Disney Princess Lingerie Goes Viral

This weekend, no fewer than a dozen people sent me links to this Jezebel article about Disney Princess lingerie being sold by a Japanese retailer. The images were also all over my facebook feed. Check them out:Belle & Cinderella lingerie Aurora / Sleeping Beauty & Rapunzel Lingerie

Although this line is Japanese and is not available here in the States, it’s yet another example of Disney Princess lifestyle branding — an extension of the Disney Princess brand into ever-more-personal realms. The goal of such marketing is to encourage consumers to have a deep identification with the brand—to make the brand central to one’ own identity.

Some people (including the author of the piece at Jezebel) questioned whether these could possibly be licensed products that have the blessing of Disney. One commenter was doubtful, noting that princesses don’t even look right—perhaps they’re knock-offs? But, no—these are actually the most current versions of the Princesses available in Disney Consumer Products Division merchandise, as found on disneyprincess.com.

So, I chatted with my friend Satomi about the ads. She lives in Japan and was already familiar with the company selling these items. “These are sold at ‘Belle Maison,’ a pretty big mail order company,” Satomi explained. “I actually have its wish book right in front of me. It was from a project that people could apply to and if their designs were chosen, they were commercialized.”

“These were for the 20th anniversary project of it’s ‘Disney Fantasy Shop,’” she noted. “I’m sure it’s licensed. They usually deal with original stuff, such as t-shirts, accessories, and furniture. They also carry Mickey t-shirts designed by famous designers.” She sent me these snapshots of their other Disney-licensed products from her copy of Belle Maison’s wish book:

1457467_10202259923194552_177711580_n 1507041_10202259919434458_19787915_n
1525022_10202259924354581_2143035014_n 1525510_10202259920194477_2118227551_n

Here’s her approximate translation of the ad copy (she said it’s full of jargon, making the translation tricky):

The highest prize: [Two people's names---people who won the design contest]
Lingerie like princesses’ dresses

Belle: “In the image of the Belle’s dress, which is airy texture and elegant, it is made pouffy with gather. The rose at the front of bra makes it noble, gorgeous, and classy.” (She added, “It’s sad that they misspelled ‘Belle’ in the ad, even though the company’s name is ‘Belle Maison.’”)

Cinderella: “So that it would have the nuance of a glass slipper, we used delicate glazed chiffon. The color lace makes it like a lily, holding the image of the choker that decorates Cinderella’s neck.”

“The princess’s world you can enjoy secretly”

Aurora: “Describing princess Aurora’s sharp-line dress with tucks and pleats. We put the rose with lace and ribbon in a careful manner, which evokes Aurora’s story.”

Rapunzel: “‘Reproducing’ Rapunzel’s dress with lace-up ribbon. Besides holding lily turn of Rapunzel, we put neat and classy vanilla-colored lace and flowers.”

So, there you have it: Disney Princess apparel for your most intimate moments, meant to help you secretly enjoy the princess world. I suppose you could also wear them under your Disney Princess wedding gown or prom dress, with your Disney Princess shoes, in your home painted with Disney Princess paints or on your Disney Princess honeymoon. You can always slip into your Disney Princess New Balance sneakers afterwards—which will be great when you run the Disney Princess Half Marathon. Or when you play Princess-Opoly with the little girls in your life or read to them from the Princess Devotional Bible. Because in today’s world of gender segmentation and gendered marketing, there’s nothing better than all princess, all the time, right?

Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Role Models Reimagined as Disney Princesses: A Q&A with Artist David Trumble

In the midst of the “Sexy Merida” controversy back in May, cartoonist David Trumble posted a satirical set of cartoons to the Huffington Post. His cartoons imagined how Disney’s Consumer Product Division would redesign other female role models to fit the Disney Princess mold. (The answer: more hair, bigger eyes, narrow waists, and sparkles!!!)

10 Real-World Princesses Who Don't Need Disney Glitter. Copyright David Trumble. Used with permission.

10 Real-World Princesses Who Don’t Need Disney Glitter. L to R: Marie Curie; Anne Frank; Ruth Bader Ginsberg; Harriet Tubman; Malala Yousafzai; Hillary Clinton; Jane Goodall; Gloria Steinem; Rosa Parks; Susan B. Anthony. Copyright David Trumble, 2013. Used with permission.

Last week, Women You Should Know wrote about Trumble’s project, and it went viral. The WYSK article gained a million page views in a matter of days, while a post by Jezebel captured 85,000 views in 24 hours.

I’ve known about Trumble’s project since he first posted it; I even included it in my post about how cartoonists and animators were responding to the “Sexy Merida” debacle. But lately, with his project going viral, everyone has been messaging me about it. So I’ve followed the reception of his satire with much interest.

Anne Frank, Disney Princess-style. Copyright David Trumble 2013. Used with permission.

Disconcerting satire: Anne Frank, Disney Princess-style. Copyright David Trumble 2013. Used with permission.

A lot of people get it—but a lot of people don’t. (It doesn’t help that the Jezebel post presented his cartoons without quoting him on his original intent, creating some confusion.) And many people who say they understand his point nevertheless take issue with it for various reasons. Some say he didn’t take the satire far enough; other say he went too far. A recurring complaint is that by portraying Anne Frank in princess style, he has crossed a line unnecessarily.

Interestingly, a few commenters have even written that when their daughters walked past their computers and glimpsed these images, the girls were drawn to them. When the girls started asking questions about the people depicted, some commenters said they took advantage of the opportunity to teach their daughters about these important women. From a media studies and parenting perspective, this intrigues me.

Anyhow, given the project’s newfound success in the blogosphere and the mixed reception it has received, I was interested in learning more about Trumble’s intentions, his process in developing the project, and his thoughts on people’s varied reactions in recent days. I contacted him, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me.

Follow Rebecca on Facebook and Twitter.

Role Models Reimagined as Disney Princesses: A Q&A with Artist David Trumble

Rebecca Hains: As a critic of the Disney Princess brand, I appreciate that with this project, you are encouraging people to think critically about Disney’s presentation of women and girls. Whereas the characters in Disney films have many interesting, individual  traits, the Disney Consumer Products division takes all the individuality out of them–reducing them to sparkly, frilly stereotypes of femininity.

Could you tell me more about your initial thinking in this project, and why you decided to respond to the Disney brand in this way?

David Trumble: Well, this blog was conceived quite a few months ago during the controversy over Merida’s “makeover”, and so at the time I did not view it as a standalone blog, but as one of many satirical pieces that highlighted the debate. The “princess” archetype is indicative of a cultural attitude that needs to be re-assessed.

The creation of Merida in “Brave” was a step in the right direction, to broaden the definition of what a princess could be for young girls looking for role models. So when the glossy version of her arrived, I felt it was two steps back—and then the image I created popped into my head. I imagined that if I depicted real-world female role models but then conformed them to that specific mould, through the iconic Disney template,  it would better reveal how ridiculous it is to limit female characters to that one archetype.

There are many many more archetypes out there that are just as valid and inspiring for young girls (and boys), and this is evidenced by our real-world heroines. My thinking was, if we can’t place all these diverse women into the same box, then why are we trying to do it with our fictitious women? And so that was the germ of the idea….

RH: That’s a terrific point, because indeed, princess culture as a whole is reductionist. Whether it’s Disney or Mattel or whomever, “princess” promotes a narrow standard of beauty and privileges whiteness. So with that “germ” of an idea, how did you work to develop it? Did you consult others from the feminist/girl empowerment communities? If so, what was the extent of their involvement?

DT: Indeed I did. Whenever I work on a piece of satire, I always share with close group of trusted friends, though ultimately the buck stops with me. I have had the privilege of being welcomed in a community of women who champion female empowerment online, so I shared my concept with a few of them, particularly educational psychologist Lori Day (I have since illustrated the cover to Lori’s book she wrote with her daughter, Her Next Chapter—you should check it out!). Lori was my confidant and co-conspirator while I developed the idea, and with her deep knowledge of feminist issues provided the perfect litmus test for whether or not I was making the right choices creatively.

RH: As far as the buck stopping with you goes: I’ve been reading the online comments about the illustrations with interest—on threads on Facebook, WYSK, Jezebel, and elsewhere. Lots of people understand your project, but perhaps because we are living in the age of Tumblr, lots of people are clearly just glancing at the image and misunderstanding your intention.

DT: You raise an interesting point, Rebecca, which is that the age of Tumblr is certainly a tricky one for satirists. Having started off my career as a political cartoonist, I am nostalgic for the time when a piece of satire or political commentary would be found on the page and be digested by the reader in its own time. The point was not even always explicit; you used to have to find it, or look closer at it, and then it would hit you.

Nowadays, not only have people learned to take in images in as expeditious a way as possible, to the detriment of nuance, but blogs are reposted and re-appropriated by numerous sites and articles (with or, it seems, without permission), to the detriment of the original idea itself.

This blog is a perfect example, since it was originally a Huffington Post blog published at the height of the Merida controversy, with an accompanying commentary from me and captions under each individual princess portrait which made it very clear that the piece was satire. Even then there was a split between people who got it and people who didn’t, which I suppose is the knife-edge of satire anyway.

It is a shame then that the act of reposting is akin to photocopying an image over and over and having the sharpness degrade, in blogging terms the subtext, and even CONTEXT can be lost.

RH: Now, I’ve noticed that even among those who “get it,” a lot of folks seem particularly uncomfortable with your inclusion of Anne Frank in the lineup. As you thought about which women and girls to include, how did you settle on Anne Frank? Did you realize this would be a controversial move?

DT: I did know at the time of drawing that the Anne Frank cartoon would be a divisive and controversial inclusion. The most common complaints from people regarding her avatar was that she was referred to as “Holocaust Princess,” which I completely understand rubbed many the wrong way, and their unhappiness is perfectly valid. I actually visited the Imperial War Museum in London today with my brother and a few friends, and seven decades later, the Holocaust is still impossible to fathom.

I also noted that Malala’s inclusion, whilst also riskier than the others, carried less ire, because she has risen to become a leader in her own right, as opposed to Frank who became famous because of the atrocities she suffered through. Unlike the others, she was defined not by her achievements, but by her victimization. She is the only one who is defined in this way.

I chose to include her anyway for two reasons. The first is that as a satirist, my point about how inadequate the glossy template is in capturing the spectrum of female experience required taking the concept to an extreme, to commit to the irony of the thing. The idea that there could ever be such a product as a Holocaust Princess… the terms themselves are so mutually exclusive. I made a call and I owned the decision.

But secondly, and more profoundly, if ever there was an individual who WAS a holocaust princess… by virtue of her grace, her spirit, her writings of hope, of belief, of faith in the face of great evil….it is Anne Frank. For all the farcical aspects of the princess satire, I felt her inclusion in this list of diverse female role models was nevertheless entirely valid, so that is why I included her. In my view she earned her right to be there alongside these other women, because she earned her strength… as a writer.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have named her “Diary Princess” to evoke her strength rather than her fate. I take that onboard, and everyone’s opinions are valid in this instance. An artist can never hope to earn everyone’s approval, nor in fact should he.

RH: Another theme I’m seeing in the responses: Some people say it isn’t clear enough that the drawings are satire. They seem to expect that good satire should be recognizable at a glance–and people glancing at these drawings think you’re serious. As an experienced cartoonist, what’s your take on the state of satire today?

DT: Well that’s an interesting question, isn’t it? How clear SHOULD satire be?

An argument could be made that if half of your audience don’t get the joke, then it’s very successful satire indeed. The history of political cartoons is filled with examples of artists who would mimic propaganda posters to ridicule their form and function, and in fact, how many of us have clicked on a shockingly ridiculous headline only to realize as we’re about to post it everywhere that it came from The Onion?

The artist’s ability to almost pull the wool over someone’s eyes is central to the conceit of parody, to be as close to the material it’s mocking as possible, whilst at the same time being ridiculous. In my opinion, good parody is not about the first glance at all, but every glance after that as you look closer. It’s a trick, a feint, and its effectiveness is closely linked to its slyness.

RH: Some of those who missed the satire really liked what you did. Many people are fans of the Disney Princess brand and cheered for the idea of a Disney film about women like Jane Goodall or Rosa Parks.

Do you think there is something about the Disney Princess style that makes it especially hard for people to recognize this project as satire?

DT: I believe the answer is closely connected to why I chose that style in the first place: Because it’s very powerful. The archetype is so specific and the style so iconic that when the real-world princesses were placed into that mould, many were delighted with the results.

Perhaps I was too proficient at replicating the style, since I traced the poses directly from examples in order to draw further attention to the cookie-cutter template. The one-size fits all princess mould has ascended to a universal language in our culture, we recognize it instantly, and part of the delicious irony of the point I was making was how successful the transformations were–however inappropriate they might be.

RH: Indeed. One final question: A lot of us have a love-hate relationship with Disney. How would you characterize your own feelings about the company?

DT: It’s important to note that I have been a fan of Disney my whole life, and adore Pixar’s film library. Seeing Pinocchio at the age of 6 was one of the reasons I am the artist I am today. My blog is not an attack on Disney specifically; in fact, they have many times created strong female character that defy the mould (such as Lilo, Dorey, Jesse the Cowgirl, and of course Merida).

My blog is not to say that the archetype of the princess is innately wrong—merely that it is over-used. In my view there IS a place for those kinds of characters, but that they should just not be taking ALL the places on the stage.

Our cultural ideal of a woman is this princess mould that has been captured by too many cartoon media outlets, books and movies. Being an ideal woman has come to mean squeezing your individual greatness into this archetype. My drawings are meant to convey that greatness in women exists in our history books and before our eyes, and they do NOT fit into these moulds. Importantly, they never needed to in order to be who they became,  so it’s time to take away this artifice of expectation.

We as a society have embraced an archetype that does not serve our daughters. We have to change our consumer habits in order to change what marketers sell to our daughters.


Note: Since our conversation, David Trumble has decided to officially retitle the Anne Frank cartoon as “Diary Princess.”

In related news, David Trumble’s new book series for children, Mother Goose Retold, will be released in the U.S. in 2014. The series retells the classic Mother Goose rhymes with original new verses that take the stories into unexpected realms. Retailers have already ordered 500,000 copies of the series’ first three books, Twinkle Twinkle, Little Miss Muffet, and Humpty Dumpty. Congratulations to David on this success!


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Sexy Halloween Costumes Reveal the Truth about Girls’ Toys

Do you object to sexy Halloween costumes for little girls?

When you compare the “Little Leopard” costume for young girls to the adult “Sexy Leopard” costumes, do you cringe?

Sexy Leopard costumes

Sexy Leopard costumes for adult women.

Little Leopard.

Little Leopard costume for girls ages 3 to 12.

When you see children’s classic Disney Princess costumes placed literally steps away from Sexy Disney Princess costumes, are you outraged?

Classic Disney Princess costumes

Classic Disney Princess costumes for young girls.

Sexy Disney Princess costumes

Sexy Disney Princess costumes.

When confronted with Monster High costumes for girls ages 4 to 14, are you appalled because they are far too sexy for our children?

Monster High costumes

Monster High costumes for girls ages 4 to 14.

girls' Halloween costumes

Then I’d like to point something out: You should object to the sexualized aesthetic of girls’ dolls, too.

Here’s what I’m thinking. The internet is full of objections to sexy Halloween costumes for little girls. Just a few weeks ago, Walmart’s “Naughty Leopard” costume generated so much outrage that the retailer was forced to pull the costume from shelves–and rightfully so.

But when critics call out dolls like Monster High, Ever After High, Equestria Girls, Fairy Tale High, and Bratz for being too sexualized for girls, people rush to defend them.  Sexy dolls for little girls are so common, so ubiquitous, folks can’t see them clearly anymore.

They say: “Stop reading so much into it! Girls see these dolls as cute and fun. It’s just fantasy. If you think these dolls are ‘sexy,’ then wow–you’re the one with the problem. Get over it.”

I should know: As a children’s culture critic, I’m on the receiving end of these comments all the time.

But these dolls? They are dressed in outfits exactly like the sexy Halloween costumes. There is no difference between what popular fashion dolls wear and the little girls’ Halloween costumes that everyone objects to.

If anything, the dolls are even worse.

What’s going on, then? Why do we object to the Halloween costumes and not the dolls?

When we actually see these tawdry outfits on our children, we are horrified. We have become desensitized to dolls for four-year-olds that look like prostitutes, but when real children wear the same get-ups, the scales fall from our eyes. Suddenly, we can see the unvarnished truth about children’s culture, and it is awful.

So I’d like to suggest a new litmus test for girls’ dolls. Would you want to see your daughter, niece, or granddaughter in a Halloween costume based on the doll’s attire? No? Then harness that insight. See the doll for what it is: A sexualized item with no business in a child’s toy box. Just say no to sexy Halloween costumes–and say no to sexy fashion dolls, too.

Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Redesigned Merida? #NotBuyingIt

Dog holding a pencil and redesigned Merida admits: "I have no idea what I'm doing"

Just my little contribution to the “I have no idea what I’m doing” meme … enjoy!

P.S. Many thanks to Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss for including me in her Boston.comment piece here. My statement:

Disney 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.)

Disney responds to Merida petition, missing the point

Recently, Disney released a new, 2D image of Merida. This prompted outrage because the character’s design was altered, for no good reason. The new Merida has been “prettified”–made more conventionally attractive in a way that undercuts the character’s strengths, to the detriment of the children who view her as a role model.

In response, A Mighty Girl released a petition to Disney that outlines the reasons why the redesign is problematic. The petition culminates with a request: to pull the new 2D Merida and restore the character to her original form.

Yesterday, Disney executives went on record regarding the petition. They’re refusing to retract the new Merida, saying she’s only temporary–and their comments show they’ve missed the point.

The L.A. Times reports on the refusal to retract the new Merida:

Disney has no intention of abandoning its sexier version of the Scottish archer.

The modified Merida was created specifically to welcome the character into the company’s princess collection. And according to a Disney representative on Wednesday, the image of Merida that sparked this maelstrom is part of a limited run of products including backpacks and pajamas. But images of the original Merida will also be available on consumer products, the Disney representative said.

But no one ever doubted that the original Merida would still be available on products; the objection is to the new Merida redesign. Full stop. The fact that it’s “part of a limited run” doesn’t make it any less problematic.

A Disney representative expanded on their stance in an exclusive interview with fan site Inside the Magic, calling the controversy “blown out of proportion.” This makes clear that Disney execs either don’t truly understand the objections, or are willfully ignoring them. According to Inside the Magic:

[Disney] had no intention of changing who Merida is. The artwork that has circulated online depicting the new 2D rendering of Merida was intended to be used only on a “limited line of products” as a “one-time stylized version.” They noted Disney uses different styles of art on characters regularly, changing them to fit their needs at the time.

And in this case, that time was the coronation. Noting that Merida wanted to “dress up” for her coronation ceremony, the new 2D artwork was created, first debuting on the official invitation that was sent out to the media.

So, Disney’s justification for making the change is that Merida herself wanted to dress up for her coronation ceremony. This seems disingenuous: Merida is a fictional character who doesn’t want anything; arguing that it was her choice is pretty insulting. Besides, at the actual coronation in the Magic Kingdom, Merida was dressed in attire more closely resembling her outfit from the film than from the new 2D art–so this really isn’t about the coronation.

And where is this “limited line of products” to be sold? At Target, according to Inside the Magic (which Amy Jussel points is hardly “limited.” Have a look at Target’s main page for the Disney Princesses:Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 12.04.24 PM

It’s all about the new Merida, and it features rather frightening products, like this doll with spindly space alien arms (h/t Elizabeth Sweet):14329579_121213163000


In their exclusive piece about Disney’s response, Inside the Magic concludes:

Looking forward, [Disney execs] could not say exactly how she would be depicted alongside the other Disney Princesses other than to again repeat that this “one-time stylized version” was only intended for the coronation and some products, hoping to create some calm in the communities who are up in arms over the matter.

This brings us to the crux of the matter: If Disney hopes that the girl empowerment community and our allies will be placated because 2D Merida is only temporary, they’re missing the point. People are up in arms because the changes to Merida — even if temporary in nature — completely undercut the character, selling girls short.

Let’s review the chief problems:

- They took a strong character and weakened her.

- They took a natural beauty and glamorized her.

- They took a youthful 16-year-old and made her look like she’s 22.

- They disrespected the fact that Merida is a princess who goes against the grain, eschewing the trappings of being a princess in favor of being an individual.

By squeezing a character so widely regarded as a barrier-breaking role model into a cookie cutter mold, Disney’s Consumer Products Division sent the message that in the end, looks are all that matter.

In short, if Disney’s response is, “Don’t worry, folks; this new Merida is only temporary!”, they’ve missed the point. Let’s call on Disney to address their poor decision to redesign Merida in the first place–however temporary and “limited” that change might be–and reassure us that they will treat this character with integrity in the future.

Sign the Change.org petition here. And sign the MoveOn.org petition here.


P.S. I hope A Mighty Girl will consider updating the petition to a) include Target, which is apparently to be the main retailer of products featuring the new 2D Merida; and b) respond to Disney’s response, outlined above.


To read my previous posts on Merida, click here.

To read my previous posts on the Disney Princess brand, click here.


Do you like this post? Follow Rebecca Hains on facebook or twitter.

About the author: Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is an associate professor of communications at Salem State University, where she teaches advertising and media studies. Her new book, Confronting Cinderella: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, will be released by Source Books next year.

Cartoonists and animation experts weigh in: the new Merida doesn’t HAVE to look this way

In the past few days, the new Merida designed for the Disney Consumer Products Division has lead to heated controversy.

On the one hand, critics argue that the redesign undercuts Merida’s strength, serving her up in a more stereotypical princess form. Meanwhile, their detractors argue that “it’s not that bad,” that they “can’t see the difference,” that the critics are “overreacting,” or that the redesign “HAD to happen this way.”

In this post, I’d like to address that last point: the argument that the redesign HAD to happen this way. The core argument is that Merida must look different in the Disney Princess line because she’s drawn in 2D, rather than as a CGI image–so her image must change in translation, by necessity.

Let’s see what the animation and cartoon experts have to say on that point.

First, let’s begin with cartoonist Matthew Bogart’s take on that argument. He writes:

Character design matters.

If there’s one thing the character design class I took in college stressed more than anything else it’s that a good character design informs the viewer who the character is, what they are like. What they wear, how they stand, how they do their hair, the shape of their face, their standard expressions, what they carry with them, these are all vital decisions in a good design.

If these are all vital decisions in a good design, then what’s going on? Why has Disney’s Consumer Products Division changed what Merida wears, how she stands, how she does her hair, the shape of her face, her standard expressions, and so on?

Bogart explains that the changes found in redesign are not about the translation from 2D to CGI; rather, it’s a deliberate effort to make Merida fit the passive, pretty princess trope that dominates the Disney Princess line.

When you market a character you have to boil them down to their essential elements. [...] [Merida] was depicted in trailers and posters as strong, determined, adventurous, beautiful, and heroic.

This redesign de-emphasizes those qualities and pushes for a Merida that is more glamorous, sassy, and passive.

In other words, Bogart writes, Disney’s Consumer Products Division is

taking the established Merida design from the film and re-imagining her to more closely resemble the typical damsel in distress that the Disney princess line seems to champion.


Animation expert Charles Kenny has also analyzed the redesign on his blog, the Animation Anomaly, and reaches a similar conclusion. Dispelling the idea that the redesign had to happen in this way, he writes:

We all know that multitudes of artists work on these characters and the very nature of merchandise (with all its differing surfaces and sizes) necessitates changes to permit an acceptable level of familiarity across the range.

Well, normally it isn’t a problem because the characters remain relatively consistent. In Merida’s case, however, the change is near radical. [...] Merida’s case stands out [because] she’s undergone not so much a redesign but a transformation. Even by comparing her looks (and her measurements) one can deduce that she isn’t likely to exhibit the same character traits as her CGI original. 

What character traits does Charles Kenny mean? Well, we can glance back at Matthew Bogart’s post for a quick run-down: “a beautiful, rough and tumble, scottish adventurer who was technically a princess but rebelled against the frill, pomp, and sexism that came with her post.”

Therefore, Kenny reminds his readers:

We’re long, long past the time when merchandise had to look different on account of manufacturing technology and the like. Today, it’s possible to maintain a high degree of quality across the board. There really is no reason why a Merida doll has a different structure to her animated counterpart, or for that matter for a stock image of her on a T-shirt requires a redesign.

Heck, even the Disney Princesses themselves do not need such a standardised sense of design. What it amounts to is the merchandising or marketing division of the corporation attempting to stamp their impression on characters created somewhere else (by animators). It amounts to overstepping their boundaries insofar as they may adapt characters to their work, but outright changing them is unconscionable.

In sum, the argument that Merida HAD to be changed this way is patently untrue.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s leave the final words with a few cartoonists who have tackled the matter visually.

Matthew Bogart concluded his post by applying Merida’s redesign to Batman, showing just how much the design of her new pose, outfit, and face shape should be understood to alter her character:


David William Trumble illustrated what would happen if Disney redesigned other strong women, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Malala Yousafzai, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg (click here for a slideshow with individual explanations):2013-05-14-THECOLLECTION-thumb

And John Kovalic of the “Dork Tower” comic offered this gem:



To read my previous posts on Merida, click here.

To read my previous posts on the Disney Princess brand, click here.


Do you like this post? Follow Rebecca Hains on facebook or twitter.

About the author: Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is an associate professor of communications at Salem State University, where she teaches advertising and media studies. Her new book, Confronting Cinderella: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, will be released by Source Books next year.

Disney faces backlash over new “sexy” Merida; pulls new image from web site as a result

UPDATE, May 16, 2013Disney has stated that 1. the 2D image was never on their official web site in the first place (though, oddly, it’s all over the official Australia/NZ version of the Disney Princess site–which may have been the source of any confusion), and 2. they will not be retracting the new Merida.

Click here for my new post, in which I argue they missed the whole point of the petition. Clearly, we still have work to do.


On Saturday, Disney held a “coronation ceremony”(1) for Merida, star of the Disney-Pixar film Brave. In the coronation, Merida officially became part of the Disney Princess lineup. This means that her image has been added to the 2D collection of princesses in a cartoon form that fits stylistically with that of her princess peers.

Unfortunately for Disney, the new cartoon image of Merida that Disney created for the lineup overshadowed all conversation online about the coronation. The reason? The new cartoon sexualizes Merida.

That’s right: Although Merida was created by a woman as a role model for girls, the male-dominated consumer product division at Disney has ignored the character’s intended benefits for young girls, sexualizing her for profit. Merida_web_small


Compared with her film counterpart, this new Merida is slimmer and bustier. She wears makeup, and her hair’s characteristic wildness is gone: It has been volumized and restyled with a texture more traditionally “pretty.” Furthermore, she is missing her signature bow, arrow, and quiver; instead, she wears a fashionable sash around her sparkly, off-the-shoulder gown. (As Peggy Orenstein noted when she broke the news of the redesign, “Moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because ‘princesses don’t cover their shoulders.’” I’ve heard the same from parents, as well.)

It doesn’t have to be this way. Some might argue that the changes to Merida are simply a result of her being rendered in 2D, but these are deliberate, calculated changes. She has been presented in 2D form in children’s books since before the movie was released, and she’s still looked like herself.

No–these changes to Merida’s appearance are significant. Sadly, they align with the American Psychological Association’s definition of sexualization, which says that sexualization occurs when any of the following four conditions are present:

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

Since Merida is beloved for breaking the princess mold, proving that a girl needn’t be stereotypically “girly” to be a princess, realigning Merida’s look to echo the other 10 Disney Princesses’ narrow range of appearances is a huge mistake. 

The backlash from parents has been tremendous; a petition on Change.org already boasts more than 120,000 signatures. The petition explains:

The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls’ capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value — to be recognized as true princesses — they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty.

What’s more, Brenda Chapman–Merida’s creator–has gone on record voicing her outrage at this redesign. Chapman argued:

They have been handed an opportunity on a silver platter to give their consumers something of more substance and quality — THAT WILL STILL SELL — and they have a total disregard for it in the name of their narrow minded view of what will make money. I forget that Disney’s goal is to make money without concern for integrity. Silly me.

As of today, Disney has quietly pulled the 2D image of Merida from its website, replacing it with the original Pixar version. Perhaps we’ll be spared an onslaught of sexy Merida merchandise yet.


If you haven’t yet signed the petition, you can do so at Change.org and at MoveOn.org.


For further reading: To view more of my posts on Merida, click here. For more of my posts on the Disney Princess brand, click here.


Do you like this post? Follow Rebecca Hains on facebook or twitter.

About the author: Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is an associate professor of communications at Salem State University, where she teaches advertising and media studies. Her new book, Confronting Cinderella: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, will be released by Source Books next year.


(1) Disney holds “coronation ceremonies” for its princesses about a year after a film’s release–a great way of bumping up interest in a princess after her film’s momentum has died down.

But… the Little Mermaid gave up her voice!


Ah, Ariel. I love many things about your movie, particularly the music. But as a character, you made such poor choices. Giving up your voice to get a man? That set a really poor example for girls. In a society that positions girls as weak, and often suggests their voices don’t count as much as male voices, girls need to see female characters they love who raise their voices. They need to be inspired to speak out. 

For that reason, I find it odd that Disney is now describing The Little Mermaid as a classic that “gave voice to a whole generation”:

Did the film give a whole generation princess fever? Sure?

But did it give a whole generation a VOICE? No way.

I think it’s a really strange choice of words. Readers: What’s your take on this one?

Sofia the Not-So-Latina-After-All

Months ago, Disney announced that a new Disney Channel cartoon, Sofia the First, would be released this year, targeting girls ages 2 to 7. With the title character a little girl, rather than a teenager, Disney promised that Sofia the First would be “age-appropriate” for preschoolers. The cartoon would feature not just “plenty of pretty dresses and sparkly shoes,” but also lessons relevant to little ones.

The original announcement caused savvy critics of girls’ princess culture to raise a collective eyebrow. Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, was incredulous. She accused Disney of trying to have it both ways: claiming that their princess-themed feature films are harmless fun for young girls while also claiming that Sofia would address some of the problems found in princess-themed feature films.

What a contradiction.

This week, Disney was again caught trying to have it both ways–but this time, it’s not about whether Disney’s princess culture is healthy for girls.

This time, it’s about diversity.

When Disney announced a few days ago that Sofia would be Disney’s first Latina princess, this sounded promising: It’s important for girls of all backgrounds to see characters who resemble themselves on screen, to feel included in the media culture they so cherish. Considering how incredibly popular princesses are among preschool girls, it’s high time that a Latina princess join Disney’s franchise.

And the statement sounded pretty definitive: “She is Latina,” said Sofia the First’s executive producer Jamie Mitchell.

But the announcement prompted many people to take a closer look at Sofia, and a few things came to light:

  1. Sofia is pale skinned and blue eyed. While some Latinas are in fact white, Sofia doesn’t look like the majority of people hailing from Latin America do.
  2. Sofia speaks unaccented English and is voiced by a white girl (Ariel Winter from Modern Family).
  3. Sofia does not appear to be bilingual: there is no evidence so far that she speaks Spanish or another Latin-American language.

So, where is the evidence that Disney’s “first Latina princess” is actually Latina? Any one of those three elements might have given the claim some credibility. But if neither her appearance nor her voicing nor her dialogue testify to a Latina identity, how does Sofia improve the diversity of the Disney Princess brand and serve to represent Latina culture?

The answer: she doesn’t. It was just lip service, betraying a misunderstanding of why parents, educators, and critics want to see racially and ethnically diverse princess characters. It’s not to fill quotas; rather, it’s to provide support for countless young girls who struggle with their identities when characters like them are systematically stereotyped in or excluded from the media. Inclusion is important.

In claiming Sofia as a Latina, Disney was trying to have it both ways–seeking praise for adding diversity to its princess lineup without actually giving Sofia any significant markers of diversity.

Facing criticism for their handling of Sofia’s Latina identity, a Disney spokesperson explained:

“The range of characters in ‘Sofia the First’ — and the actors who play them — are a reflection of Disney’s commitment to diverse, multicultural and inclusive storytelling, and the wonderful early reaction to ‘Sofia’ affirms that commitment. In the story, Sofia’s mother, Queen Miranda, was born in a fictitious land, Galdiz, a place with Latin influences. Miranda met Sofia’s father, Birk Balthazar, who hailed from the kingdom of Freezenberg, and together they moved to Enchancia, where Sofia was born.”

So, wait–Sofia isn’t Latina, after all–she’s a multicultural girl, half Latina at best. Right?

Actually, it turns out that Sofia should not even be called half Latina. As controversy stirred, Disney execs began backpeddling, clarifying her background further:

“Princess Sofia is a mixed-heritage princess in a fairy-tale world,” explained [co-executive producer/writer] Gerber. “Her mother is originally from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Spain (Galdiz) and her birth father hailed from an enchanted kingdom inspired by Scandinavia.”

Gerber also noted that Enchancia is modeled after the British Isles. So this is an entirely Euro-centric fantasy world they’ve created for Sofia.

If Sofia’s dad is basically Scandinavian, and her mom is basically Spanish..well, that never made her Latina at all. It made her half Spanish(-esque) and half Scandinavian(-esque). A person of Spanish birth or descent would not categorize herself as a Latina, as Spain is not part of Latin America: In standard U.S. usage, “Latino” and “Latina” describe people who were born in or have family heritage from Latin America and speak a romance language (usually Spanish or Portuguese).

Sounds like some folks at Disney were unaware of what “Latina” means! How embarrassing.

So, Disney, in the future please remember: Diversity is not about quotas; it’s about meaningful representation. If you want your characters to be diverse, that’s great! Just do your homework and give them real markers of diversity–ones inspired by the actual children in your viewing audience, not by your limited Euro-centric imaginations.

Disney Princess Prom Gowns and Cradle-to-Grave Marketing

Just a few months ago, I wrote about how Disney Princess-styled extravagance among toddlers reflects the extraordinary extravagance of today’s proms, which now cost families an average of $1,000 to $2,000.

But until Mouse on the Mind brought it to my attention this week, I didn’t realize that there were actual Disney Princess-inspired prom gowns in production, scheduled for the 2013 prom season. (Were there any previously? I haven’t seen them.)

The plan: Each year, a new line of prom gowns will be released, and each line will take inspiration from a different Disney Princess film. The 2013 gowns are meant to evoke Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; red and black appear to be the dominant colors of the collection.

Disney Princess prom gowns 2013

With a price point of $350 to $800, these gowns definitely align with the high costs attached to today’s proms. Ouch.

So… what’s going on here? If the Disney Princess line is meant for the preschool set, why would teenage girls want Disney Princess-inspired prom dresses??

The answer can be found in a tactic called “cradle-to-grave marketing.”

As I’ve explained previously, the Disney Princess franchise is a great example of a lifestyle brand. Disney’s marketers want Princess to be everything and everywhere, integrated into as many aspects of audience members’ lives as possible. This epitomizes a basic principle of lifestyle branding: the more closely people identify with a brand–the more they feel like it is their brand, and a part of who they are–the more money the brand will make.*

Although the Disney Princess brand is primarily for little girls ages 2-8, with its strongest devotees ages 2-5, they are not its only target market. With “cradle-to-grave” marketing, Disney marketers extend engagement with the brand well beyond these years. The goal is for children to become loyal customers for life.

This has played out very well for Disney in general, as well as for the Princess line in particular: When children too young to ask for Disney products are swathed in them from birth, it’s often a because of their parents’ understandable nostalgia and fondness for Disney. Parents who loved Disney when they were children are likely to be tempted by Disney-branded sippy cups, diapers, onesies, teething rings, and toys.

Then, as children begin developing brand preferences, nostalgic parents who enjoy the fun, wholesome aspects of Disney are happy to fulfill their children’s requests.

But for a megabrand like Disney Princess, purchases on behalf of children is not enough. It’s even better for business if adults want to buy Princess products for themselves–collecting the dolls, perhaps, or film cells. But not everyone is a collector.

So, it’s logical for marketers to ask: At what points in life do people make expensive purchases that could be linked back to the brand? This, I’m sure, was the genesis of Disney’s ongoing success partnering with designers to produce Disney Princess-inspired wedding gowns, and to offer “Fairy Tale Weddings” in the Magic Kingdom.

With the average cost of the prom continuing to rise, it makes sense that proms are the newest target. Attracting teens connects more dots on that cradle-to-grave continuum.

(Now, I wonder if they’ll ever release those Disney Princess coffins that Peggy Orenstein enjoys joking about?)

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*I know that may sound cynical, like some kind of conspiracy theory, but it’s really the way the business works. Books written for members of the marketing industry are filled with tips about these tactics.