(Ack! Okay, I swear I was working on writing this before the post two below me – sorry Em! Hopefully this presents another angle on the conversation)
Like Em, I have been getting a lot of news recently via Facebook, tumblr, and a variety of other media sources I check, regarding the redesign of Merida from Brave. It’s actually kind of encouraging to see just how much support the petition and general outrage about this has shown up – there are people being critical of mainstream media representations of women! Wow!
This is one example from Facebook. Note the number of people who have engaged with this post in various ways.
The official Change.org petition has 226,807 signatures as of when I checked:
I watched and loved Brave just as much as anyone else, and I am also very disappointed with how much Disney has sexualized this 12 year old character and taken away her awesome hair! However, I would also like to point out something that bothers me a lot regarding the internet reaction to this issue:
Disney has actually redesigned all of the princesses, of which Merida is just the latest makeover. These are four images of the new looks for the princesses of color, all of whom have been ‘beauty standardized’ in various ways, whether wearing makeup, having lighter eyes – look at Mulan’s hint of blue! – or wearing more ‘fashionable’ clothing – you can’t see it in the picture, but Pocahontas is sporting some very intense boots. But the most noticeable thing (at least for me) at first glance was the drastic skin lightening on every single one of them, definitely providing evidence that colorism is alive and well in our society today.  Margaret Hunter writes that “light skin color, as an indicator of beauty, can operate as a form of social capital for women” (247) – and what better way to ingrain this in our heads than lightening the skin of Disney princesses, who honestly hold enormous social capital in our media-driven world today and are supposed to be role model characters for girls?
I tried searching for a parallel petition for these princesses, like the one that was started for Merida. I could not find anything besides this one:
42 signatures. (The only other one I could find, which was a general “stop changing all the princesses”, had 28). 42 to 226,807. Why are so many people ignoring these princesses, and why are SO many people so angry about Merida? One very obvious difference sticks out to me: race.
This reminded me of the discussion we had a couple weeks ago in class about Kathy Davis’ observation of her colleagues’ relative discomfort with the idea of ethnically-based plastic surgery compared to breast enlargement, for example. (87)  I am actually unsure about the contrast between this example and what I have just written about. Why do you all think [presumably white] academics are so disturbed by Asian women getting their eyes enlarged, yet hundreds of thousands of people on the internet have overlooked princesses of color getting redesigned in favor of defending a white princess weeks later?
(My first thoughts are that it might have something to do with visual media, and being able to actually see the before and after pictures on the Internet versus Kathy Davis verbally describing the surgery as trying “to make their eyes look more Western” to her colleagues…? But I’m interested to hear what you all think.)
- Margaret Hunter. “The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality.” Sociology Compass (2007).
- Kathy Davis. Dubious Equality & Embodied Difference: Cultural Studies on Cosmetic Surgery (2003).