll all miss if something doesn’t change!

    • brendachapman

      Thank you!

  • Samantha Hansel

    Thank you so much for fighting for Merida.

    The Princess Collection has had some serious problems for a long, long time. All the characters have become homogenized, reduced to the generic and bland characteristics that sell the most merchandise. Half of them don’t even look like themselves anymore. There’s nothing wrong with girly, sparkly, femininity, but when it comes as a direct clash with the individual character’s actual personality, there’s an issue there, you know? I’m not even entirely sure that Disney is aware of who the characters actually are anymore, and rather remember characters like Mulan for the glittery frocks and girly up-dos she has on merchandise, not for that whole “save her family and China” thing. But I digress.

    I have definitely been concerned for characters like Tiana, Rapunzel, and Merida as they enter into the Princess Collection, having discussions with friends about how quickly they’d be “ruined” by merchandising. I so love that you’ve kept fighting for the integrity of Merida’s character, and that there’s an important voice out there saying how wrong this character treatment is. As a fan of the women behind the glossy merchandise, it’s greatly appreciated, and I stand by you 100%.

    • brendachapman

      I agree about all the characters you mentioned. Thank you for your encouragement!

  • sianychick

    Brenda this is so so important and as I already said you are my hero for fighting for it. I feel like change is coming. Slowly and with difficulty but it is coming…

    • brendachapman

      Thank you. :)

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  • Lizbeth Hernández Sanginez

    Brenda, I loved Merida right from the start. It’s the role model I want my daughter to follow: to be exactly the person you wanted to be, no matter what other people may think (even me). Above all, I love that Merida actually believes that she can make her own destiny. Will she make mistakes? Oh, yes, she will, but she is strong enough to learn from them.

    Thank you for creating such a beloved character and thank you for defending her.

    • brendachapman

      Thank you for your generous compliment. I am honored. Thank you!

  • Helen Highwater

    I don’t know where you can get the ‘new’ Merida doll but it looks like only the original styles are available in the Disney Store UK. The second one is probably a poor facsimile produced by a licensee- I’ve seen Barbie type doll versions of all the other princesses over the years which little resemble the characters in the films. I bought the toddler doll Merida with the smirk and a soft toy Angus which is so cute.

    • brendachapman

      I am sooo glad that you can’t find it! That’s encouraging!

  • Benjamin

    Glad you are fighting to make sure that this doesn’t descend into superficiality. It is sad that the media has so much trouble letting go of these bad habits. Keep up the good work.

    • Brenda Chapman

      Thank you, Benjamin. I appreciate the encouragement.

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  • Mark Wolf

    I agree with everything in this post. I thought Merida was a fantastic creation and even as a 40 year old man, I enjoyed the film immensely and was even emotionally moved by it. To take this innocent girl and sexualize her… bad idea and totally sends the wrong message. Don’t get me wrong…. I enjoy my risque Manga/Hentai every once in a while… so, in some ways I’m your regular male… but taking a character like Merida and making her more “attractive” and more of a marketing tool, is just a bum move for Disney. Makes you really wonder what is happening with big corporations… I think they’re losing sight of who they once were and are all about the big bucks now, forget ethics or common sense… :(

    • brendachapman

      Thank you, Mark! I love hearing a “regular male’s” point of view on this!

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  • Iris Deuss

    Hey Brenda, I feel very strongly about your campaign. I just started an éducation in leadership and change. Our training takes place by showing us scènes from movies. Yesterday we watched Frozen. I want to learn to use Brave in my training sociale workers and family therapists about leadership, especially Merida’s speech. I was once Merida, insecure about my appearance. I support you wanting Merida to stay brave. I have three daughters. Could you help me? Your inspiration helps me to lead and help others lead.

    Iris Deuss, Netherlands, irisdeuss@hotmail.com see http://www.doublehealix.com

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