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Too sexy for a Disney Princess?

Posted by Joanna Weiss  May 15, 2013 07:07 PM

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Angelina Jolie wasn't the only movie star caught up in a media storm this week. Merida, the fictional star of "Brave," officially joined the Disney princess pantheon, and appeared on Disney's website suddenly transformed from wild-haired teenage tomboy to budding sexpot. The backlash was instant. Merida's creator called the change "a blatantly sexist marketing move." A petition on drew more than 200,000 signatures. And on its website, Disney quietly replaced the new Merida with the original version. (The company denies that the change was related to the protest.)

Story over? Nope. Disney has unleashed a nation of protective mama bears, and they're furious about the makeovers Disney Princesses get once they become consumer products: exaggerated doe eyes, kissable lips, rising cheekbones and off-the-shoulder dresses. Have you lived with a child who's princess-obsessed? Do you fret over come-hither princesses? Or do you think this is too much hoopla over harmless toys? Here are some thoughts about the latest Disney Princess controversy. Add yours to the comments, or tweet at the hashtag #BostonComment.

Tone-deaf Disney?

Rebecca Hains mug.pngDisney executives' response to the Merida petition was tone deaf: They stated that because the character's redesign is only temporary, people shouldn't be concerned. But the changes to Merida completely undercut a character who serves as a role model, a counterpoint to the pretty princess trope--selling girls short in the process. Disney has failed to acknowledge that Merida means something special to parents and their daughters. (And their argument that Merida herself wanted to "dress up" for the coronation is simply insulting.)
Rebecca Hains, @RCHains
Salem State University professor, author of Growing Up With Girl Power

How to manage a princess obsession

Christine-Koh-by-Kristin-Chalmers-2-1.jpgDisney princesses are like candy bars. You can keep them out of the house, but your kids will invariably be exposed to them. And the more forbidden they are, the more coveted they'll become. I handled (then 4-year-old) Laurel's princess obsession by not fueling it with purchases (well-meaning relatives took care of that) and having age-appropriate conversations to diffuse the absurdity (e.g., princess bodies are not the norm, women don't need to be rescued by men, stepmothers are wonderful people too). When I told (now 8-year-old) Laurel that Merida of Brave was going to become an official Disney princess, she said, "Really? She didn't even want to be a princess."
Christine Koh, @BostonMamas
Founder and editor,; Co-author, Minimalist Parenting

Disney glamour, to its logical extreme

vogue princess mag.jpg

Some girls don't mind

girls life comments.png
Comments on

A different problem with the image?

What Disney could learn

Melissa Atkins Wardy (1).jpgMy hope is that after this collaborative and massive online outcry against Sexy Merida, Disney begins to understand the value in diverse female characters whose focus is not a narrow version of beauty and femininity. Merida's story was a great adventure, a tribute to a girl's wild heart. Her makeover stripped her of her story and turned her into an ornament. Some people were not able to see the difference between Original Merida and Sexy Merida. I believe it is a case of eyes wide shut, because we are so used to seeing women depicted in media with an identical version of “beauty” that many simply fail to see it. Once you see it, you see it everywhere.
Melissa Atkins Wardy, @PigtailPals
Owner, Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies; author, "Redefining Girly"

Have you seen the Padme Amidala Lego?

amyjussel-120x160.jpgPick a toy giant, ANY giant. Mattel. Lego. Hasbro. Disney. They're all doing the churn and burn of "freshening" play products by actually DEVOLVING into appearance-based, empty-headed renditions of their once healthier "classic" toy selves. Candyland's been sexed up....American Girl's been dumbed down...and Lego lobbed a double-whammy of "you'vegottabekiddinme," managing to turn a benign geometric chunk of plastic into a freakin' body image "sexy warrior" statement sporting ripped abs, drawn-on breasts, weaponry, wounds and wardrobe back slits.
Amy Jussel, @ShapingYouth
Founder and Executive Director, Shaping Youth

What if Disney's male characters got the Princess treatment?

Hercules, from "Hercules"

The Daily Show's "The Princess and the P.R. Disaster"

Jon Stewart chided Disney for negating a long-standing agreement with America's parents.

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weiss.jpegBoston.comment is an exchange for ideas about Boston and beyond, brought to you by the Boston Globe editorial page and edited by Globe columnist Joanna Weiss. We're the sponsor of's #LabDebates and the creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure mayoral game.

Our producer is Alex Pearlman, with contributions (and sea monsters) from Noah Guiney. To join the conversation, post a comment, tweet with our daily hashtag, or follow us on Twitter @BostonComment.

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