When artist David Trumble saw the sexy makeover Disney had given “Brave” Princess Merida, he was as appalled as we were, and he decided to use his artistic skills to show his concern. “I wanted to analyze how unnecessary it is to collapse a heroine into one specific mold, to give them all the same sparkly fashion, the same tiny figures, and the same homogenized plastic smile,” he told Women You Should Know. “I decided to take 10 real-life female role models, from diverse experiences and backgrounds, and filter them through the Disney princess assembly line.” The results were perky princess versions of amazing women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Marie Curie, Malala Yousafzai, and Gloria Steinem. (You can see them all here.)
Trumble was surprised by the reaction to the satirical images, specifically that many people didn’t find the images appalling at all — in fact, they loved them.
“Some didn’t get the joke, some disagreed with it, others saw no harm in it at all and wanted to buy the doll versions of them,” said Trumble. “The statement I wanted to make was that it makes no sense to put these real-life women into one limited template, so why then are we doing it to our fictitious heroines?”
Trumble’s intention was valid, of course, but I see why so many people responded positively to the images. I can’t help but think of Jessica’s story about struggling to inject some feminist sensibilities into a game of barbies with her nieces, and how so many young girls are drawn to characters (and dolls) that are outwardly glamorous and feminine but lack substance. Trumble’s illustrations inadvertently created characters that combined the best of both worlds: brave, brilliant, world-changing women decked out in awesome princess clothes. As The Atlantic’s Noah Berlatsky asked, “Why shouldn’t Gloria Steinem be a Disney princess?” No wonder so many feminists were clamoring for a doll version of these badass women. Who wouldn’t prefer their daughter or niece (or son or nephew, for that matter) to have a toy box full of supreme court justices, civil rights leaders, and pioneering scientists?
The Disney-fication of women is troubling, especially the focus on hourglass figures and Caucasian features. The princess-ification of women? Not so much.
I hope the mixed response to Trumble’s illustrations starts a fruitful dialogue about the representation of women in the media and society. I hope Disney takes note. And I hope Trumble’s original message isn’t lost in the shuffle, because it’s an important one:
“Fiction is the lens through which young children first perceive role models, so we have a responsibility to provide them with a diverse and eclectic selection of female archetypes. Now, I’m not even saying that girls shouldn’t have princesses in their lives, the archetype in and of itself is not innately wrong, but there should be more options to choose from.”