Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why Glitter Matters

The internet exploded when it witnessed a redesigned Merida (from Disney/Pixar's Brave film released last summer). She was inducted as a princess at a coronation ceremony, but she looked a wee bit different than what we remembered from the movie... something wasn't quite right.
Ah, that's what it is! Someone threw glitter all over that poor girl! Now, if you've seen the movie, you'll note she's wearing the hated dress. She felt constricted and confined in it and ripped seams in the scene where she was shooting "for her own hand." So not only is she now stuck in the dress, but now it's sparkly. They also nipped in her waist, made the dress off the shoulder, added makeup... and generally took away everything that made her stand out as a heroine. What they did was remove all traces of her personality, just like they did with all the other princesses.

Brenda Chapman, who wrote and directed the film (before she was removed, and was demoted to "co-director"), is furious about it. More than 191,000 people have signed a petition (as of this writing), in protest of this redesign. John Kovalic, the Dork Tower cartoonist, also weighed in on this issue, rather hilariously.

And yet, all over the internet, people are saying "what's the big deal? so they made her look like the rest of the princesses! so what?" Parents and authors have been complaining quite a bit about the sexy looks for the princesses, marketed to very young girls. Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein is a book by one of those parents. She writes in that book:
I didn’t know whether Disney Princesses would be the first salvo in a Hundred Years’ War of dieting, plucking, painting (and perpetual dissatisfaction with the results). But, for me they became a trigger for the larger question of how to help our daughters, with the contradictions they will inevitably face as girls, the dissonance that is as endemic as ever to growing up female. It seemed, then, that I was not done, not only with the princesses, but with the whole culture of little girlhood: what it had become, how it had changed in the decades since I was a child, what those changes meant and how to navigate them as a parent.
And the people who say that it's happened to the other princesses are absolutely right! ALL of them have been altered from their movie forms. They've become somewhat generic, empty-headed, pretty girls who are simply decorative. And it's been a very deliberate move on Disney's part to homogenize the looks of these girls. It's their brand, and they are very protective of it, and very savvy about everything they do. (They underestimated their audience with Merida, clearly.) Matthew Bogarts touches on Merida and why character design matters in his Tumblr post "The Brave and the Bold." (He did a redesign for Batman you really must see.)

Others have also pointed out that the non-white princesses are getting pushed to the
margins, with Snow White being the exception in the above image.
I won't rehash every argument online; that would take days, and it would only be depressing. Instead I will share with you a bit of brilliance by the artist David Trumble. The article he wrote for the Huffington Post is definitely worth reading, but take a look here:

"How many of these women would be improved by a few extra sparkles?" From left to right: Marie Curie, Anne Frank, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jane Goodall, Gloria Steinem, Rosa Parks and Susan B. Anthony
Trumble took some marvelous examples of female role models from several different eras and areas of expertise, and to them he gave a makeover worthy of a princess. Now a few people have been making "gag" comments about these new "princesses" but I think they're missing the point, and an awesome opportunity.

Yes, Trumble is making a (wonderful) point here: giving them big eyes and sparkles doesn't improve on the original. But what if... what if some company took this idea and ran with it (after backing a dump truck of cash up to Trumble's front door). What if those women really were made as dolls?

Compare to the far right "princess" above
Yes, girls want pretty things, and want to be pretty themselves. Susan B. Anthony had a very strong face, absolutely not pretty by today's standards. You couldn't make a doll from the image above and expect a 5 year old to want to play with her... So, if someone were to use Trumble's designs, but take away the glittery bits, market these amazing woman and girls as "adventure dolls," give them appropriate accessories (miniature notebooks and cameras for Goodall, a diary that girls can write in for Frank, schoolbooks for Yousafzai, a chemistry set for Curie, etc.) and you would have an amazing line of dolls that any parent would be thrilled to allow their kids to have. I'd buy them!

"But it was meant as satire," you may be saying. Yes, I know, but if parents had those dolls, slightly glammed-up up versions of the real women, and the girls who played with them learned a little about how awesome those ladies were and are, these dolls could be a gateway to a generation of girls who don't let anything stand in the way of their dreams. These dolls (and god do I wish I was a billionaire so I could make it happen) could be the beacon in the darkness shining a light on the path of greatness. All it would take was the right kind of marketing. Yes, marketing... as brilliant as these dolls could be, they'd be fighting an uphill battle with all the Barbies and the Bratz and the Monster Highs, but as fed up as so many of the parents are (myself included), I still believe it could work. Set them to release on March 1st for the beginning of Women's History Month, and social media outlets will go nuts.

Seriously. Somebody please make this happen!


Rebecca said...

Great points! The art has actually gone viral in the past week, and I've been intrigued by parents who've said their daughters walked by, saw the images on screen, and LOVED them.

Anyway, the reception has been mixed, so I decided to go straight to the source and ask the artist to clarify his intentions, as well as to speak about the reception he's gotten this week. Check out the interview here if you're interested:

Wendy said...

I thought his satire was pretty clear from the original Huffington Post article, but since that's gotten buried (it was written in March, after all, ages ago in 'Net time), it's great that with the resurgence of the art in the media you were able to interview him.

I still think that those dolls would be an awesome toy line, once you take away the glitter he added to make his point...