Disney Needs to Be Brave With Their Tomboy Princess, Merida
Confession: I love Disney. Not hard to believe; a lot of people do. But when I fell in love with Disney, at the age of 5, it had nothing to do with the reasons why most little girls would love Disney—it wasn’t for the princesses or the fairies, or the pixie dust.
Disney served an important purpose in my young life. Disney World would be the place my father would take me to make up for the fact that he had just taken me away from my mother—without her consent; to make up for the nights I cried for her; to make up for the fact that I would probably never see her again.
“If you stop crying, if you are no longer sad, I will take you to Disney.” I never agreed to smile. I never agreed to laugh. I never agreed to be happy. But there I was, at Disney, sitting on the curb while their character parade was passing by. I was half paying attention. I was staring down, not really aware, when at the corner of my eye I saw a huge glove reaching out to me. When I looked up, I saw Goofy smiling at me. A big, happy smile. I reached back and held his hand.
And I laughed.
I laughed so much, so hard, that I cried. I cried and laughed and cried. And this moment has forever marked what Disney is and has been for me.
I have always been a tomboy, and Disney princesses were never anything I felt connected to. Peter Pan? Yes. Goofy? Absolutely. Mickey? Donald Duck? Sign me up! But princesses? Meh.
Until Merida, from “Brave.”
Suddenly, at 41 years old, I had moved beyond Goofy to princess…a tomboy princess. Like me, she hates getting dressed up, she loves getting dirty; her curly hair was unruly and tangled, very much like mine. She’s feisty and fearless.
Before “Brave” even opened in theaters, I helped to promote it. I was in love with what Merida represented, as well as the country the film showcased so proudly in the film. When I watched the film I cried, because the message of love between a tomboyish, feisty girl and her mother was not lost on me. Sure, it’s just a cartoon, but when you have such a strong connection to a place or brand, and then that place or brand does something to show an image of who you are, in a way that is uniquely beautiful, you almost can’t stand it.
Merida isn’t supposed to be “beautiful” in the way that all other Disney princesses are “beautiful.” She is supposed to be a different kind of beauty, one that those who could relate to her not only celebrated, but also saw as a sign that maybe “girls like us” were finally being embraced just as we are, because of how we are.
But Disney, for no reason whatsoever, had different ideas. Someone, somewhere, just didn’t think that Merida, with her round face and unruly curls, was meeting the standards of a true Disney Princess and thus altered Merida’s look by contouring her waist to form a more hourglass shape, while also narrowing her big eyes, slimming her face and taming her red curls. Disney didn’t even think to consider consulting Oscar-winning Brenda Chapman, who wrote and co-directed the animated feature "Brave," and who modeled Merida after her then 13-year-old daughter.
Disney prides itself as the place where memories are created. It has always marketed itself as that magical place that can bring families together. But someone in Disney, at least for a moment (Disney has since reverted Merida’s image to the one we love) forgot how impactful the images they put out there could be. For me, it was the white glove reaching out and the big, goofy smile that let me know it was all going to be OK. It was the sight of a feisty tomboy, who speaks her mind and conquers her fears, finally being celebrated as not only a princess, but also a hero. Merida, in all her perfect imperfection, represents that magical moment for a lot of little girls…and for some grown-up ones too. Here’s to hoping that Disney doesn’t forget this ever again.