To celebrate Merida of the Pixar film Brave “officially” joining the Disney Princess line, Disney released some new illustrations of her. In the new illustrations, Merida is even thinner than her already-thin movie version (as Alyssa put it, “what appears to be rib-removal surgery”); her dress has been redesigned into an off-the-shoulder number; she has much thicker eyelashes (and in general, her face seems much more stereotypically feminine); her hair has been changed from out-of-control curls to waves; and her attitude is much, well, flirtier.
I’m not sure that Disney’s Merida makeover represents a conscious strategy on their part. At the, er, official coronation ceremony at Disneyworld, Merida’s appearance seemed modeled on the movie version, not on the new illustrations. (See this photo, for instance – note the covered shoulders, and curly wig.) Nor did Disney seem to shy away from Merida’s tomboy aspects – she made her entrance on horseback, and finished the ceremony by posing with her bow and arrow.
But because it (probably) wasn’t conscious doesn’t mean that it’s not bad. It suggests that Disney subconsciously and reflexively turns their female characters into the same dull and predictable flirty, glittery pin-ups without any thought even being required. (Ever notice how impossible it is to find any Mulan merchandise showing her dressed up for war?)
Put another way, for the folks in Disney marketing, the path of least resistance appears to be a very sexist path.
Except that this time, they’ve encountered a lot of resistance. A petition started by girl-power website A Mighty Girl has gathered 130,000 signers (and counting). The petition says:
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.
Disney seems to be taking note: As InsideTheMagic notes, the new Merida design has disappeared from the Disney Princess website, replaced by images of Merida as she appeared in the movie.
One really unusual thing about this is that Merida’s creator, “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman has gone public with her unhappiness about the makeover, calling it “a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money.”
I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida. When little girls say they like it because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy ‘come hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible! Merida was created to break that mold — to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.
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.
* * *
To a certain extent, Disney’s attempts to democratize what it means to be a princess are admirable. You don’t actually have to be born into a royal title, or obtain one by marriage. [...] You don’t have to be white, or European, or in the case of Ariel, the star of The Little Mermaid, necessarily based on land.
But two restrictions remain. You have to be young. You have to have a very particular body type and long, perfect hair. The edits to Merida reflect those priorities.[...]
If it’s important that girls of color and girls of different economic classes be able to recognize themselves and find aspirational stories in the Disney Princess line, why shouldn’t it also matter that girls with wild hair and variable body types see themselves there too?
Although I agree with Alyssa, it’s important to note that Merida’s body type, as seen in the movie, represents only the smallest of small departures from the Disney standard. Don’t get me wrong – I love the movie Brave, and I love the work Pixar did to present Merida as someone who delights in the things her body can do, rather than the way she looks.
But the range between Merida’s body and face type, and that of the typical Disney princess, is pretty darn small. The top of my wish list for Disney princesses – even higher than my wish for a Jewish princess, already! – is that Disney, or Pixar, add a fat character to the princess line.
Seriously, Disney, I’m Trying to Take a Little Break Here– MUST YOU? Peggy Orenstein points out that Merida’s makeover is actually part of what seems to be an ongoing project to make all the Disney princess characters more vapid than their movie versions.
Disney’s makeover of its Brave princess is cowardly | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett | Comment is free
The Problem with Merida’s Princess Makeover
If you’ve met me at a comic book convention, you may have noticed the little herd of toy pigs decorating my table. I bought those when I was drawing the first Hereville book, to help me draw the pig character! I took hundreds of photos of those plastic pigs, from every angle and height, and used them as reference while drawing the comic.
You can see a pattern on the pig in the photo above. This was contributed by one of the two small girls I live with, at some point when I wasn’t in the room to stop them. :-p
I didn’t use the models during book 2, since the pig only appeared in one panel. But I still have the little herd of pigs, and when they’re not appearing at cons they stand in my drawing area, near a Peppermint Patty figure.
When kids read my rather depressing and angst-ridden short comic “How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil,” they pretty much all react the same way: They make little tin foil people, just as my character Joel did in the comic! Which I think is kind of awesome.
This photo is of my wonderful niece Jemma Andersen. And here are her tin foil superheroes:
First, This Is Not Jewish wrote, about “Hereville”:
This is a real thing, guys…and a graphic novel to boot.
EDIT: Be still my heart, it has a sequel too! And he’s working on a third! *squee*
Then B’rakha replied:
I HAVE THIS BOOK
IT IS GLORIOUS
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT TO ANYONE ON THE PLANET
And finally, 3gee – perhaps trying to counterbalance B’rakha’s all-caps by dispensing with caps altogether – wrote:
what i can’t get over is the fact that barry deutsch, the author, is a white liberal goy living in portland oregon, but he not only did his research, he fucking nailed what it means to observe shabbat in all its glory and frustration, and how you shape your life around prayer and halacha but that’s no big deal, that’s just what you do
her conflicts are with her parents, not her religion
I’m not a “goy” by standard American definitions – I’m not observant, but I am Jewish – but whatever, it’s still a great compliment!
I got this email last week (posted with permission, of course):
I am an ELL [English Language Learners] teacher at Freedom Middle School in DeKalb County, Georgia. My students are all refugees who just arrived this year. Most of them are from Nepal or Burma, but I also have students from Thailand, Russia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Eritrea. The languages spoken in my classroom include Tiringia, Amarhaic, Arabic, Karen, Thai, Russian, and Burmese. Depending on their home country and situation, their educational background varies greatly.
We are reading Hereville and they LOVE it! Since they are learning English for the first time, we spent the first part of the year reading children’s books. When we began reading your graphic novel, which is accessible and age appropriate, they were so excited. They whine and complain every day when we finish our lesson.
I was wondering if you would be willing to meet with my students for a Q&A session. They would prepare questions ahead of time to ask you, and then each of the 15 students would ask their questions. I think the students would really enjoy meeting the author of the book they are enjoying so much.
I am not able to pay you for the session as my school does not have extra funding, and our county is struggling as well this year. But I could send you my lessons that I’ve used to teach Hereville. You could include those on your website, and perhaps that would help encourage other teachers to use the books in their classroom.
ELL Teacher, Intensive English Program
Freedom Middle School
Stone Mountain, Georgia
Needless to say, I said yes (I always say yes to Skype visits for schools that don’t have funding for author visits). The visit is scheduled to take place tomorrow; I’m really looking forward to it. And I’m looking forward to posting Sara’s Hereville lesson plans sometime in the future.
After Emerald City Comic-Con, I received this email from Kelley, who bought both Hereville and How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil from me at ECCC. This is the kind of email that really makes a cartoonist’s day, and Kelley gave me permission to post it online.
This morning I made a couple of purchases from your ECCC booth. You might remember me, I was wearing a yellow Star Trek dress and you took my picture!
I am sending you this email because while I enjoyed Hereville and plan on purchasing the sequel, it was your short work How To Make a Man Out of Tin Foil that really connected with me. I loved it! As you correctly guessed during our short conversation, I am a big fan of “slice-of-life” style comics. My husband prefers more action-oriented comics such as G.I. Joe, Star Wars, etc. We share a lot of interests but this was the first time I felt he might get more emotional resonance than me out of one of these kinds of comics. I was right and he really appreciated reading about experiences he could relate to directly, but to my knowledge are not often addressed in media.
The point of this email to to express my deep and sincere appreciation for the “Tin Foil” comic and to encourage you to give it another look some day in the future, to perhaps expand on it or find similar stories to tell. Obviously I like that your current professional interest contains a female protagonist, and maybe at some point in time you could use your excellent storytelling abilities to alternate between the two. Thank you so much for flagging me down with your effective sales pitch; you have one more loyal customer.
Thanks, Kelley! I really loved getting this email.
“Tin Foil” was created for an upcoming anthology of feminist short comics (called “The Big Feminist But”). I wanted to do a feminist story about boyhood – about the expectations that boys will be suitably masculine, and some of the ways that boys who can’t live up to that are punished and damaged. It’s a story that’s special to me, and I’m really glad it touched you and your husband.
I really do want to play more with the themes of “Tin Foil” someday, but I’m not sure when I’ll have the time. Certainly not until after the third Hereville graphic novel.
If you’re interested, you can read How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil for free on Bitch Magazine’s website. Info about buying copies of Hereville is here.
[Updated: Time is 11:30am, not 11am. I'll update the post with a link to the archive once I've got it.]
Me and cartoonist Jenn Manley Lee will be interviewed on KBOO at 11:30am pacific time today. We’ll be talking about our respective comics (Jenn is best-known for her amazing science fiction comic Dicebox). You can listen live at KBOO’s website.
Jenn is a longtime pal of mine as well as a great cartoonist, so I expect this interview to be fun.
Thanks to S.W. Conser of the show Words and Pictures for making this happen!
My nephew and niece reading Hereville on Christmas morning
(My niece got a copy of my new book for Christmas, and emailed me saying that she enjoyed the book and asking me if I’ll sign it. I don’t think Jemma will mind if I share the email I sent back to her.)
I’m so glad you liked my new book. I would be thrilled to sign your books when I visit Ithaca (which I’ll be doing in just five months). Also, I’ll be visiting Ithaca twice this year – once in May, once in August – so you’ll be seeing twice as much of me as usual.
Actually the oddest thing happened to me last night. I was up late drawing, as I often am, and snacking on some cookies and milk, and I heard a strange noise, a sort of muffled scrapery sound, coming from our living room. I walked into the living room, thinking that there were thieves, blackguards, thugs, pirates, grumpikins, or capitalists sneaking into my house to do — what horrible thing would they do? Watch my netflix? Track mud all over my nice clean floors? Read my comics and keep their places by folding the corner of the page, what is WRONG with those people USE A BOOKMARK FOR PETE’S SAKE THOSE BOOKS ARE PRECIOUS!
Ahem. My point is, who can say what horrible thing they would do? — but there was no one there. I shrugged and said “only a breeze and nothing more” and resolved to worry nevermore.
But then I heard the noise again – it was coming from the chimney! I snuck close to the fireplace and peered in when suddenly a pair of big black boots – containing feet, I have no doubt of it, none whatsoever! – dropped down into the fireplace! I was peering in so closely that the boots clipped my nose, which fell off into the fireplace ashes. The feet were soon followed by legs and a big belly and shoulders and a bearded hatted and squinty head as the invader crept into my home. I realized that this was a lowlife of some sort come to rob me of my precious collection of fat action figures, so grabbed up a fireplace poker and swung at the thug’s beard for all I was worth!
But the vagrant must have had kung foo training, because he blocked my blow handily, laughing evilly – “hooo hoo hoo!” As you can imagine, I was terrified. The last thing I remember is his huge red fist flying at my face like a runaway train!
When I woke up, he was gone. After retrieving my fortunately undamaged nose from the ashes and sticking it back in place with some chewing gum I found on the bottom of a chair, I staggered back into my study and sat down at my drawing board again. Then I noticed that my milk and cookies were gone! GONE! I wept bitter, bitter tears, let me tell you.
Anyway, that was my last night. It was wonderful to hear from you, and have a Merry Christmas.
Love, Uncle Barry
P.S. After carefully examining all the evidence, I have deduced that my attacker was Superman.
Publisher’s Weekly has posted their starred review of Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite. (Note: some spoilers ahead, although not more than you’d get from reading the back cover.)
Eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg is as disheveled, prickly, competitive, and impulsive as ever in this companion to Deutsch’s Hereville (2010). She’s both a fish out of water (she dreams of being a sword-wielding dragon slayer) and committed to her Orthodox Jewish faith, family, and community. All of this makes her one of the most original and comically endearing heroines to come down the pike in a long time.
The meteorite in the title is actually an alien life form—dubbed “Metty”—that becomes Mirka’s reverse doppelganger: a too-good-to-be true twin who’s not only neater, defter at dispatching bullies, and better at basketball than Mirka, but also determined to permanently displace her. With unexpectedly effective help from Mirka’s family (who are savvier and more accepting than Mirka realizes), her messy personality triumphs over perfection.
The drably handsome olive and peach palette provides visual cohesion—an anchor that allows Deutsch’s extravagantly chronicled emotions to fly high—while simultaneously making the story’s extraterrestrial elements and scenes (colored in bold yellows and blues) all the more magical and alien by contrast.
Information about buying Hereville books can be found here.
My short story “How To Make A Man Out of Tin Foil” is online! This angsty story about boyhood and masculinity at a Jewish summer camp is now available on Bitch Magazine’s website.
I did this story for the upcoming feminist comics anthology The Big Feminist BUT, an anthology of feminist comics by both women and men. The list of contributors is, frankly, AMAZING — Hope Larson! Jeffrey Brown! Sarah Oleksyk! Jen Wang! Shaenon Garrity! Tom Neely! — and I can’t wait to read my copy. If you’re interested, please kick in a few bucks to the Big Feminist BUT’s kickstarter campaign.