Do Big Businesses Owe Us a Role Model?

Born and raised in Southern California Disneyland was always a popular family destination. My father would make a point of taking us there once a year. We would arrive when the gates opened and stay until the park closed down for the night.

I have to give props to my parents for their strength and endurance. I know what a day at an amusement park with kids takes and it isn’t easy.

Despite my many trips to the Magic Kingdom, I never felt the desire to dress up like a Disney princess. Not like so many little girls today. No, I was zipping up my black boots, running out to my swing set in the backyard and pretending to be the captain of the U.S. S. Enterprise. I was five.

If I wasn’t captaining a starship, I was a pirate on the high seas, a gypsy conjuring spells or a witch stirring up trouble. I don’t recall finding inspiration in a female character until Charlie’s Angels came along. With the arrival of the all-female detective show in the 1970’s, I finally had something I could relate to. That was a show where women weren’t all about being saved and looking beautiful. They were doing the saving and kicking some @$$.

Maybe that’s why when Disney released their latest big animation, Brave I was instantly smitten with the princess because she was anything but royal. She didn’t care about ribbons and bows. Fancy gowns were a nuisance to her and her favorite accessories were her trusty bow and arrow.

image via Wikipedia

Merida is her name and she is a plucky princess worthy of the title “role model,” and a good role model is something I look for these days when I take my kids to the movies. She’s what most parents want for their daughters, a self-thinker, take-charge individual.

Many of you may have heard the recent big news. Merida was officially inducted as a Disney Princess on Sunday, May 11th. Only there was a catch.  A really big one if you ask me. Everything cool about her has been stripped away. Gone are her weapons and tomboy appeal, replaced by a sweeping new hairdo, defining eye liner, thinner voluptuous figure, and a finer more sparkly gown that drops off the shoulder. Is she even recognizable?

image via Yahoo! Shine Parenting Blog

Can you say disappointment?

Little girls everywhere look to Disney as a guide. They emulate their favorite characters all the time. They run around in princess dresses at parties, in book stores, at the grocery store, or in their front yards. Even my own little girl was sucked into the madness. What does this transformation teach our children? Parents are angered by the change and they have every right to be. The message being sent to our youth = appearance matters, more than it should. Does it really? If you’re looking at the Princess lineup you might lean in that direction. I don’t feel that way. I don’t want to raise my children that way. And I don’t particularly care for a world where values are so skewed.  How about you?

I write YA with strong willed girls who would never trade their weapons or spunk for a spot in a princess parade. What do you think? Is Disney’s stereotyping of females holding our little girls back? Because of their name and influence, does big business have a responsibility to our children to be the better role model? Or is a huge portion of the population simply failing to see the picture clearly?



Due to the huge outcry over this controversy, Disney has decided to pull all plans for Merida’s planned make over. As of now, the spunky, bow and arrow totting princess will remain unchanged. Her original look has been restored to the Disney Princess website even though the new look has been released in merchandise as my daughter received the newly made over Merida doll as a gift this year. What will feature the new verses the original Merida look in the future is yet unclear.

You may view the article here.


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17 thoughts on “Do Big Businesses Owe Us a Role Model?”

  1. DeanDean

    I think I have seen examples of this before where a pre-existing female character gets the Disney treatment. They take a fictional or even historical character and re-invent them to be little more than one dimensional figures whose main attributes are always, always, always directly related to their gender. I find it to be the most reductive form of, not only conveying ideas, thoughts, story-lines, but of actually seeing the world. ‘Skewed’ is a good term for it. I think we neglect the profound implications of this way of looking at the world at our own risk.

  2. August McLaughlinAugust McLaughlin

    I have major issues with the way Disney, and other corporate biggies, present women–damsels in distress, with no sense of passion or ambition or capability, until a hunky, fierce dude “saves” them. They also present a very specific, unrealistic type of physical beauty for girls to aspire to–tiny waists, disproportionate to their big, perky breasts…

    I think every girl should feel capable of dreaming as big and as broadly as she can—preferably with traits like your kick-ass heroines, Debra. (Please keep writing them! :))

  3. Jennette Marie PowellJennette Marie Powell

    I have always hated this. There really weren’t any Disney role models when I was little either – just female sidekicks. At least my daughter had Mulan (my fave of the Disney princesses, for all these reasons).

  4. MelindaMelinda

    Do they owe us a role model? No. Do we owe them our money? No. It’s simply smart business to give us, their customers, what we ask for and what we’re willing to spend money on. And in this case, we want Merida the way she was! I thought she was beautiful. I’d dress up like her for Halloween…give me that wild red hair any day! AND the bow and arrow. She’s an awesome character and to make her fit the mold of every-other-princess was just a bad move. Bet anything it was a man who made that decision…I hope Disney and other companies realize it’s women who buy this stuff the most.

  5. Karen McFarlandKaren McFarland

    Debra, I though you brought out some excellent points. Call me crazy, but I’ve never paid much attention to all this stuff. I kinda keep to myself and do my own thing. Business has the right to promote their product the way they want. Why? Because it’s their business. Now if there happens to be a backlash from said promotion, as in the case with A & F (or Disney), that falls on their shoulders. They are solely responsible for the situation they created. We, the public, have the privilege of how much we want to expose ourselves to and how it will affect our life. That’s where I think our strength lies as women, as people of any gender really. 🙂

  6. Kitt CrescendoKitt Crescendo

    Boo, Disney! I’m with you… I see nothing wrong with a princess with wild locks, no makeup and a bow and arrow. Why is the assumption that beauty comes from unnatural products and appearances? I thought she was pretty badass just the way she was. In fact, I prefer heroines that use minimal artifices.

  7. Scott L VannatterScott L Vannatter

    well, of course, Disney did that. That’s what Disney is. Disney is the magical, everything’s perfect, place. Women (girls) have to fit in their place. I don’t agree with it. I loved “Brave” and our heroine. I admire hard-working, hard-won successes by women. OMG! two of my “heroes” in life are Helen Keller and Joan D’Arc.

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