Call it a case of “Haters Gonna Hate” (I should just roll my eyes, shake my head, and let it go, right?) but… feminists railing against women and girls wearing mermaid tails is something that is difficult for me to ignore because A) I am absolutely a feminist and B) I am absolutely a mermaid.
But… Can Mermaids Be Feminist?
Let me explain… AGAIN… how the two are very easily connected in my mind; how being a Mermaid IS feminist. As many artists and their works show us, a Mermaid is an ancient symbol of feminine power and strength. She is beautiful, enticing, exciting, attractive (as in people are attracted to be near her, with her) and yet she is unattainable. In the words of a recent journalist I spoke with on the subject, “The mermaid is un-rape-able.” On a basic, physical level, yes… she is not a woman with easily violated human genitalia. But also on a metaphysical level, on an emotional level, on a metaphoric level… she is too strong, she is too powerful, you can’t just have her. You DO NOT mess with a mermaid. If you try, she will destroy you.
Disney, contrary to what some academics apparently believe, did not invent mermaids. Mermaids, like fairies, are ancient stories, ancient symbols, ancient archetypes. And… let me be clear… AGAIN… Disney’s mermaid (Ariel – but Ugh, I dislike having to speak of her) was a traitor to all Mermaids and comes from a dark and depressing tail written– NOT BY DISNEY – but by Hans Christian Andersen in 1836. It’s an interesting, obviously timeless story but is not THE ONE AND ONLY story about mermaids. Andersen didn’t invent the mermaid for that story. Disney didn’t invent the mermaid when they created Ariel.
There is something that speaks to girls and women in the mermaid archetype. It comes from a much deeper place than having seen a Disney movie (even if they watched it 1,000 times as a young girl). I, for example, was born long before The Little Mermaid became a Disney film and I fantasized about being a Mermaid from the first moment I swam underwater. And I fantasized about being a Mermaid for exactly the reasons I mention in that second paragraph above; it made me feel powerful and beautiful and untouchable.
But… Is The Mermaid Workout a “Good Workout”?
I have recently started a company called Mermaid Fitness that is going to attempt to teach women and men and boys and girls to swim like a Mermaid, in… eventually… mermaid tails. I do worry, from time-to-time that I have oversold the concept of The Mermaid Workout being a “good workout.” The Mermaid Workout is not extreme. You aren’t going to feel like you just did CrossFit or Kickboxing or Spin or even P90X. You probably won’t even feel like you just did a session of Ashtanga Yoga. But, I teach Water Aerobics and even the most intense Water Aerobics isn’t going to work you like any of these workouts either. Well… there might be some intensity-level parallels between Ashtanga and a really high-intensity Water Aerobics class. The water is inherently gentle on our bodies, it inherently slows us down and supports us… and that brings me to another reason that swimming and working out in a mermaid tail IS, indeed, feminist.
The women that I’ve recently started teaching Water Aerobics are mostly not spring chickens. They are absolutely badass older women who, despite major surgeries, major diseases, depression due to the loss of dear loved ones, severe arthritic pain, and an entire culture who defines them as sexless and therefore useless… put their swimsuits on every day or every other day and get in the pool to shake their booties. A woman taking advantage of her ability to do WHATEVER SHE WANTS TO DO despite the various ways a culture (or age or life’s circumstances) might try to hold her back or down: Is that NOT feminist?
Guess what? The hard-core extreme no-pain-no-gain sweat until you hurt and die philosophy of fitness – that is male-born, male-oriented and male-centric. Now… let me be clear. I, personally, love that sometimes. I complete triathlons. I train for longer distance runs. I believe in that male-centric philosophy of move until it hurts. I enjoy it. And that’s my prerogative. But there is a smart side of fitness that for years has been women-oriented, women-centric – and those are the mind-body practices: Ballet, Yoga, Pilates (Yes, all dominated at the highest levels by men but associated in our culture with women participants). These mind-body practices are tough, in their own way. They produce a different set of results that include strength and endurance as much as any other sports. The Mermaid Workout strives to be a mind-body practice like these. Anyone can go through a Pilates session and think it was the easiest thing in the world if they are not engaging their mind-body connection. It is easy to go through the motions. But if you are engaging the mind-body connection, Pilates can actually be a tough workout. I believe the same is true for The Mermaid Workout. You can get out of it as much as you are willing to engage your mind and body, together, in the practice.
Here’s another thing: I don’t know how many women you’ve talked to recently about their bodies these days but women are walking around all over the place telling themselves nasty things about their bodies. Many women hate their bodies. They feel ugly. They feel fat. They feel undesirable. Many women avoid the gym and working out altogether because they hate the way they look so much, they can’t stand the thought of moving their bodies in front of other people. Or, many women avoid the gym and working out altogether because there isn’t a class or a type of working out that appeals to them because it’s all so appearance-based, it’s all so “how-do-I-look-in-this-mirror” based. The Mermaid Workout strives to provide a safe place for women to move their bodies in a way that makes them feel desirable, beautiful, strong, powerful.
And, good lord, people… it’s FUN. You do remember FUN don’t you? Has having fun become, somehow, not feminist? Because… that sucks. Just a thought... but... I don't think we'll attract many young women to be feminists if we tell them they have to cease having any fun in their lives.
But… Is Dressing Up Like a Mermaid Like Getting a Boob Job?
In considering this question of whether or not wearing a Mermaid’s Tail is anti-feminist, I am reminded of my dear friend Cammie’s (named changed to protect the innocent) boob job. Before she did it, I called her, attempting to save her feminist soul, begging her not to do it. She asked me why I thought it wasn’t feminist. She was in a PhD program in Feminist Studies at the time. I told her that I think women have boob jobs because they can’t accept their bodies and they want to be attractive to the opposite sex. She said, and how is that not feminist? I said, we only hate our bodies because our patriarchal society tells us to; we only buy into the fact that we have to have perfect boobs because the patriarchy sees us as nothing but sex objects. I said getting her boob job would basically be playing along with the Patriarchy’s game. She said, okay maybe… but maybe I’m just a woman who would feel better about my body if I had different boobs. Maybe I just want to do this. And isn’t fighting the Patriarchy, in part, about giving women more CHOICES, more OPTIONS, not less?
I still don’t think she should’ve gotten her boob job but I don’t tell her she’s a bad feminist anymore. I think it’s stupid and wrong and downright counterproductive to tell another woman when she is and isn’t being a good or bad feminist. I think not supporting women is not feminist. I think supporting women IS feminist. But I’m simple that way.
On the other hand, dressing like a Mermaid is different from getting a boob job in this major way: It’s pleasurable and fun. Getting a boob job is painful. Dressing up like a Mermaid is something women, and men, do for themselves, just to see how it FEELS. Getting a boob job is mostly (Cammie can argue with me all day long) something people do so they LOOK good to other people.
But… Is Dressing Up like a Mermaid Safe and is The Mermaid Workout Safe?
On the topic of safety: Oh. My. God. Do not OBVIOUSLY OBVIOUSLY OBVIOUSLY put a tail on (that YES, binds your legs and your feet!) if you are not a strong swimmer and you do not know how and when to catch your breath above the water. OBVIOUSLY OBVIOUSLY OBVIOUSLY NEVER NEVER NEVER put a tail on a child and then walk away to get your next Margarita, please. ALL children should – can I say it again, please… OBVIOUSLY -- be supervised with ANY pool toy they are playing with. It even says so on every single package of every single pool toy everywhere. Supervision doesn’t mean walking away and checking back on baby in a few minutes, it means WATCH THE KID THE ENTIRE TIME THEY ARE PLAYING WITH/ IN/ ON THIS THING.
Now, in terms of swimming in a mermaid tail not being safe as a fitness endeavor: are we aware that people swing from trapeze as a workout? That people take aerial yoga classes? Or classes that require kangaroo-like hopping boots? That crossfit can actually compromise your back and knees pretty badly if taught by a less-than-knowledgable instructor? In fact, that ANY fitness endeavor needs to be entered into carefully and soundly so as not to hurt oneself in the process? There is nothing inherently dangerous about any of these activities. When we move our bodies, we risk hurting ourselves a bit. Have you ever tripped? Did you say the sidewalk or your rug or the floor was dangerous (Well… actually… some of those cobblestone streets in Poland… I’ll tell you…. THOSE are dangerous… especially after a Polish beer or two)? Really? Life is dangerous… proceed with caution. Just because a Mermaid Workout exists doesn’t mean you are required to do it. Just because someone offers you a trapeze to swing from and tells you it’s a good workout, doesn’t mean you should necessarily just grab on and start swinging. USE. YOUR. HEAD. If swimming in a Mermaid’s Tail seems dangerous to you, it probably is. Those of us that love swimming in a Mermaid’s Tail find it one of the least-dangerous physical activities possible. But are your knees or hips compromised? Does the water scare you? Does the idea of having to hold your legs together and flip your feet in a dolphin kick scare you? Then, ya… I’m thinking the Mermaid Workout is not for you.
But…Is Allowing a Child to Dress Up Like a Mermaid some form of Child Abuse?
I think it’s funny when non-child-having feminists discuss what women teach their children as if we have total control over the thoughts in their minds or the feelings in their body. As if all we have to do to teach our children to be feminist is buy them opposite-gendered toys or not allow them the mainstream toys that are considered “normal” for their gender. Forbid your daughter to play with Barbie and watch Disney movies and she’ll automatically be a feminist… because, obviously, raising children is just that easy. And, for the record, some of the most hard-core feminists I know played Barbies and grew up on Disney. I know it’s hard to believe because we mommies make it look so damn easy, but parenting is much more complicated than that. Instilling good strong feminist values in your children is far more complicated than that. My daughter’s feminism is not at risk because I swim with her in a mermaid tail. My son’s feminism is not at risk because he sees us swimming in our tails – anymore than his masculinity is at risk when he swims in his own tail! On the contrary! I want both of my children to grow up to believe their bodies are powerful and gorgeous and absolutely their own. It is especially important to me that my daughter believes this because so much of our culture is arranged around teaching her the opposite lesson.
Because I feel connected to the mermaid symbol, I believe that swimming with my daughter in our mermaid tails encourages her to feel powerful and gorgeous and pure ownership of her own body. But…when we are out swimming together I always see sideways looks of disgust from some of the women around us. It always seems to me that these women are disgusted by the fact that we are enjoying our bodies and having fun. If you can’t enjoy your body and have fun in it, how are you going to love it, how are you going to believe it is strong or beautiful or powerful? If you can’t enjoy your body and have fun in it, what good is being a feminist?
The patriarchy, as far as I can tell, wants us to believe that our bodies are objects created for other people’s enjoyment and other people’s control. The patriarchy, as far as I can tell, does not want us to enjoy our bodies or have fun in them. I say that whatever helps a girl or a woman own her body, enjoy her body, have fun in her body is a good and, yes… a feminist thing.