The Merida Makeover has been big news the past couple of weeks, and rightly so as families are fast becoming tired of the continuous sexing up of female characters and toys for girls. Viral blog posts, viral petitions, viral satire cartoons…. the story and disbelief of the sexy makeover has proved to be highly contagious. Discussions and shares on the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies blog and facebook page last week alone engaged over 60,000 users.
The backlash over Sexy Merida was primarily driven by social media activism giving consumers an aggregated voice that went viral and then hit mainstream media. We’ve seen this before a dozen times (think JC Penney t-shirt gate, Chap Stick, LEGO, sexist Abercrombie tees, SPARK girls vs Seventeen), so this in and of itself is not phenomenal or new.
What was new last week (and phenomenal!) was parents and concerned adults active in communities like Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies became teachers, taking the messages about sexualization and gender stereotypes to their circles. These people turned their friends into informed activists, and that is an incredible thing. The ripple effect can be powerful, which is something I discuss in my upcoming book, “Redefine Girly”.
Disney has not budged in light of the media frenzy over the change.org and other smaller petitions. The petition was a good start and was useful in calling a huge amount of attention to the story. But it only required three seconds of activism. Now we need to go several more layers down, and as experienced activists, I know this community is the perfect group to get busy creating true, lasting change.
There are three things I want us to focus on today:
1. Contact Target to let them know their exclusive versions of Merida dolls are inappropriate and they have lost a sale because you will not purchase these dolls for a child. You can see my comment to Target here.
Effect: This tells retailers that as consumers we will expect more from them and what they carry from suppliers. This tells suppliers/media creators (Disney) their retail partners will also feel pressure when products like the Merida makeover go amiss.
2. Help the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Community create a list of 5-7 Action Items that creatively lays out steps Disney can take to make this right.
Effect: By using our consumers voices to talk *with* a corporation (as opposed to making demands from) we demonstrate to the people inside that we understand they are friends and parents and neighbors who may not completely understand the issue or how to get out of it. This community believes in “When you know better, you do better”. Let’s show Disney how they can do better.
3. A little bit later today I will introduce a new interactive website that was created by a team of allies dedicated to making sure girls are seen as smart, daring, and adventurous. This website will connect the dots between Merida being a symptom of a much larger public health issue.
Effect: This will be a way to inspire ongoing, informed activism to create lasting change. The website will simultaneously teach on the issues and harness the power of social media to attract more voices to the discussion with Disney.
First, I want us to focus on letting retailers know what we think when they carry versions of Merida that are disingenuous of the character created by Brenda Chapman, consumers become frustrated and angry and hold them accountable for taking part in spreading sexualized messages to children. Chapman has been very clear on why Merida was created in the spirit she was. Target stores carry some exclusive Disney licenses produced by Mattel. Whether it is a complete lack of common sense, a void of creativity, or both, this doll is not Merida:
I wrote a review for this doll, which has yet to populate on the Target website:
While looking for an “end of the school year” gift for my brave and spirited daughter, I stumbled upon this doll and was completely taken aback. I cringed and laughed out loud at the same time.
I would never buy this for my children. This is insulting to the fans and consumers of Pixar’s gem of a female protagonist from last summer. Be sure that the majority of children and parents see right through this. We fell in love with Merida *because* she was different. I would think Target is a large enough retailer to be able to demand better from Disney. Did no one at Target or Disney actually see “Brave”?
This doll is clearly a drastic departure from the Pixar Merida; the wild, strong, fresh faced princess that my entire family fell in love with last summer. I find myself continuing to ask why toy manufacturers insist on such a narrow depiction of female characters, shoving all of them into the “pretty and delicate princess” toy mold. Surely there is more creativity involved in creating this second tier merchandise.
When you put the daring, tangled hair, non-perfect Princess Merida on your shelves, you’ll have a customer in me. This doll is ridiculous and I will be spending my money elsewhere.
While I was showing my daughter the doll above, I came across this doll also exclusive to Target:
And wrote another review, which like the other review has yet to appear on the Target website:
While reviewing Target’s new Princess Merida doll, virtually unrecognizable as Merida, I pulled up this doll to show my daughter the difference between the two and we could not believe what we were seeing.
I purchased this doll in this exact box in November 2012 as a Christmas gift for my daughter. Six months ago the doll did not have a sparkly dress with sweetheart neckline. The doll I purchased wore the emerald green dress Merida wore in the movie when she declared her independence from her mother’s plans for her future. The bow for the doll I purchased was true to the movie, this one is gold and fit for a princess, I presume. Gone is the leather quiver that came with my doll, replaced with a golden comb, natch. A core part of Merida was the character her unruly, wild hair held.
If these dolls are exclusive to Target, licensed through Disney, I have to wonder if Target thinks its consumers are stupid, or if the toy designers never saw the movie or understand exactly what was so popular about it.
I am glad I purchased the Merida that I did before she got the Disney Princess makeover. I would not purchase this current version for my children. When viewing this, my seven year old asked that you be brave enough to make bold dolls for girls. I hope you are up to the task.
My research revealed that both of these dolls seem to be exclusive for Target, designed by Disney and produced by Mattel. Disney is responsible for the design. My question to my community is, does Target have to carry them? Or can Target be the retailer who stands up and says no to the ridiculous sexualization of these dolls? While the dolls themselves are not overtly sexual, the sexualization comes in when we see a doll like the first one in this post be made over to fit beauty norms and have her beauty be her sole attribute to the exclusion of all other things; she is made into an object of beauty, so much so that she is unrecognizable as the character she is supposed to be.
Let’s inform Target we do not appreciate them carrying dolls that teach our children a girl should be valued for beauty and nothing else. Merida broke that mold in her movie, and I’d like to see Target be the retailer who breaks that mold for our familes. My comment on Target’s facebook page is here, and I would love for you to add your thoughts underneath it or create your own respectful message to Target. As my seven year old daughter said today, she would like toy companies and the grown ups who sell the toys to be brave.
After you make contact with Target, let’s focus our energy as a group on making a list of 5-7 action items to be sent to Disney, sort of a road map for Disney, that includes some creative problem solving but also lets them know we will not stand for the strong female protagonist we fell in love with to fall into the dainty, pretty princess trap. What would we like to see Disney do, and what are reasonable asks? Let us craft this as if it were going into a board room with top executives and as a group of tens of thousands of concerned consumers, this is what we would like to see them do.
For example, toy production for a line like this starts 12-18 months out. Can Target or Disney pull all of the dolls? That may not be possible, and it may not be doable immediately. Could they change website content to erase all instances of the new Sexy Merida and release a statement committing to doing so? Or create content with a counter message, to reassure families they got this wrong and understand now how to get it right? Could they work with Pigtails Pals & Ballcap Buddies to join with us to spread our message “There Are Many Ways To Be A Girl”? Could they write an open letter to girls (but maybe ALL kids, since so many boys loved Merida, too) and express to them they understand why Merida was loved by so many, they are proud of these girls for using their voices, and they promise to do right by them in the future? What are some of your ideas?
I refuse to believe it is a foregone conclusion that corporations act void of ethics or caring. I run a business and I don’t operate that way. Corporations are made up of people who have families and these issues affect them just as much as they affect us. If it is their job to work at Disney, how can we help them do this aspect of their job better? When my customers contact me and ask for a change, I take it into consideration and many times have made those changes asked for. (Example — remember when I forget the bike helmets on the Bike Riders design? Whoops! It was pointed out to me on our facebook page, the constructive criticism was spot on, and the change was made the next business day.)
Let’s act together as a group and with the members of our sister organizations, be strong advocates for our children. Disney may not know or understand a way out of this. Let’s give them some ideas.
Ultimately, what we do as parents and concerned consumers matters because our children are watching our actions (or lack thereof). My seven year old daughter and five year old son wanted nothing to do with new Sexy Merida. We love Original Merida. As a parent who is conscientious of the media my children take in, the Pixar Merida up against the Disney Princess Merida feels like a bait-and-switch. Disney was remiss not to capitalize on their giant hit popular with boys and girls. The adventurous, bold, fresh-faced princess was a mega-hit because of those qualities. We want to qualities to stay in place.
“That’s not Merida” is the echo from children everywhere. Target and Disney, we ask that you do better, and honor who Merida really was. By doing so, you send a strong message to my son and daughter when they see bold and brave Merida on the shelf. Children learn from the media around them. Let’s give them the healthiest messages possible.
Okay, tell us what you said to Target, and what ideas you have for our list to Disney! And let’s move fast on this! I want a printable ready by Wednesday morning for our new collaborative website!