Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Are Disney princesses too sexy?

I’m not sure if you’re aware of the rebranding Brave character Merida recently suffered. Once a normal-looking girl, the redheaded heroine received a substantial makeover… For want of a better phrase, she was “sexed up”.

There are now reports that Disney/Pixar has reversed its decision to make Merida’s hair a little glossier, her waist a little slimmer and her neckline a little lower. But how does the way our childhood heroines look affect our own self-perceptions?

Like Barbie, many onscreen females are somewhat idealised, to say the least: think Lara Croft, Esmeralda, Jasmine… the list goes on. Then think about plot lines  Prince Charming falls for Cinderella after she gets a makeover. Would he have fancied her in rags?

And it’s not just cartoons that do this to their female characters: Danny in Grease loses interest in Sandy as a sweet schoolgirl but loses his mind when she “shapes up”, smoking, squeezing into black leathers and grinding around like she’s got ants in her pants.

Now I’m not going to lie: I loved to see Ariel swish her red hair and watch Belle swirling across the dance floor in her twirly yellow dress as a youngster. Girls love that stuff. But there’s something really refreshing about Merida: she isn’t obsessed with her appearance and her entire aim in life isn’t to marry someone rich and handsome. I didn’t love the film, but her character was a break from the norm.

Columnist at The Times, Caitlin Moran, wrote of the original Merida: “This is the first Disney heroine ever not to have massive knockers, a 12-inch waist and the kind of mouth that could suck a potato up a straw. Well done, Disney! Well done for finally entering the 21st century.”

And of the ‘new and improved’ version? “A new picture of her showed her with a jacked-in waist, bigger tits, a lower-cut top and a load of eyeliner,” she says. “On top of this, Merida was no longer holding her bow and arrow and was, instead, standing with her hands on her hips, in the internationally recognised pose of, ‘I am a bit of a vapid pain in the arse now.’”

Moran points out that the “non-sexy, non-married, galloping, bow-shooting Merida” earned Disney £354 million at the box office during its first year of release. “Listen: Merida wasn’t for you, you bloodless, cash-counting idiots,” she says. “She was for every ten-year-old girl who hates itchy dresses and kissing, and just wanted to carry on being herself for a bit longer.

“You can’t put a price on a girl being able to watch a big Disney movie that says that’s an OK thing.”

Now I’m not going to come right out and link this sort of sexualisation to an increase in the number of young girls in the UK with eating disorders, or to a rise in demand for cosmetic surgery. But I do think it’s important to think about what we are exposing young girls (and boys) to. 

Let’s encourage them to do more with their lives than becoming thinner, sexier and more marriageable! Let’s show them how to become dignified rather than Disneyfied. And let’s make sure we stand up to the industry giants when they mess with the heroines who, like Merida, just want their “freedom”. That’s something we at Liberti are passionate about.

(This is the last ever Liberti blog from Joy Tibbs. To keep reading her insights, please visit the blog site of our ‘brother’ magazine, Sorted by clicking here. You can click here to visit her website or follow her on Twitter: @joyous25.)


  1. I agree. And I loved Merida and I loved the title of her film. It's called BRAVE, not PRETTY or BEAUTY or SIMPERING MISS. It says that women are brave and wonderful and strong and creative and want their lives to count for more than what guy they can manage to catch and keep.

    1. Reading this Bev, I can still hear the talk you gave at the Be conference two years ago. I love you passion for women to be strong and brave.

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