Is Mattel Brave Enough To Make An Un-Sexy Doll?

Despite not yet having seen the movie, my entire family is quite smitten with the new Pixar film “Brave”. We purchased three books this weekend about the movie, and we’ve read them several times over. From what I can tell, there is no prince coming to the rescue, those wild red curls are never tamed, and Merida is a fearless and determined heroine who saves her family.

Merida is the princess I’ve been waiting for. Amelia is counting the days until we are able to see the full story in theater on June 22nd. Her grandmother is driving down to see it with us. Our family is of Scottish heritage, and tales like the one Merida is in are the kind of stories about girls that I grew up with. A wild, adventurous, loud, weapon wielding, and independent princess is what I’m accustomed to. It is why, thus far, I’ve had no palette for the existing crop of Disney Princesses.

Merida is who we have been waiting for.

What does Merida’s body language say to you?

I shock even myself as I type this, but the marketing images and merchandise coming out of Disney/Pixar for “Brave” is something I support. I literally have nothing to complain about. Has Disney been listening? Did Disney read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” and read the “Redefine Girly blog? 

Merida is depicted as focused, determined, daring, fierce even. A Disney Princess, shown as fierce. Who knew? Her body language is confident, strong, athletic, and many times defiant. She is a skilled archer, rider, and swordfighter. She takes up space. Mulan would be pleased. I’m sure Sleeping Beauty has no idea what to do with herself. I have poured over the website, the Disney store, the story books, and I am in love with Merida.  

Sure, a parent could gripe about the commercialism surrounding this movie (and there is), but this is the larger-than-life character girls have deserved for a long, long time. Merida is our superhero. You bet I’ll be happily purchasing toys for my kids that celebrates a story of a girl who is strong and brave. Merida’s tale is epic, and I think it will sweep both boys and girls off their feet this summer. I think Merida is a game changer.

But before I get too carried away with my daydreaming, I was reminded this weekend why my family practices media literacy skills all of the time. Because certain habitual offenders force us to.

I’ve reached the point where I think Mattel cannot  help itself. When I compare the grab-and-go priced Mattel dolls (and descriptions) at Target to the more substantial action figure kits (at triple the price) from the Disney store, Mattel’s version of Merida falls flat. Is Mattel not brave enough to make an unsexy doll?

Is “unsexy” even a word? Given the fact that we are discussing toys for small children, does it matter? Why are there sexy toys to begin with? Because there is Mattel.

Mattel is home of Barbie, the recharged Polly Pockets, and Monster High. All three lines are aimed square at girls, and all three solidly hold a place on the continuum of sexualization. And then Mattel tried its hand at licensed Merida dolls. The Mattel recipe: enhance bust, princessify the dresses, add make up, and add sexy “come hither” bedroom eyes.

Contrast the Pixar character to the Mattel doll.

Mattel's version of Merida. Amelia thought it was Barbie.

 

 The image on the left is almost laughable. The toy that comes out of the package looks nothing like the character on the package. The toy looks like Merida’s hot older sister, who despite living in the Scottish Highlands during Medieval times, got her hands on some serious eye liner and lipstick.

The description to Mattel’s doll reads as such:

Product description for Mattel Brave toy.

 

So there is the word “adventure” in it. But the focus of the description is on Merida’s “gorgeous MagiClip fashion” and the “extra regal” look of the queen’s “elegant attire”. Comes with “additional fashion for Merida“. I’m also noticing the marketing photo from the website and the gown Merida wears on the doll held by my friend do not look the same. Also comes with a “dainty mum bear costume”. Uh, how many bears have you met that are “dainty”? And of course, the closer, the toy offers lots of imaginative playtime for “your little princess”. Not “you little archer” or “your little adventurer”. Mattel thinks all girls are princesses. The focus of this toy is on how the two females look, very little to do with what they are capable of doing.

Contrast that to Merida’s character description from Disney.com:

Disney’s character description of their new heroine, Merida.

 

Merida is described as passionate and fiery. She is most at home in the outdoors “honing her impressive athletic skills as an archers and swordfighter, and racing across the Highlands on her Clydesdale. I don’t get that from the Mattel toy.

The friend who sent me the images above of the Mattel product has this to say:

The girl loves princesses.  Seeing all of the little dolls wearing high heels, makeup, and a creepy “come hither” look makes my stomach turn every time my daughter gets a new one.  Where she only
sees Aurora, Snow White, or Jasmine (I hope), I can only see toy manufacturers throwing our kids and their self esteem under the bus to make a buck.  She is 4 and already wants to grow her hair because
princesses have long hair (she chooses to ignore the length of Snow White’s locks) and we just had a discussion yesterday about how everybody farts (don’t ask) and she is adamant that princesses DO NOT
FART.  What happens when she decides that all princesses are 5’10″ and 98 pounds soaking wet holding a brick and starts starving herself to death?  One stupid little 4″ piece of plastic can be the one domino
that starts the “you’re not good enough” avalanche that could destroy my child.  And what about the boy?  That same doll shows him that girls are only desirable for their appearance.  I can think of no other reason for such a difference in appearance from the movie Merida and the toy than “sex sells.”  Even to 4 year olds.”   —Tawn M, PPBB Community Member

Do we need to sell sex to four year olds? Apparently not, and again shocked as I type this, Disney got it right. Look at their toys below. I’ll be going to the Disney Store, 45 minutes away, to purchase toys that are twice as expensive as what is available locally. Why? Because what is available locally is cheap, and my daughter and I have waited too long for a heroine like Merida to settle for second best. And I’ll never settle for sexy for my little girl.

Disney’s Merida doll.

 

   

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Another Disney Store Merida toy.

Comments

  1. Amen Amen Amen!
    We’ll be purchasing the Disney Merida as well. This time it’s worth the extra bucks, for sure.

    P.S. Can I say how much I ADORE that there is not romantic interest in this story?!

  2. Jenny McCann says:

    Well, Mattel kinda made her “chubby.” But yeah.

    I can’t wait for it myself. Even though my daughter is only 2.5, I am taking my son. My almost 6 year old son is going on a date with mommy so he can see a real girl. What it means to be a real person.

    He had a project where he had to draw everyone’s eyes at home. He drew color correctly, glasses, etc. But girls he gave eyelashes. I asked him why, and he said that is how you know they are girls’ eyes. I said, “but don’t you have eyelashes and aren’t you a boy? He said, “mommy, my eyelashes are beautiful.” (Admittedly, we would all kill for his lashes… they are like over an inch long, thick, and curl- he hears how beautiful they are from complete strangers.)

    I said, “yes. Boys can have beautiful eyelashes too.” He said, “Not when you are drawing pictures.” Me: “I seriously wish you wouldn’t believe this kind of crap you are hearing from people. You know the only difference between boys and girls are where their pee pee is located.”

    He of the superior 6 year old knowledge rolls his eyes.

    SIGH.

  3. Rosemary Keutzer says:

    Jenny McCann – “Well, Mattel kinda made her “chubby.” But yeah.”

    WTF?!? Holy carp, you better adjust your attitude regarding weight if you think that they made her “chubby”. I wouldn’t want to be a girl growing up in your household.

    NOWHERE do I see a doll that is “chubby”. If anything, that comment has proved how whitewashed this generation of mothers are regarding normal weight.

    I would have walked on by, but that comment required some correction.

    • Rosemary Keutzer – I took Jenny’s “chubby” in quotation marks to mean “as compared to the ridiculous sylph-thin supermodel standard Mattel doll.” I think I read somewhere that if Barbie were a living person, her proportions are such that she’d pretty much be unable to support her own body. This Merida doll seems to have somewhat more realistic proportions, thus, chubby by Mattel standards.

    • I think the reason Jenny put “chubby” in quotation marks is that she doesn’t actually think it’s chubby, but that it’s chubby in Mattel’s standards, or general standards for female dolls nowadays. Of course it’s not really chubby, but princess doll standards are dangerously underweight and impossibly proportioned. I’ve noticed that in recent pictures of Disney princesses, the women’s waists are smaller than their heads. The Merida doll actually has some meat on her bones! Small improvements need to be noticed even when they come short of our ideals.

      • Cheryl -
        Agreed.

      • To be fair, the Disney princesses are cartoon characters, and cartoon characters tend to have large heads.

        I can’t argue that their bodies aren’t ridiculously proportioned, but waists smaller than their heads could be, at least partially, due to both cartoon stylization AND ridiculously narrow waists. Both contribute to that particular comparison.

    • Jenny McCann says:

      Rosemary, I have struggled with how to respond to you, as you greatly offended me. Suffice it to say none of it was particularly nice.

      I will respond paraphrasing your language. If you are offended, then imagine how I felt reading your inflammatory comment:

      WTF?!? Holy carp [sic], you better adjust your attitude toward literacy, if you think you can read. I would hate to be a child growing up in your household. Nowhere do I see an example of your literacy. If anything your comment proves how ignorant your generation, whatever generation you are, is of basic literacy skills.

      I would have walked on by, but your ignorance needed a correction.

      In nicer language, don’t presume to judge what you don’t understand. Here it is English and the use of words like “kinda” and punctuation that you clearly don’t get. Also don’t presume to judge me.

      Cheryl and Juli, thank you for stating the obvious.

      • Rosemary Keutzer says:

        Jenny, Undulate your assumptions about my literacy comprehension as much as you want but you stated “Well, Mattel kinda made her “chubby.” But yeah.”

        You obviously have weight issues if you called Merida “chubby”. You did not state “in comparison to Barbie or Disney” which would have made apparent what your context was based upon. Instead, you stated “Well, Mattel kinda made her “chubby” But yeah”.

        Nothing in the rest of your comment neither adds context to your statement. But please, take a swipe at my informal venacular as your attempts to deflect your intent with the “chubby” comment.

        If you do not want to be misunderstood, do not write a flammable comment regarding the weight of a socially empowered female character. End stop.

        • Rosemary,

          Very nicely worded. I too agree with the way the comment was phrased and it seemed in very poor taste that she chose to attack your verbiage instead of justify her original comment. She meant just what she said, chubby, and she allowed the other mothers to bail her out with their interpretations.

  4. Susan P. says:

    You know, my 3yo and I were having a nice time looking at the Brave Movie website. We watched the trailer and browsed the character descriptions and it made me feel safe enough to look at the products. Some of the toys were okay, but the little girl dressing in the sparkly princess dress and tiara made me laugh because it look nothing like the Merida in the trailer. I said to my daughter, “Does that look like Merida?” My daughter said, “No, that’s silly Mommy!”
    I like the plush dolls, but the dress-up stuff made me cringe. Your approval of the books makes me hopeful that this princess movie will be a keeper, but I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any until after I hear your final review of the movie because I just don’t trust Disney . . . but I trust you! Thank you for being a sensible voice in this mom’s life.

  5. Love the hair, love the stance, but most of all love that this heroine does NOT have a case of “Barbie figure” or “Disney princess body”! The fact that an empire as huge as Disney managed to break away from that stereotype is tremendous. It is incredibly unfortunate that they did not insist that their licensees keep pace. Mattel, as you pointed out, is tremendously invested in, and makes millions if not billions off of, this hypersexualization, and as long as they have that market, they’ll keep supplying it. Hopefully more of the fans of this movie will vote with their dollars like you’re doing, so Disney will see what is wanted. But the very fact that this movie got made is already a win; now I hope that it is successful enough to prompt more like it.

  6. I might go buy that Disney doll for myself!

  7. It occurred to me when I saw this preview that maybe, just maybe, this movie will usher in a new era, and that by the time my 1-year-old is 10, she will be used to seeing strong female characters (who aren’t just looking for men to complete their lives) in the media.

    We need to SERIOUSLY vote with our FEET and our DOLLARS on this one. If you give the thumbs up after you see this movie that it is truly a “leader” that could take us in the right direction, every one of us needs to go to the movie theater and pay for tickets. I’ll leave my daughter with a sitter since she’s too young and drag my husband to the movie in order to show them that people come out in mass to support real, strong women in the movies, especially in Disney.

    As it is right now, Disney disgusts me. I don’t want my daughter thinking that the best life she can dream of is romantic, frilly, boring and brainless. Life is real. There are diseases to cure, global issues to figure out, adventures to be had. There are so many things in life that are more interesting than the commercialized world of Disney and Barbie and all the rest.

    • “We need to SERIOUSLY vote with our FEET and our DOLLARS on this one. If you give the thumbs up after you see this movie that it is truly a “leader” that could take us in the right direction, every one of us needs to go to the movie theater and pay for tickets. I’ll leave my daughter with a sitter since she’s too young and drag my husband to the movie in order to show them that people come out in mass to support real, strong women in the movies, especially in Disney.”

      Mary, I think you are so right about our responsibility to make sure our consumer “votes” count. If Disney really is getting this right for a change (and I’m hopeful), I think it’s because so many of us (on sites like this one) have been vocal about what we want as consumers. I have no idealized worldview that assumes Disney is trying to make the world a better place for women, but I have a very strong worldview that Disney wants to make money. If we show them that nuanced portrayals that break gender stereotypes is a way to do that, they’ll keep it up (and the rest of the industry will follow).

  8. I am so excited for Brave! Having grown up on Disney princesses (and subsequently renouncing them), Merida sounds like the perfect antidote to damsels in distress like Cinderella (who has literally NOTHING to do with her eventual escape from her stepmother!!).

    The disparity in descriptions between Mattel and Disney is appalling. I would like to point out that there is one line of Mattel toys aimed at girls which is decidedly un-sexy. They bought the American Girl line some years ago, and have yet to turn the historical (or contemporary) characters into Barbie clones. The girls in the American Girl stories are much more like Merida than Snow White, and the dolls themselves are clearly modeled after pre-teen girls (read: no curves to speak of).

    • Monica -
      That is true, American Girl is a wholesome line for girls, if you exclude that fact the dolls are upwards of $100 (an therefore unaffordable to many children) and the brand has become more about consumerism of the add ons and accessories than it is about the historical stories of the character girls.

      What is concerning to me is that a family can buy their way out of the sexualization if they have the means and access to an American Girl store, but most families are stuck with the $5.99 sexualized doll at Target.

  9. I think teaching children that men and women are equally valuable, equally important, and equally amazing, is not the same as teaching our children that they have no differences except for their “pee pees” (I prefer penis/vagina, myself). Men and women are very different. Just equally awesome.

    • Jenny McCann says:

      Dear Leslie:
      I use pee pee and urethra interchangably. I wasn’t talking about sexual organs. God why do people read things into words that aren’t said. Until a child begins to exhibit secondary sexual characteristics, the only difference between a boy and girl that is OBVIOUS is the location of their urethra. Also, most of our supposed differences are social constructs, NOT biological with the exception of reproductive functions.

      And isn’t this whole thing about blowing apart social constructs so kids can be kids without a specific identity stamped onto them???

      SO HELLO… I get to use pee pee for urethra every now and again and I get to decide how I want to teach gender to my kids.

      Sheesh….

      • I’m with you on this one Jenny.
        The penis is where the male urethra is located and is technically correct.
        But it really bugs me when I hear the entire female anatomy described as vagina. It is NOT where the female urethra is; a vagina is the ‘pipe’ behind urethral ‘pipe’. Why has the entire vulval area been labelled as vagina? It would be the same as describing one’s entire face as a nose??
        Pee pee sounds like a brilliant way of describing it.

      • I agree jenny. You were giving your opinion, and explaining a conversation you were having with your son, and everyone else on here seems to be ridiculing you for what you said and how you said it. You’re right, you do get to decide how and what you want to teach your kids. Free country grants you that right, and if others don’t like it, oh well. Personally, I understood what you meant and agreed with you from the start. I also have a son, he is five right now, also has long lashes (gets them from his dad), and he’s enough of a smarty pants that he would try saying something like that (hasn’t yet, doesn’t mean he won’t) but with the smarty pants things he has said so far I have also done my fair share of eye rolling. I can totally relate.

  10. Well, I live in Paris. Interstingly enough, “Brave” will be coming out on August 1st over here, which is basically THE time of year when every single Parisian is…far away. And mostly the children. I doubt this would ever have happened with a movie that was taken seriously. I guess we still have a long way to go around here…

    • Hi Chloe -
      That is really interesting, and does not seem like a smart PR move on the part of the studio nor the theaters. I’d love for you to email me or leave a comment on the Facebook page and let us know how the film is received in France!

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you for highlighting this issue. My daughter is 20 today and has grown into a unique and strong young woman. I made a descision when she was born that I wouldn’t encourage the ‘Barbie distortion’ into her world. It proved very difficult and she did have some for her birhday when she was six. I remember when she was playing one day and she looked at me and said, ‘mummy, why don’t they make dolls like real life girls?’. I asked her to explain and she said, ‘they are skinny and don’t look like real people’. She knew at six that these dolls were distorted, I suppoted her in understanding and valuesing all the different body types and that they were all beautiful. Like most girls, she has her ups and downs regarding body image and identity. But on the whole she is well rounded in her attitude to herself and friends.

    Its time to challenge how we promote what being a girls/woman is in our society. I am about to start a workshop for ‘Divine women’ to support them in valuing themselves and embracing their sexual identity and how they see themselves in this society. Together, we can all be part of the solution for our young people.

    Christine Toft

  12. Um, they gave her CURVES. Their slight, but more definite than in any of the previews I’ve seen.

    As for American Girls, I loved them before Mattel about them, and the independent company was about the history. Mattel has turned the franchise into a materialistic “buy the next accessory” nonsense. I still love the historical dolls, but I hate what Mattel has done to the company.

  13. Um, they gave her CURVES. They’re slight, but more definite than in any of the previews I’ve seen.

    As for American Girls, I loved them before Mattel about them, and the independent company was about the history. Mattel has turned the franchise into a materialistic “buy the next accessory” nonsense. I still love the historical dolls, but I hate what Mattel has done to the company.

  14. Caitlin says:

    I don’t have children, by my spouse and I will be seeing this movie to support – finally – the brave, wild, adventurous heroine we’ve been waiting for!

  15. Mattel hasn’t evolved much since that first plastic sex doll that started it all way back in Germany (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild_Lilli_doll). In 1962-63 Mattel put out the world’s smallest diet book that came with the Barbie Baby Sitter accessory kit…”How To Lose Weight” on the front, “Don’t Eat” on the back. I honestly have no idea how much of an effect Barbie had on my life as a child, but I sure had an army of them, and it was all about sex, and Ken and masturbation. All I ever wanted was store bought Barbie clothes, so that I would see her figure, but my Grandmother would endlessly sew her Chanel Suits from the remains of her own knock offs. Yeah there were some serious messages getting transmitted I’m sure.

    I’m glad there are finally better examples for girls out there in books, fairy tales, animation and film, but I’m sure glad I had boys. In a world where even Ponies are being sexualized “my little pony” again with the freaking eyelashes; it’s just too much.

    You know there is more crap coming down the pike when your 7 year old, out of the blue announces from the back of the car that you’re not a MILF…even the boys today are not getting off scot-free.

  16. My only complaint with Disney so far is the PR materials. I get all of them that are sent out, and I find them to be kind of lacking compared to what has been issued in other countries (that I found, those were not sent to me). Other than that they’ve done a fantastic job. Cady and I may be making a trip to Houston for the Disney store as well.

  17. Brittany says:

    I just got married last August…and since marriage kids have been brought up as a topic of discussion at most functions (because “that’s the next step” apparently once you are married) anyways, my husband and I have talked a lot about how to raise kids, if we have them. One of the biggest things we are advicating for is smart, adventurous, and indepdant women role models. Once we saw the preview for Brave we were hooked and can’t wait to go and see it on the 22nd. It gives us hope that more stories will arise from it. I can’t believe the dolls Mattel has out, though. Not something a child of mine will ever own. I’d much rather spend more money and have good, educational toys that show the character for what they really look like. I’m truly hoping that the movie is what we are hoping it is, and there isn’t a surprise twist. Good for you for getting your daughter a much more adventrous looking toy then a sexed up version!

    • Hi Brittany,
      I love that you and your husband are discussing these issues before having a family. My husband and I did the same, and thinking about this stuff ahead of time has made parenting much easier. I feel very lucky that he is just as much an adovcate on these things as I am.

  18. I cannot wait for this movie. Finally, a real heroine from Disney. (well, we’ll see)

    I will definitely be getting the Disney Store version, we saw the Mattel one in Walmart the other day and said Oh, here they go again. Just when you think they might have learned something they go and put out another beauty queen princess. Sad.

    I have to say I have a 12 yr old who loves her dolls for different reasons, because they ARE different just like HER. Merita’s hair and attitude,(wild and unruly) Katniss’s (Hunger Games character’s nonstop determination and focus on justice, Monster High girl’s uniqueness (I know, I know but sexiness aside, they are very kind and peaceful, just like my girl) She sees though marketing ploys very quickly, even her favorite Barbies from her birth year. She loves to redesign outfits for them but doesn’t play with them. Fashion is art to her. It isn’t about the actual doll for her, it is what it represents in her realm of possibilities, and beauty queen isn’t one of them.

  19. sarah m says:

    i’m reserving judgement until i actually see the movie. i’m open to being thrilled and hope for the best with open eyes and an open heart. they’ll likely not get it perfect, but they are trying. and, let’s keep the feedback coming so the next effort is even more positive.

  20. allison p says:

    This is the first I heard of this movie (a friend posted this on fb), and I have to admit I’m intrigued. I don’t think Barbies are the real issue as much as the parents pushing their daughters to be interested in them. I’ve let my (now almost 7) daughter have them, although they’ve all been from gifts and we haven’t bought them for her. She plays with them in spurts and they seem to be of the same value to her as any other toys. It seems to me that a bigger issue are all the moms who spend their “free time” (& money?) doing activities such as shopping, visiting the salon, and hosting parties for jewelry, makeup, purses. Having a purse or a pair of quality shoes in and of itself is not a concern, but the idea that our culture stereotypes women as such superficial characters that they need to coordinate their shoes & purses with every outfit is unacceptable to me. Most children are influenced by actions around them. I say moms everywhere need to be OBVIOUS about their priorities. Go ahead & wear a little makeup & buy a cute dress on occasion, but spend a much higher percentage of your time learning, listening, and loving. Especially with those precious children.

  21. Looking forward to seeing the movie with high hopes. I appreciate fully what you are saying about the dolls and I agree. I much prefer the non-Mattel options. But I do have some additional thoughts about the use of the word “sexy”. Sexy can be strong or big or solid or big-boned or small-boned or petite or boxy or curvy or lithe, athletic, or delicate and graceful. Sexy is a confident, happy woman. We need to take back “sexy” and start defining it ourselves and not exclusively in any one direction. And I agree that children’s toys never need to be sexualized, period. I would say that the dolls are stereotypical, and limit beauty to a very narrow definition by making them uniformly like every other princess doll. The problem isn’t that there are petite, tiny, big busted, wide-eyed options out there. It’s that only these are there and only these shapes and sizes are associated with beauty. And it’s that those images are culturally connected with frailty, weakness, dependency. Broadening our definitions of beauty and sexy benefits us all. Thanks for your ongoing efforts and thoughtful posts; I always enjoy them and they always get me thinking.

  22. My girls are beyond excited to see this movie too because they love adventure. So is my husband. This will be an all out family night out!

    The assumption that girls want just passive pretty princesses is so off base. My almost 9yo sure didn’t write about princesses for her creative writing story – nope, she had a whole group of boys and girls discover a treasure map and head on an adventure across the sea… nary a bejeweled gown in sight.

  23. “pored over”, not “poured”

  24. I have some sewing ability. If I had a little girl of my own, I’d make her a doll on my own. And she would be awesome.

  25. Thanks for posting this rundown. I’ve been anticipating this film since I found out last summer, because, for one thing, Merida is my daughter’s name. (Yeah, I thought the name would be original, and that she’d never meet another “Merida.” At least her namesake is a hero I’d want her to have, possibly.) Anyway, I doubt we will buy any Merida stuff, because I’m very strict about merch like this, but it’s good to know that the Disney merch is less sexualized than Mattel’s.

    Oh, and by the way, I’m sure savvy readers will know or discover that “Merida” is not a Scottish name, but a Spanish one.

  26. Hi, I am excited about taking my kids to see this movie too!

    Though, I will say that it is possible to watch all the old-fashioned Disney movies so long as you encourage a critical eye. My daughters and son have all enjoyed some of the old films such as Cinderella, partly because they were so gentle in terms of peril compared to some of the modern stuff, so were ideal when they were younger and a bit sensitive to these things – the scariest bits (for them) were the cat chasing the mouse, and Cinderella getting locked in her room. They loved the songs too – like Bibbety Bobbety Boo.

    And, because we have always discussed the plots of films like these, and all the traditional fairy tales that inevitably come their way (and actually which they loved), they have a really good attitude to the whole princess thing.

    The whole idea of a princess sitting around all day combing their hair and wishing for a prince to come along makes them roll their eyes (‘boring!’), and they think its strange that anyone would marry someone just cos they were handsome. ‘But they don’t know him mummy, they just met!’ and ‘Why would she fall in love with the Beast when he is always so mean?’.

    I might sound like I’m endorsing this stuff..I’m not really, they’re packed full of out of date thinking, but I’m just saying that an attitude of independent thinking and discussion can help kids to think past the stereotypes that they are presented with (hopefully!), especially as they get bigger. My daughters are now reading tons of books about strong heroines (which seem to be ahead of the film industry), usually something to do with training dragons or magic! But we did go through the whole pink/purple obsession and books with pink glittery kittens or fairies on the front (Bleh!)..it is possible to survive and move beyond! :)

    Bob – your idea of sewing a doll yourself is a lovely one! When the Octonauts came on TV in the UK my son was obsessed with them. They present lovely stories of sea exploration and are very gentle and caring, but the merch was overpriced plastic as usual! So I sewed him some felt versions for his birthday and he loved them. V time consuming though – he is now waiting for the rest of the team! :)

    So glad there are blogs out there like this! Really great discussions x

  27. Excellent post! I love the way Disney has portrayed Merida. Though, I do love all of the princesses. My 3 year old loves the dainty girly girl princesses and I’m okay with it, that is her personality. But my 7 year old daughter has never cared for them, Merida fits her and I would hate to bring a doll into this house that doesn’t fit the image Disney and Pixar have created. I don’t want to take away the strong natural beauty aspect of it for her.

  28. mother-to-be says:

    Reading the blog and the posts, the biggest question in my mind is why everyone here is so concerned with correctly negotiating this film and its merchandising? Why is it necessary for children to see any films, especially ones made in Hollywood? And above all, why would anyone even consider buying their children the doll of the film? Why are intelligent adults wasting their time on choosing the least sexualised of several plastic toys when just not buying one at all would solve the problem? I hope this doesn’t sound aggressive, because I am genuinely puzzled by the whole phenomenon and would like to hear what people think.

    We have just started buying clothes for our baby, and are horrified by what is on offer for little girls. We don’t know the sex of the child, but will dress it in ‘boy’s’ clothes whatever it is. The clothes for boys are fun and humorous, all colours of the rainbow, with animals, dinosaurs, with comical expressions, etc on them. The girls’ clothes are pastel, cutesy and have no humour to them at all – as if someone has decided that the ‘women aren’t funny’ stereotype has to begin at birth. It seems to us that if we were to dress a girl like that, we would be limiting her potential from the outset, which seems unforgivably irresponsible parenting. Yet obviously this is what most couples buy for their kids, as if somehow it hasn’t registered as a problem – or, worse still, as if they actually agree with the stereotypes perpetuated in the clothing. It seems to me that buying Disney dolls for little girls must come into the same behavioural category.

    • Jenny McCann says:

      Probably because it is really really hard to avoid consumerism and marketing and images. Your best intentions to raise a child without certain influences will be blown away if they ever enter the public sphere and talk to anyone outside the family, or watch tv. So it is best to participate and arm, rather than totally ignore.

      I am learning this lesson the hard way… my son is now in Kindergarten and the things he is learning that are TOTALLY unacceptable in this house are frightening. Because I ignored and kept consumerist culture away from my son, because he had highly regulated TV, and because he had remained blissfully ignorant of so much of it, he is a blank slate and has no defenses or intelligent responses to some of it.

      So kindergarten has come along and I am being hit with consumerism, marketing, and all kinds of isms that I unwisely protected my son from instead of arming him.

      Just wait. It is a really hard battle. And if you protect and ignore, you leave them unarmed. If you participate and educate, you at least get some control when your little one goes out onto the world without you managing every moment.

  29. Merida… I do love the Disney version of the doll. But two things concern me about the movie. As a representation of Celtic history and heritage… women were warriors. Boudicca, Queen Maeve, Cartismundua. I am concerned that if Disney represents a woman as having to oppose her culture and family to take up arms, they are misrepresenting Celtic heritage in a major way.
    I am concerned at the growing militarization I see in my own culture and I’m not sure I want little girls to have to cut their teeth on it. Movies are part of how we create the current myth for our children, I think they and the future are better served by making diplomacy and peaceful solutions the mythic aspiration.

    • I am concerned that if Disney represents a woman as having to oppose her culture and family to take up arms, they are misrepresenting Celtic heritage in a major way.

      That wasn’t quite the message I got. From the film it seemed that the only person discouraging Merida bearing weapons was her mother, who was trying to make a lady out of her, and even she just tried to restrict it, rather than ban it outright. Her father actively encouraged it and nobody else even batted an eye. And her mother obviously wasn’t local. And it ended with both mother and daughter actively fighting, and being cheered from the sidelines as they did (rather than pushed out of the way and rescued).

  30. Rebecca says:

    I actually think that both the Disney doll and the Mattel doll look sexualized. The hair, the curves. Maybe Disney was smart enough not to emphasize fashion in its description of the doll, but the description is no doubt aimed at parents (most likely moms), not kids. How many little girls are carefully reading the packaging? If the dolls both look like a heterosexual male’s fantasy, what difference does it make what the packaging says in terms of the message it sends to young girls? The Disney doll certainly seems to have spent a lot of time on her hair.

    I agree with “mother-to-be.” The solution is just don’t buy this junk for your kids to begin with. We don’t buy any character stuff at all – except *maybe* a Disney or Pixar inspired book. That’s the rule and our kids don’t seem to mind.

  31. I know this is late in coming, but I would like to add to this piece about consumerism and marketing. It is extremely disturbing to me to be excited about any kind of marketing toward children. I think it is very possible for a child to enjoy and love an movie/character without becoming obsessive and sold to every which way from Sunday. This mass consumption is a slippery slope and although a focus on WHAT is being marketed to our children is important in terms of gender stereotypes and confining boxes, there should also be a significant trend to STOP the madness of branding, merchandising, and consumption. This spending race we train our children for breeds a culture of never ending consumption and spending that alters the definition of what it means to feel at peace and confident in oneself and in the ability to connect in a genuine way with other people despite what they own, wear, or watch on the big screen/small screen. It perpetuates so much of the “who is in” vs “who is out” in the lives of our children and their perception of self-worth and dignity. As conscience parents hoping to change the mainstream flow, I really wish this could become part of the conversation. I appreciate so much of what this company does and I don’t want this to come off solely as negative feedback, but I think it is crucial to acknowledge the bigger picture of economic injustice this consumption feeds regardless of the action packed potential bravery of this movie’s shero.

  32. You have to be the most biased person I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading. You preach against Disney and yet give this new film the time of day because it fits into your narrow view of princesses and fairytales. I am a gay woman and have been the most diehard Disney person since childhood. I find no offense in their films or their marketing because they are still a company and need revenue to keep the business going (or will you argue further that big business also destroys women?)
    If you don’t like what Disney has to offer, don’t watch it and don’t even entertain seeing their films. While I can assess that their princesses have become more interesting since Snow White, I’d never disregard those that came before. Ariel is prime example of a strong minded, brave princess- not one who should be forgotten because she made a choice to accept a spell.
    Your only argument that is valid here is the Disney store’s product quality. As a consumer I can tell you the toys will last longer.
    But honestly if you seek to find fault in things you already disagree with, you are a fool.

  33. I am so glad I found your blog Melissa! My nine year old daughter and I can’t wait to see Brave too. I’ve been wondering if there will be a classic romantic element that takes over the ENTIRE purpose of the brave girl’s life, such tragedies have befallen many of our favorite on-screen characters. :)

    I appreciate your point about media literacy. I realize it’s something those of us who have gone through a certain process may take for granted. As a blogger on the topic myself and after seeing some of the comments to your blog, it’s something I realize not everyone has gone through. That process would look something like:

    a) recognized the negative impact certain media images have on developing minds, particularly in this case the hyper-sexualization of women and girls
    b) incorporated conscious discussions around it into our habitual family dialogues c) no longer fear marketing, but see it as an aspect of culture that isn’t going anywhere but definitely needs to evolve and are doing what we can to help shape a new direction.

    I love your take on the dolls, and am thrilled to see this kind of discourse happening. I’ve been writing about princess obsessions on my blog as well, and the trend in preteen models creating sexy ideals for way too young girls.

    Thank you!
    Meg

  34. Drive me mad that all the merch for Brave features Merida in the blue dress! Yeah, it’s a pretty dress and I love the color blue, but the merchandising people seem to be totally missing the point! Judging by the trailers and what Pixar has said about the character, Merida hates the blue dress and “being girly”. I wish they featured more of her in the green dress (that one is lovely).

    I feel so bad for Pixar in this case; they went out of their way to make a strong female character and they did MASSIVE amounts of research into the strong women of Celtic stories. But then the marketing department went and tried to “girlify” everything.

    Hopefully, young girls end up latching on to the heroics instead of the “dress-up”.

    Also, to the commentator above who complained: I think the blogger takes issue with the fact that Disney merchandising as of late tend to focus more on being a “helpless princess who needs to be rescued”. I too grew up on Disney movies and adored them. My favorite (still favorite) is Beauty and the Beast, which arguably has one of the uglier themes if you choose to interpret it as such (“Stay with your abuser; it might get better.”) However, my parents were smart enough to emphasize the good points of the movie: Belle liked reading (was a bookworm, still one), she didn’t settle for less (Ew, Gaston), and she didn’t conform to the rest of the village. I actually didn’t like Ariel because as a child, I couldn’t fathom why she would want to leave the beautiful undersea world for a guy. I would seriously pick singing fish over a prince, even now.

    Disney merchandising and advertising has taken a more “genderfied” turn since I have been a child. I still remember seeing dolls of Belle in her normal blue dress and apron; nowadays, it’s only the yellow ball gown now. Aurora in her peasant wear? Only in my old doll. I admit I never liked Snow White (even as a child) because she seemed particularly flat and dull to me. Instead of emphasizing the inner strengths of the female characters, marketing now focuses on how “pretty” they are. I miss the days when the lead female had her strengths emphasized. Not a good message for young girls, like the daughter of the blogger.

    Also, I would like to point out here that the basis I have learned about repelling pick-up artists and creepers, I got from Beauty and the Beast. Just toss ‘em to the pigs.

  35. I love the content of this blog thread. My wife and I have a little girl who I imagine and hope Merida will become her favourite Disney character. While I appreciate the feminine aspects to a little girl’s needs, as a man I appreciate even more giving her a chance to be as independent as she likes. Merida encompasses a lot of qualities that I promote in my little Charlotte. I have had her doing weights since she could lift her little one pound dumbells, and her core strength is very high. I’m not one of those parents who will rush out to buy the latest toy for his kids but Merida, just from the trailers alone, has me interested. Our family is currently having our coat of arms and so is steeped in our Scottish and Irish histories at the moment. This movie, and your excellent blog posts, could not have come at a better time. I even like the red hair and especially, the accent. I will add this one to our library of movies at home, bet on that!

  36. I live in Australia. Unfortunately it seems all the Disney stores closed down, packed up and left our shores. My only options are to buy the cheap dolls from places like Toys R Us or import the Disney store ones at a high price!

    So far, including postage from America, it looks like it’s going to cost me about $50 for one doll. But you know what? I’d rather pay $50 for the doll than pay $15 and get a Merida that isn’t true to her character!

    • Nicole -
      You know I’m happy to send the doll to you, yes? Email me, but you can purchase it online and have it sent to my home, and I can then send it to you.

      • Thanks Melissa! I really appreciate that! You’re a gem!

        I will keep it in mind for my next overseas order. I managed to find one on eBay and with postage only ended up spending $36. It just arrived today and it is lovely! She even has that cheeky smirk on her face.

  37. I dont see how you can buy a toy from a company that you don’t believe in. Your child will see what that company stands for and know you support that company as he/she grows up. Yes, buying from them is supporting them. Disney openly supports gay marriage and has gay days at its theme parks. Sex sells and parents are buying. Kids are influenced through media and this becomes part of them, desensitization. The US has 5% of the kids in the world and 40% of the toys. That right there says a lot. Stand up and don’t buy from the companies that produce things you don’t believe in. If we don’t start standing up we can’t expect any change. Let companies know you don’t approve, they may just start listening if enough say something. Including tv shows, movies, and commercials. If we want these companies to produce ‘unsexy’ then we need to push it or it won’t ever happen. Too much peer pressure and parents giving in. I think people are ready for a change toward more innocent shows, toys,etc… Meaning things that don’t constantly have sexually content, looks etc… Let kids be kids, let little girls be little girls not miniature 20year olds. We need to ask for this, ban what we think is wrong and keep at it or our little girls especially will continue to grow up way too fast.

    • Carol -
      I am unclear what supporting the gay community or gay marriage has to do with the concept of “sex sells” or sexualizing children. I also very openly support those things. I believe in the right to love and creating families, however they may come to be. I don’t believe in the sexualization of childhood.

  38. Hi! I went through the comments hoping to find more of a description on what the dolls figure is actually like? Maybe I missed it. Can someone tell me, is she still a sexed up doll? I am very anti- Barbie and I don’t want anything like Barbie for my daughter. Is her figure more realistic? I just don’t want to buy the doll to find out she is just a softer porn version of Barbie. Odd question, could someone take a picture of her without clothes?

    Thanks! :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] And without further adieu, may I introduce you to the founder of Pigtail Pal and Ballcap Buddies, Melissa Wardy and her post entitled “Is Mattel Brave Enough To Make An Un-Sexy Doll?” [...]

  2. [...] Mattel makes a doll based on the strong and gutsy girl in Brave which looks, as one blogger says, like the character’s hotter, older sister, Disney actually offers dolls and toys which emphasize her more youthful and active qualities. [...]

  3. [...] focus on how our bodies look, even when they are working well for us? What if they weren’t? ~Is Mattel brave enough to make an unsexy doll? (Don’t count on it.) ~Mommy Makeover? Can I Vomit Now or Later? ~Banks advertising boob job [...]

  4. [...] see a movie since I haven’t been inside the movie house in a while either!  I recently read Pigtailpals’ blog post on it (thank you Helene as always), and I am quite excited about it.  Will let you know how it [...]

  5. [...] this doll, Melissa wrote: The toy that comes out of the package looks nothing like the character on the package. The toy [...]

  6. [...] few weeks ago, one of my professors sent me an article, “Is Mattel Brave Enough To Make An Un-Sexy Doll?” which raises critical questions about the disjuncture between the look of Merida in the [...]

  7. [...] was no reason to ‘sexy up’ these dolls.  For more about the sexy Merida dolls, see this post by Melissa, over at Pigtail [...]

  8. [...] I loved the movie, and have been anticipating the roll out of the merchandise. You may have already read my comparison of Mattel’s sexualized Merida doll to the toys offered at the Disney store, which is where we [...]

  9. [...] I was fairly excited too – quite honestly.  I hadn’t seen the inside of a cinema since before Jamie was born.  That was over 16 months ago.  And I’d been reading a lot of the hype surrounding this latest Pixar-Princess film.  Peggy Orenstein touched on it a little bit in her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter (This is a must-read if you have girls!).  She seemed to be unlike the stereotype princesses that Disney has made in the past — with a love story, “marry the prince” plot.  In fact in the more recent films , the female characters have gotten — uhh, how do we put it? — less male dependent (Rapunzel, Tiana and Mulan to name a few) and have done things to change their own destiny.  Still somehow, while their characters have become more strong-willed, there was some form of “saving” needed from the male protagonists.  Brave didn’t have that last bit, and that gave it a little bit more talk-value.  Even the merchandise hype around Merida the main character focused on how she was unlike the usual girly-girl dolls. [...]

  10. [...] Kleid und mit freier Schulter rächen. Die neue Disney-Figur Merida, die von der Webseite Redefine Girly trotz ihrer Disney-Aversion als starkes alternative role model gefeiert wird, wird im Merchandising [...]

  11. [...] This fascinating comparison of the different Princess Merida dolls (from the movie BRAVE, which I enjoyed very much, though I [...]

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