If you watched the movie Brave and then saw the recent corporate rendering of the willful protagonist, Merida, you may have been taken aback. The film’s Merida was modeled after the 13-year-old daughter of director Brenda Chapman – she’s wild, sweet, and pretty but in an unglamorous, un-womanly way (as would be expected of a girl her age.) The makeover, all in the name of princess branding, portrays her with an hourglass figure, waist as tiny as a Barbie doll’s, “vapid,” “unrealistic,” and “vacant looking.” Take a look for yourself:
When these are the images our children receive as messages of what to aspire to – and Merida’s strength and courage are conflated with her tiny waist and heavily made up face – it’s no wonder advertising and media have perpetuated a culture of body-shaming. I don’t have kids yet, but I can imagine the turmoil I may face if my future daughters (or sons!) ever ask to dress up as a Disney princess… Ariel’s sea shell bra, Jasmine’s sultry eye make-up, and all of them with long, flowing straight hair, slender figures, and perfectly proportioned features. There’s nothing wrong with being “beautiful” in a mainstream, heteronormative, Western aesthetic, except when that kind of beauty is elevated above all other forms, and when that alone is what’s associated to success, strength, and heroism.
So what are we to do?
Mom and photographer Jaime Moore provides us with an excellent example. Instead of gifting Belle gowns and Cinderella crowns, Moore decided to commemorate her daughter’s fifth birthday by dressing her as five real-life heroines for a photo series entitled “Not Just a Girl…” The series pays tribute to Amelia Earhart, Coco Chanel, Susan B Anthony, Helen Keller and Jane Goodall – powerful women and influencers in their respective fields. Moore explains her motives on her website:
My daughter wasn’t born into royalty, but she was born into a country where she can now vote, become a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, or even President if she wants and that’s what REALLY matters.
Here are two of the five photo juxtapositions, both of which portray just the kind of confidence, sass, and radiating inner beauty that I hope my daughters and sons someday feel in themselves. And it just goes to show that we really have no need for Disney princesses with so many incredible real women out there to inspire us.
What real-life role models would you encourage your kids to look up to?