Pixar’s “Brave” features cliched corset metaphor

Honestly, I am so excited for “Brave.” As you’ve probably heard, the animated film coming out this summer will star Pixar’s first ever (FIRST EVER!!) female protagonist. I also suspect that the movie is based on the book Brave Margaret which I love. But I had to laugh when I saw this by Claire Hummel/ Shoomlah on the blog Animation Anomaly.

Hummel is so right, this scene is so old, so done. I just blogged about the Jean Paul Gaultier show which was all about corsets. Not only is the corset-image tired to see AGAIN in a movie, but Hummel makes another great point: corsets didn’t exist in Medieval times.

I really, really hope that “Brave” is a movie where we can just see a female heroine being brave and powerful, not one who is mainly rebelling and struggling within the confines of the patriarchy (get it? “the corset”) Disney princess style i.e. Jasmine, Mulan, and Belle. I am so starved to see a female being heroic as in “The Hunger Games” where gender is not the main issue. This is fantasy movie; this is animation. Anything is possible, even, yes, gender equality!

I hope that the protag’s main rebellion in “Brave” is not that she actually wants to pick who she marries. (Whoo-hoo! Can you imagine that being the main plot of movie starring a male?) Or that the protag has to pretend to be male in order to have adventures. Why do little girls have to see that so much?  “Girls can do anything boys can do!” That is so patronizing. Ugh. Girls don’t even know about sexism yet for God’s sake. When my daughter was four and saw “Mulan,” she was confused and asked me: “Why can’t girls fight?” I had to explain sexism so she could understand the plot of the movie.

Please Pixar, show much more imagination than this tired corset metaphor suggests. I know you will, I know you will, I know you will.

16 thoughts on “Pixar’s “Brave” features cliched corset metaphor

  1. I had to laught because after I saw the preview, I leaned over to my date and said “That is so not the right corset.” It’s wrong in shape and it shouldn’t be boned (which it looks like it was). Also, the lacing is incorrect — the “shoe lace” style double lace didn’t come about until much later — even after the Elizabethian corsets. !

    Some corsets are certainly not too bad. Depends on what era you’re talking about and what it was designed to do. The Titanic Era corsets are actually not bad at all, as are some Elizabethian corsets. Even Civil War era corsets are not as bad as they seem (btw — not the same as the Victorican cinched 18″ waist). Certainly the Victorian ones probably not all that good for you.

    I was very amused to find that I was not the only person who noticed this just from the preview.

    I think my date thought I was a little nuts, though.

  2. The movie isn’t about some oppressed heroine who wants to fight and beat gender sterotypes.

    Watch the trailer carefully, she being a rebellious teenager. She doesn’t like the idea of the suitors trying to win her hand, she hates how her family are pushing her to do such. Like any kid who doesn’t want to go school or do chores, and would rather screw around, she doesn’t want to settle down, she knows she has to do it, most likely will too.

    She goes off trying to find a way to change her fate, change her entire family situation. She does so and realizes her family only wanted what was best for her and now it seems everything has gone wrong and she wants to fix the curse. Her fate was connected to everyone’s fate, and saw how her village was in trouble for her selfish mistake.

    The whole corset scene was more her mother trying to pretty her up to see the suitors, shes resisting like any tom boy would when her mom puts her in clothes she doesn’t like. Her mother had put her in a DRESS too small to make her look smaller, daintier. That’s why she cant breathe, the dress seams rip when she draws her arrow. The corset was used as functional undergarments.

  3. I was excited to see this film until I saw this scene. There are a lot of things in the trailor that had me going “Wow, never seen that before” in sarcasm mode. Really Pixar, why do you feel you have to muck up history and cram cliche after cliche into your film just so your heroine will be viewed as empowered? Do you really think there is only one way to have a strong historical fantasy heroine?

  4. I’m glad I’m not the only one that caught this when I saw that promo yesterday.

    I was like “Oh god, not another “look how horrible women were treated in the past cuz they had to wear a corset scene.””

    Then I was like “… Wait, they didn’t even HAVE corsets in medival Scotland!”

    I was excited to see brave until that promo that made it seem like they were stuffing it with cliche after cliche of the traditional “Stong Historical Female Hero” type. I’ll probably still see it but I’m not as pumped about it as I once was. :/

  5. Just have to chime in here– the original “corset” (which could quite possibly have existed in the medieval era) was no more or less than linen made stiff with paste. No whalebone, no metal fittings– just a slightly stiff garment worn to give shape to a dress and enforce an elegant posture. This one could be historically accurate in that regard, as I don’t really see any lines where the boning is evident.

    Still a metaphor for female oppression, I know, but these early “corsets” wouldn’t have been anything more or less than an irritant, and likely would not have posed significant health risks, unlike the later boned stays that were laced to the point of rearranging one’s internal organs.

  6. Very interesting! I saw the trailer for Brave recently and it features a sequence where the heroine joins an archery contest. She has to tear her restrictive clothing to be able to shoot properly. So yes, gender is an issue in this movie.

    • Hi Tamara,

      One or two of these scenes is OK with me, just hope the whole movie is not about our protag getting out if her restrictive clothing and refusing to marry the boy she is supposed to.


  7. I agree with everything you wrote! And it is pretty silly that a Medieval film features a corset scene – the image laudably points out that they weren’t around back then (perhaps the Pixar folks responsible for this have attended a few too many “Renaissance” Festivals that feature a crazy hodgepodge mix of Medieval and Renaissance stuff – not that I’m dissing RenFests, I love them! :D).

    But I do have one criticism of the cartoon – I’ve heard the “it was just a structural garment” argument before, and I can even buy that it was at least *possible* for *some* corsets to be comfortable. But I’d argue that if this were the case for *most* corsets, there wouldn’t have been a big demand for pessaries, as evidenced by the Sears & Robuck catalogs from the 1800’s. Again, I realize that this is all moot for a Medieval setting, but the fact that many different models were availabe in the 1800’s of an object whose sole purpose was to help keep the uterus inside one’s body (because it was being squeezed out by the use of the corset) is a strong argument that the garments were *NOT* “merely” structural.

    When I was a kid, I attended a fascinating lecture at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on the History of Fashion. The presenter talked about women whose livers folded in half due to tight corsets…the pessaries that were used by women to keep their internal organs inside them…and women who would wear their corsets even to sleep in (evidently, to the dismay of their husbands) because removing them was painful (similar to the pain felt upon unbinding feet).

    So yes, by all means, the corset scene shouldn’t be in a Medieval film. But neither should it be presented as a totally innocuous garment that was merely practical and caused no harm or oppression.

    Thanks for listening,

    • I had to look up “pessaries” Suzanne. The idea of having to use them to counteract the effects of corsets is hideous!

    • To my understanding, early corsets *were* structural garments designed to help the bodice of the dress lie smoothly and improve posture, but generally comfortable (so the corset metaphor in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ is also anachronistic because it’s set in the 17th or early 18th century). You’re right about the later corsets, though, in that in the mid-19th century a tiny waist was considered desirable, so women tightlaced to extremes and caused irreperable damage to their ribs and organs. This is also roundabout when the name ‘corset’ gained popularity over ‘stays’, which might contribute somewhat to the understanding of corsets as *always* oppressive garments, when they were more comfortable in their earlier forms.

      And I want to see more heroines who just *are* heroic, with their gender as secondary to the story, too. The opposite can be done well (I *love* Tamora Pierce’s books, for instance), but there seems to be this idea that the only reason to make a protagonist female is if it’s a story about gender, preferably for a female audience. No reason for a non-gender-based story aimed at a gender-neutral audience to have a female protagonist.

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