Disney princess’ makeover causes ugly online row - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 15 May 2013

With her confident personality and wild and woolly red hair, Princess Merida is the star of the 2012 animated film <em>Brave</em>.

Disney princess’ makeover causes ugly online row

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 15 May 2013

With her confident personality and wild and woolly red hair, Princess Merida is the star of the 2012 animated film Brave.

Hailed as a role model for girls, Merida is a princess with a realistic waistline who is not in need of rescuing by a handsome prince.

But a row has broken out after Disney, the distributor behind the film, gave the character a glamorous new look for a line of toys. Gone is the frizzy hair, replaced by shiny, blow-dried curls. Merida’s waist appears to be slimmer and curvier; her eyes are wider, with long lashes.

Campaigners have launched a petition against the doll, saying that the original Merida was an “empowering role model”. The character’s new image tells girls that they “must conform to a narrow definition of beauty”, the petition states.

More than 187,000 people have signed the petition in just over a week.

The debate over the sexualisation of children’s toys, in particular those made for girls, is ongoing. In recent years, glamorous dolls such as Bratz, which put the focus on fashion and make-up, have become hugely popular. Other big brands that are popular among boys and girls, such as Lego, have produced more overtly “girly” versions in recent years.

Such developments have triggered the formation of groups such as Pinkstinks, which has campaigned against products and marketing that present heavily stereotyped roles to young girls. Similarly, the Let Toys Be Toys campaign is calling on shops to stop labelling toys as “for girls” and “for boys”.

There is particular concern that girls will feel excluded from “interesting” toys such as chemistry sets and will be steered towards those related to clothes, make-up and home-making.

On the other side of the coin, toy manufacturers would perhaps claim that the proliferation of pink, “girly” toys is only a reaction to demand. And many argue that allowing girls to explore fashion and make-up is harmless fun.

Would you sign the petition against Disney’s decision to change Merida’s image? Join the discussion in our community.

Questions for discussion or further research:

  • Which toys are stereotypically thought to be for boys and which are thought to be for girls? Make two lists and compare the items on each list. What conclusions can you draw?
  • What is your personal definition of 'beauty'? How does this compare to popular images in the media?
  • Do you think there is too much pressure on girls to be beautiful?
  • Does this issue only apply to girls? Or are boys also under pressure to look and act in a certain way?

Resources for you

Introduction to Media language

  • Introduce your students to media analysis terms with this useful PowerPoint.

Toys old and new

  • Explore the past and the present with these images of a variety of toys.

Toy safety

  • Ideal as an introduction to a toy product design task, this resource looks at safety implications for toys.

Representation in magazines

  • Encourage your students to questions and deconstruct print representations.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie has revealed that she has had a double mastectomy to reduce her chance of developing breast cancer.

During the five months he has spent on board the International Space Station, astronaut Chris Hadfield has become an internet superstar.

World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is at the centre of an international row after deciding to boycott an event in Israel.

Scientists in Canada have unearthed a new species of dinosaur that they believe is the oldest in North America and possibly the world.

In the news archive index