"The mermaid knows her power exists in her ability to expand and contract as life flows through her. The mermaid knows her power exists in her ability to swim through anything. And keep swimming."
I am captivated by it, as I am often captivated by all things mermaid. I mean, I can't stop staring at it and her. It's just so... pretty!
My love for and fascination with mermaids has been life-long. The first time I swam underwater, I remember telling myself that if I just pretended to be a mermaid, it would be easy. And it was! Then, several years later, the movie Splash came out and the image of a little mermaid brought that fantasy to life. I was only eleven when Splash came out in theaters.
Thinking about this transformation now, though, I am aware how complicated my reactions to the world were.
This is also why I've never absolutely loved the story or the film, The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid is a betrayal to mermaids everywhere. She hates being a mermaid and longs to be human. That's crazy! This is also, incidentally, why I love the film Ponyo which is a reinterpretation of the story of The Little Mermaid. This film explores Ponyo's (The Little Mermaid's, or in this case The Little Goldfish's) world and psyche enough to help the audience understand that being a human means freedom. The desire for freedom, I can wrap my head around. Particularly in the Film The Little Mermaid, the mermaid just wants to be a human princess because the human princes she's seen on ships are so irresistible. BLECH! What the sea witch knows but is too evil to tell her is that in her desire for these weak little princes, the mermaid princess is giving up her true power in this world, the thing that makes her terrifying and awesome: her tail! Same story as the dark hiding brooding girl. You must relinquish your power if you are to be considered beautiful.
Even at eleven, though I wouldn't have been able to articulate it fully, I knew the culture around me saw the dark hiding brooding girl and the mermaid in the bathtub as two very different entities, images, energies. But, to me, they both embodied the thing I felt growing up girl, the thing I wanted to be able to understand. The mermaid unfurling her tail in the night. The dark hiding brooding girl. These are images of female beings in the state of gathering their power, just as an eleven year old girl who has recently gotten her period and is in the throes of puberty is beginning to feel and fully gather her power. Just as women (and people in general, really) contain a natural, earth-shaking power that can't be co-opted by advertisers or sold at market.
Even as I googled the images above of "mermaid in the bathtub" or "young mermaid," hundreds of sexy, soft-core porn images came up. It saddens me that the power of the mermaid has been so dumbed down in our culture. But, one only needs to step into a halloween store these days to realize that absolutely any role or cultural figure can be dumbed down and sexualized for mass consumption. Sexy nuns. Sexy firefighters. Sexy unicorns. And what does sexy mean in this case, exactly? Why do I say that "sexy" and "dumbed down" are almost synonymous in our culture? Because to make a costume sexy, all you have to do is remove most of the material, exposing as much breast, thigh, and ass as possible; add a bunch of glitter; and make sure whatever material is there is skin tight. ooooh, sexy.
Truly, I do understand why this is "sexy" -- and I understand why the image of a mermaid is sexy. I mean, bodies can be gorgeous things. But THAT sexy, THAT gorgeousness is only the very tip of a very large iceberg. Victoria's Secret used to have a "What is Sexy" ad campaign. Of course, their simple answer to their own question seems to be: really skinny women with large breasts in awesome lingerie. Sure, I get that -- especially since it sells their wares. But what is REALLY sexy? What is REALLY powerful and life-altering-ly attractive? Confidence and intelligence and strength. And someone can have all of those things and not look like the sexy angels in a Victoria's Secret advertisement. Someone can have all of those things and not look like the beefcake in a firefighters pin-up calendar (I'm trying to think of an image of men that men have to live up to -- but it doesn't work the same way for men so the majority of that conversation will have to be saved for another time).
Does it seem like I'm being defensive? I can hear a less intelligent reader saying, "she's just saying that cause she's ugly. Ugly women are always trying to take the fun out of sex." Haha! I'm lol-ing right now. Give me a minute.... No, dear reader (if any of my readers are the kind of readers that would think this for a second) I am not ugly. I am a forty-year-old woman who gained a lot of weight while being pregnant with two children in her thirties. I have my mother's beautiful smile and her beautiful brown eyes, thank goodness! I am very curvy (much curvier than those Victoria's Secret models, thank you). I lost all of my baby weight -- and then some -- long after all the books say I should have, by becoming a triathlete and lifting weights. After this insanely shitty last couple of years -- with the deaths of two of my brothers and having a hysterectomy -- I gained a bit of weight back. Does this make me ugly? Hell No! And what's more, what's infinitely much much much more: What makes me beautiful most is NOT my body. My body is the tiny tip of a very large iceberg. The iceberg lies within me. My confidence. My intelligence. My strength. THAT'S what's beautiful and THAT'S what's sexy. And I say this not because it is true for ME but because it is true for ALL of us. Whatever our gender identity. Whatever our outward appearance. Whatever the world tells us. Our Power is what matters. Our Power is what makes us beautiful. The brooding girl knows this. The mermaid knows this.
A couple of years ago, I lost around 30 pounds. Because I had lost somewhat significant amounts of weight before, I knew as I lost that eventually people would start commenting on it. I knew people couldn't help it. I too will give someone a complement if I see a difference in their physique -- especially if I know they've been working hard to change it. But, it's always been a little devastating to me when people notice and say something as if they are saying, "I used to think you were disgusting looking and now I have a little respect for you." Ha! I know it's not meant to sound like that. Of course, that's not at all what I mean when I tell someone how great they look. But, our culture is so obsessed with thinness and appearance that it is very hard for most women (and probably everyone to a degree) not to attach their worth to their weight. When a girl grows up with images everywhere that tell her that her appearance determines her worth, this can't be helped. I know, despite and contrary to my intelligence, a part of me has always attached my worth to my weight. When my weight went up, my worth went down.
But the mermaid absolutely renounces this idea. The mermaid knows her power exists in her ability to expand and contract as life flows through her. The mermaid knows her power exists in her ability to swim through anything. And keep swimming.
I am so grateful to my four-year-old self who chose the mermaid to imitate. I am so grateful to my eleven-year-old self who brooded and hid and gathered her strength and somehow knew innately that the messages I was receiving about who I should aspire to be (basically, a Victoria's Secret model) were wrong. I am grateful that I have always known there is a big difference between the mermaid (spoiler alert!) that saves Tom Hanks by pulling him down to Atlantis with her and The Little (Traitor) Mermaid. And I am grateful that, like any good mermaid, I am never done learning and evolving.
And mostly, today, I am grateful for my family and friends who might not totally understand my (sort-of cheezy) obsession with the mermaid but continually send me little gifts of mermaid paraphernalia to encourage that obsession. I love you guys! Thank you Shira Lurie -- you rock!
Keep on Keepin' on, mermaids and mermaid lovers and just plain cool people
always always always, with love,