Disney princess makeovers send wrong message

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Columnist Beth Kassab discusses Disney Princesses' new grown-up look.

Merida, the sweet, independent princess from "Brave," will officially join the Disney Princess Royal Court on Saturday.

Translation from Disney-speak: Merida is about to get her glam on.

Off-the-shoulder gown. Eye-liner. Lipstick. Wild red curls tamed into voluminous sexy locks. A coy expression enhanced by her new, fuller lips.

>> View photos of the new-look Disney Princesses

This is the Kardashian-ization of the Disney Princess.

It can be subtle (Rapunzel) or it can look like cosmetic surgery. Cinderella now looks strangely like Taylor Swift, while poor Belle — I can't decide if she looks more like Kim, Kourtney or Khloe. (Look for our princess photo gallery at OrlandoSentinel.com.)

Bottom line: When it comes to the cartoon marketing images Disney uses to sell products — everything from toys to clothes to makeup — the princesses rarely resemble the characters we know from the movies.

As a mom, I wanted to know two things: Why is this happening and what can I do about it?

I turned to Peggy Orenstein, the writer and cult hero among moms who can't stand that everything in the girls' aisle at Target is either pink or princess.

"It's sad," Orenstein said of Merida's makeover. "I don't know why they had to do that to her."

Actually she does know. At least, she has a theory.

Disney is a master at capturing preschoolers. The 5-and-under set is like Play-Doh in the hands of the mouse marketers.

They also want to hold on to those girls at 8, 15 and beyond. So the diva quality gets amped up.

Disney just launched a new makeup line. Last year high-end shoe designer Christian Louboutin unveiled a Cinderella glass slipper with crystals, what looks like a 6-inch heel (no wonder those shoes came off when she ran from the ball) and Louboutin's signature red sole. And there's Disney's line of princess-inspired wedding gowns.

The princess thing is no longer a little-girl phase.

"I'm waiting for the Snow White coffin to come out," said Orenstein, whose book "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" examines what the princess culture does to the littlest girls.

She's kidding. But I wouldn't put it past them.

Disney took sweet Merida and made her into a medieval siren. Merida is the only one of Disney's 11 princesses who doesn't end up with Prince Charming in the end. She bucks tradition by refusing to let her parents marry her off.

That doesn't mean she isn't feminine. Or that she isn't pretty. You can be pretty while holding a bow and arrow. It worked for Katniss Everdeen.

But she didn't fit the princess template. In the movie Merida actually looked like the teenager that she's supposed to be, and she didn't wear makeup. Instead of falling into a prince's arms she begins to cherish her relationship with her mother.

Is it any wonder moms loved this movie? Now, though, Merida has gone sultry.

Disney apparently plans to use the cartoon marketing image on various products.

That matters because those are the images we buy and bring into our homes. And the made-over image sends the message that Merida is better when she's glammed up.

What's a disenchanted mom to do?

Orenstein likes to say "fight fun with fun."

For example, if you buy your daughter a Cinderella costume, chances are she'll use it to pretend she's Cinderella. But if you buy her a piece of silk, she can use it as a princess dress or any number of other make-believe games. She'll use her imagination more and parrot Disney plot lines less.

Or, as Merida might say in her Scottish brogue, give your daughter a chance to "change her fate."

bkassab@tribune.com

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