Over at the website Change.org, there is a new petition requesting that Disney, in there infinite wisdom, not make the questionable cosmetic changes to their most recent heroine and soon to be Disney Princess, Merida from the movie Brave.
I signed the petition. It was quick and easy. Here is what I wrote.
They have taken away her strength, along with her loveable flaws (if they can be considered such), and the symbols of her independence and reduced her to the shallow westernized stereotype that few girls can identify with or would want to. If they want to make all Disney princesses similar in some way, go back and add characteristics of strength, intelligence and independence to the old 20th century, prince-dependent, sexualized caricatures of “girl-hood” instead of lowering the bar. At least let their demographic decide which is better.
However, a friend questioned the need. They felt that “real-life” heroes for little girls, as represented by their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers were far more important. I replied to their opinion and have yet to hear from them; however, I thought I would share, with a little editing, what I said here.
(That is kind of the purpose of this whole blog thing.)
While I would never argue the importance of real heroes in the lives of our children, it is careless to assume that every little girl has a mother, aunt, grandmother, or any woman in their life, whom possesses those positive qualities that we as a society may want to see someone aspire to emulate. Regardless of the real heroes we may or may not have in our lives, the fictional heroes of our children’s dreams and fantasies can and do have a significant influence on the lives of not only girls but also all children. The representation of heroes in fairy tales can affect their self-image (i.e. body image) in the same way music and dance do, reinforcing ideas, both positively and negatively of what we expect of them or how we want them to think of themselves and each other. During the early development of children, these characters are the first to influence their young minds, long before they have reached the maturity to see the real heroes and villains in the people around them. We should do what we can to make sure these early childhood heroes represent what is best, important, “noble” and real (again, body image) about humanity.
Art is the most primal indication of sentient existence and whether that art takes form in the guise of music, dance, images, or words, it is the foundation of all creativity that leads to innovation and discovery. Advances in our combined knowledge (i.e., science, medicine, mathematics, engineering, philosophy), all begin with wondering about things beyond the immediate and what currently exist. It benefits us as a society and species to pay attention to what those early influences of wonder and imagination are made of.