You’ve probably already encountered the Merida dust-up. You know, the ire aimed at Disney over the new, glamorized, sexualized image of the Brave protagonist that was released in advance of her induction into the Disney Princess pantheon -- a very different image than the more adolescent, down-to-earth version featured in the film.
Apparently we feminists, with our righteous indignation and our metaphorically, if not literally, hairy legs are scary enough to have cowed Disney into backing down. Nevertheless, the whole thing reminds me of just how much I despise Disney Princesses. I don’t know if they’re single-handedly responsible for the early heteronormative hyper-feminization of every little girl in America, but they’re a damn convenient target.
Five Reasons I, as a Mother, Hate Disney Princesses
- Disney Princesses are the most nasty infectious disease ever. The Black Death was nothing by comparison. Your daughter may have never seen a Disney Princess movie, never set foot in a Toys R Us, never watched the Disney Channel, and still somehow she is infected. How do you know? Halloween. You cannot get out of the store without buying that motherfucking Cinderella costume.
- Pink. It doesn’t matter that some princesses don’t wear pink. The association between princesses and pink is inevitable, and if not pink, pink’s slightly buck-toothed, knock-kneed cousin, purple. Hop on over to the Toys R Us website and search Disney Princesses. See what colors come up. Even the toy Merida bow and arrow set is purple. (Purple. Not pink. Because Brave was the feminist movie.) It doesn’t matter that you painted her room green, or that you dressed her in yellow and blue, or that you gave her the orange sippy cup. Disney doesn’t give a flying fuck about your concerns regarding gender socialization. Disney wants her in pink (or at least purple) because it helps them sell more Princess crap, and so you either draw a line in the sand and deny your little girl her heart’s desire for reasons she is wholly incapable of understanding or caring about, or you buy everything pink.
- Makeup. You tell yourself that pink is not so bad. So what if everything is pink? It’s just a color. She’ll grow out of it. But then she comes home from a friend’s fourth birthday party with a loot bag containing Disney Princess Glitter Makeup. She’s four, and despite your feminist ideology, she now believes that she looks better with makeup. Oh, you tell yourself that she doesn’t really believe that. That you still have more influence over her than her friends or TV or fucking DISNEY. But deep down, you know you’re lying. You know, because you remember the insecure middle school years, when, in an effort to understand how to be accepted and normal and just like other kids, you turned to makeup. Maybe you only ever experimented. Maybe you started wearing it just sometimes. Or you painted your nails. Or you tweezed your eyebrows. Not, you told yourself, because you HAD to. Just because it was fun. But you know that now there’s a good chance your little girl, your perfectly-wonderful-just-the-way-she-is little girl, will someday dig deep in her own psyche and recall that preschool birthday party when she had glitter makeup on just like all the other girls, and she felt like she really, really belonged. Yes, Disney marketing has THAT kind of power.
- The marketing of passivity. Yes, the movies have changed. Princesses DO more and wait for Prince Charming less. But when the flick ends, the marketing begins. And the marketing is all about how you look, not what you do. Sure, they’ll make anything pink and slap a Princess on it -- roller skates, pencils, fishing poles -- but it ain’t about skating, doing math or fishing. You know it, and your daughter knows it. Just look at the whole Merida thing. They can’t sell frilly dresses and glittery makeup around a character like Merida, so they change her. But I’m willing to bet that the unchanged Merida, if that’s what we get in the end, will be relegated to the clearance shelf. She does not, in all her original homeliness, serve the Greater Disney Cause.
- No matter what Disney says, they don’t believe all the Princesses are equal, and neither do little girls. Oh, sure, there are some outlier Mulan fans, and Pocahontas and Jasmine have their share of followers. But Cinderella, Ariel, Belle and Snow White (Aurora; whatever) are clearly leading the pack, with Cinderella way the hell out in front. Little white girls mostly want to be like white princesses. As a white mother, I will refrain from speaking for families of color, but everyone, please feel free to chime in. Who’s your daughter’s favorite princess? Tiana? I don’t mean that as sarcastically as it sounds...well, maybe I do. And I don’t know if I can blame Disney directly for the enormous cultural pressures that come down on a kid from every side regarding race, but -- oh, what the hell. Sure I can. Try this. Go to the Toys R Us website and search Mulan. Five items come up. Two are DVDs. Pocahontas? Just two DVDs. Snow White? Ninety-seven items. But here’s where it gets really interesting. Search Cinderella, and you jump directly to the front door of the whole Disney Princess store. So who’s the REAL Princess?
A final note: I know that most girls survive the Princess phase and go on to live happy, fulfilled lives. My daughter seems to have recovered nicely. But despite Disney. Not because of them. And yes, some of the seeds planted by the Princesses become poisonous growths we keep having to beat back over and over again.
UPDATE: Now Disney is claiming they never intended to redesign Merida. "A Disney rep tells EW that there’s no cause for alarm: Merida’s seemingly sexier image was only created for the heroine’s official induction into the Disney Princess Collection and was always planned to be phased out within a few months of the coronation." Mmmm-hmmmm.