Princess Merida is the Pixar/Disney idol so many a curly had long been awaiting. When word first broke that the newest princess added to the lineup would be a red-headed, independent and curly-haired young girl who takes to traditional men's roles such as archery and who doesn't end up swooned by a man at the end of the plot, women the world over, especially those with curly hair, began counting down the days to the movie's release.
See, Disney princesses are traditionally of the white, straight haired and helpless type. But Merida, of "Brave," would prove it all wrong. She would be strong, she would be fierce, she wouldn't need a man or a flat iron or for her hair to fall perfectly in place for people to like her - or heck, have them like her for her looks at all! It was her personality and determination that won her admirers, and that makes her debut a film so many wanted to rush their daughters to see.
After all, so many of us grew up in a time where our Disney princess idols were perfect except for their situation - which the plot had viewers sympathizing with.
"She's too sweet to be treated as though she is a servant."
"But all she wants is to know what walking is like!"
"She can't help that she fell in love with a beast. She has a good heart!"
"It's that mean man that is stopping her from following her dreams and the love of her life."
On and on goes the conventional plot that is a Disney movie. A beautiful young, often wealthy, girl sees something she wants but doesn't currently have - most often love - and she does everything in her power to get it, usually going against her family's wishes and even into some pretty ridiculously dangerous situations. But, alas, everything works out, because she is pretty and has this great smile and perfect hair and who could ever be mad at her? Who would deny her love? Who would dare deny her absolutely anything she wanted? Other than those villains of course, who were almost always of a foreign tongue (with a thick accent).
Then there was Brave
OK - so enough. Our childhood was filled with unrealistic expectations of love and with movies that underlined just how important it was for a girl to be young and beautiful and kind of ditzy in order to be worthy of the love of a man. But Merida changed all of that.
Merida makes being a Disney princess everything that it should be. She finds a hobby she loves and uses that hobby to hone a craft and then uses that craft to form her identity and strength. And her curls are right there with her every step of the way.
Yet, for Merida coronation as the 11th princess is Disney's line, the company released an updated depiction of Merida, with less realistic hair (no frizz or miss-matched patterns like the original), a deeper cut around the necklace, a slimmer waist and more voluptuous hips. Merida's image suddenly portrayed sexiness rather than independence and bravery.
Certainly there is absolutely nothing wrong with women being both sexy and independent. In fact, the sexiest women are often the most independent (here's looking at you Rihanna), but with Merida being the one princess who stands away from the beauty as perfection crowd - why perfect her now?
See, human beauty lies in our imperfections. That one curl that straightens out before noon, that one piece of frizz, the average waistline, the less-than-voluptuous hips, all of those things make us unique and absolutely beautiful because of it. And, it is our inner beauty that we want to show our children i more important than the outer kind anyway. Living in a world surrounded by social media, advertising and yes, even those old Disney princess movies, young girls are more and more turning to eating disorders to fit into what our society says is beautiful.
These girls are working on their outer beauty.
But, it's the inner beauty that matters most, is it not? Nice matters, nice gets you places and nice wins you friends, admirers and puts that stunning smile on your face that everyone is attracted to. And even if "nice matters" is just a cliche, don't we want it to be reality?
It's with our children that we build the next generation and the ball is in our court to demand strong heroines whose inner beauty is just as powerful and head turning as her outer. It's also our duty to ensure that outer beauty be recognized as a beautiful combination of mismatched details. Because isn't that what we all are - both inside and out? A human being, full of mistakes and imperfections, and it is up to us to use those imperfections to paint a masterpiece.
Merida did. And our daughters need to see that. Disney's new portrayal emphasizes the importance of beauty and sexuality over skills and voicing your opinion. Don't let them silence you. It's the next generation of curlies that we have a responsibility to - not Disney, not these princesses and certainly not a recreation of a strong character that plays up her looks by nearly changing them entirely.
After much controversy and an online petition signed by 212,000 fans, Disney has addressed the Merida makeover stating: “The artwork used on Merida’s official social media sites has always been the imagery from the movie – there have been no changes. We routinely use different art styles with our characters and this rendition of Merida in her party dress was a special one-time effort to commemorate her coronation. Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate and confident and she remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world."