Disney built its massive Princess empire — which now stretches from 1937’s Snow White to 2012’s Merida — by sanitizing the stories of the past. From Snow White to The Frog Prince, Disney excised fairy tales of their inherent horror — the rampant cannibalism, torture, and bloody mayhem characteristic of most traditional stories — in favor of a blanket policy of “happily ever after.” The literary darkness was cleansed, but despite the company’s best efforts, a social darkness has remained.Disney has a sad history of gross racial stereotypes (from Dumbo‘s crows to Aladdin‘s ear-cutting barbarians) and highly problematic female characterizations and storylines (from Snow White’s servitude to the Little Mermaid giving up her voice for love). The company’s latest in a long string of controversies came last week with the news that Merida, the heroine at the heart of last year’s Brave, was becoming a certified Disney Princess.

The fiery Scottish lass from the film received an official coronation at the Magic Kingdom — not as the rebellious girl introduced in Brave, but as a sparkling, made-over princess. Disney’s redesign of the character tamed her unruly hair, expanded her breasts, shrank her waist, enlarged her eyes, plastered on makeup, pulled her (now-glittering) dress off her shoulders, and morphed her defiant posture into a come-hither pose. The bow-wielding Merida of Brave — a character who explicitly fought against the princess world her mother tried to push her into in the film — was becoming what she hated, and inadvertently revealing the enormously problematic nature of Disney’s Princess line.

Let’s rewind. Disney began its empire with three princesses, Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty. Then, when Aurora woke from her slumber in the 1959 film, Disney began a slumber of its own: Three decades passed until Disney used a princess as a main character again, in 1989’s The Little Mermaid. At first, the princess revival hinged on the same, tired narrative: The hunt for a prince, which required a young woman to give up her own voice and passions for the love of a man. But the arrival of Aladdin in 1992 showed that Disney’s princess world could actually expand. There were still a number of problematic aspects in each film, but Disney’s scope began to stretch beyond the lily-white princesses of its earlier films: Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Mulan brought new visions of what a “Disney Princess” could be, with the latter even stretching the barriers to show that Mulan — a princess in principle, if not in title — could also be a fierce warrior.