Ursula and Hans: unrecognizable mermaids

It’s two years too late to consider the reductionist make-over of the Ursula doll in the Disney Villains collection “news”. But it was news to me. I learned about it from a fat-abulous performance poem by Melissa May. The poem “Dear Ursula” is an open letter to the character from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. You can watch the clip below of May performing it at the 2014 Women of the World Poetry Slam.

 

You can read the outrage when the news was fresh (though the concept of thin as beautiful was still old and cliche then) in articles like this one at Tor. In the July 2012 article, Poor Unfortunate Souls: Why Does “Fashionable” Equal “Thin” to Disney?, author Emily Asher-Perrin asks the right questions. In response to the official statement

“The Disney Villains Designer Collection is a unique, stylized and fashion-forward take on these iconic characters.” – John Balen, Disney Store director.

Asher-Perrin asks

By “stylized,” you mean “unrecognizable,” right Disney?

Unrecognizable is the only word for her/not her. That is not Ursula. It just isn’t. As irritated and angry and sad and unsurprising as the erasure of women of size is in general, this one hit me particularly. Not because I’m a Little Mermaid fan. I’m not.

I like mermaids and I like redheads and I have nothing against singing crustaceans. I’m not big on the one true love and you’re nothing without your man stories and I really hate them as propaganda um, entertainment, for children. But what bugged me about this one was the happy ending slapped over the original.

In case the only version you know is the one with the date-rapey fish singing “kiss the girl”, in the original story by Hans Christian Anderson the mermaid did not get her man. And the deal was if she couldn’t make him love her, she would die. But he fell in love with someone else and the mermaid’s sisters made a pact with the sea-witch for a magic knife and  if “Ariel” killed her prince instead she’d live and could return to the sea. But she decided she’d rather die, and let him live happily without her, even though he’d know nothing of her sacrifice.

Put a little salsa music behind that punchline.

More than a sad little story about a sad little mermaid, this was a story about Anderson. Hans Christian Anderson was the little mermaid. He was an unhappy gay man who loved men who didn’t love him back and he wrote passionate letters to those men saying “she will never love you like I do”. His stories are fiercely bleak and full of noble, young women who are constantly dying. But nobly. Those stories have lasted generations. To me they are a strange patchwork of writing and queerness and surviving or not.

Which brings me back to Ursula. That simple fat beautiful drawing of an octopus-woman-sea-witch-goddess is based on a real complex fat beautiful person. A drag queen called “Divine”. He died in 1988 before the movie was finished but Ursula is Divine. An extra wrinkle in the historical queer tapestry of this mermaid’s tale.

Divine

So Disney, we love Ursula. Big and bad and unapologetic. Disney, can you capitalize on that love and sell us back something smaller, straighter, thinner and tell us it’s prettier? Tell us it’s fashionable. One lie at a time. One more erasure. Thin out the truth. Change a little. Change a lot. Tell us it’s what we really want. All the same figure, the same doll, the same story. Put a chorus line behind it. Maybe some singing mice.

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Dancing on Air: Emma Haslam wins and keeps winning

Emma Haslam wows Britain's Got Talent. photo credit: ITV/PA Wire

Emma Haslam wows Britain’s Got Talent.
photo credit: ITV/PA Wire

“I see a pole. I see a skimpy outfit…” Simon Cowell lets his sentence trail off. Emma Haslam responds to his unanswered question with “I’m trying to prove that pole fitness is not just for the usual sizes. Obviously I’m a bigger lady.”

Whatever fitness instructor, pole dancer and aerialist Emma Haslam set out to prove on Britain’s Got Talen, she proved. She won over the audience and the judges with her routine. She got unanimous approval of the judges (4 YESes) to move on to the next round of competition.

Since then, Haslam has appeared on British television and Newspapers promoting size-positive fitness and sex appeal.

“Producers begged me to go on the show after seeing a video of me, it was crazy. I was more nervous about speaking to the judges than anything else,” Emma said in an interview.

“For you to get up there and have such good body confidence is a massive example for girls all over this country,” said Amanda Holden; actress, singer and one of the judges of Britain’s Got Talent.

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Her confidence and skill attracted the attention of Yours Clothing (a fashion brand who specializes in stylish dresses and casual clothes sizes 14-32); they offered Haslam a modeling contract.

“When we saw Emma we thought it was great to see her promoting such a positive body image,” a spokesperson for Yours Clothing said.

I’ve included pics from her recent Yours Clothing photoshoot for your enjoyment.

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What I chose not to include in this article was Haslam’s age, marital status, weight or dress size. The last two have been featured heavily in every article about her (The Sun, The Mirror, Huffington Post, etc) usually in the headline. While I’m delighted she’s not obscuring her size or apologizing for it, I think it’s tedious that snips, snails, events and accomplishments are what little boys are made of but measurements, wedding rings and mothering are what little girls are made of. Not on my blog.

This is Emma Haslam's facebook profile pic. Follow her on Facebook. You know you want to.

This is Emma Haslam’s facebook profile pic. Follow her on Facebook. You know you want to.

You can follow Emma Haslam at all the usual social media suspects.
Twitter: @emmaspoledancin
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/emmaspoledancing
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/emmaspoledancing%20
official website: http://emmaspoledancing.co.uk/
http://emmaspoledancing.co.uk/