How to fix the princess problem

Everywhere we look, women are redefining their happily ever afters. And Disney is just the latest to jump on the bandwagon.

Set for release next summer, Brave will be the first Pixar film with a lady lead, and previews hint that it just might put the kibosh on Disney’s princess rules. (Pixar is the Disney-owned computer animation wunderkind behind the past four years’ worth of Best Animated Feature Oscar winners.)

Brave follows Princess Merida as she shuns princess-hood to follow her passion for archery. She’s a fierce, feisty heroine willing to defend whichever nightmare-inducing villain Scotland has lurking in its midst. This isn’t Disney’s first independent-minded lady lead, but it may be Disney’s first film whose ending doesn’t pair triumph with finding Mr. Right. Brave has the potential to empower a generation of girls to shun the princess obsession.

This is a tall order. Can Pixar get it right?

Maybe. So far, Pixar’s been geared toward boys, with cars, action figures and superheroes as its movie protagonists – definitely a counterweight to Disney’s dancing princesses and singing teapots. In “Father of the Year,” Esquire profiles Jon Lasseter, the brains behind Pixar’s “boys club.” Thanks to Lassester, Pixar films have taught boys how to become men by emphasizing community and sacrifice for others instead of individual pursuits.

As Brave’s executive producer, Lasseter has the opportunity to help girls become women, a lesson his Disney predecessors have no interest in (surely all those princess Barbies were quite the profitable distraction). He can show little girls the value of independence, intelligence and self-identity outside of romantic relationships. Translation: no animals bursting into song, no glass slippers, no Handsome Prince, no ending leaving the female lead happily dependent on her new man.

I’m confident that the brains behind Brave can make a female-driven film without falling back on damsel-in-distress plotlines. Pretty sure Pixar wouldn’t call it Brave if they weren’t trying to reassure the boys that this girl is badass. But I have one nagging fear about Brave: At the end, they’ll cut Merida’s hair.

No matter what’s on top of your head, hair is a key part of who you are. Curly haired women have long been shunned by a society obsessed with stick-straight locks. Redheads tend to be portrayed as stubborn, short-tempered outsiders. Pixar’s choice of curly red locks for Merida signals that she doesn’t give a damn about what society thinks.

Maybe I’m showing my bias – my own ginger curls make me a shoo-in to play Merida at any Disney theme park. But beyond my potential career as a fixture in Disney tourists’ photos, I would be heartbroken if Lasseter and company chose to alter Merida’s hair in an effort to signal identity change.  Cutting or straightening Merida’s fiery locks would be a signal to girls that conformity is essential – a lesson, perhaps more than any other, that young girls internalize and allow to rule their friendships, their careers, their relationships, their lives.

Hair, just like boys, shouldn’t define our identity. We can be sassy and self-confident and bold on our own terms.

–By Meg Wiegand

One thought on “How to fix the princess problem

  1. Well said :) and i agree ‘Cutting or straightening Merida’s fiery locks would be a signal to girls that conformity is essential – a lesson, perhaps more than any other, that young girls internalize and allow to rule their friendships, their careers, their relationships, their lives.’
    I think that it is great that Merida does not look like the ‘typical disney princess’ and I am happy that they have created a strong and empowering female lead that young girls can inspire to be like.

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