Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dear Ursula (Women of the World Poetry Slam 2014)

The Little Mermaid (The Sea Witch) by Nadezhda Illarionova

In the Hans Christian Andersen tale the Sea Witch does, indeed, advise the Little Mermaid how to enchant the prince. Although the mermaid is beautiful and good hearted, she is naive in the ways of love and language. It's the Witch who tells her what to do when she cannot use her voice.

When the Little Mermaid visited the Sea Witch and was given advice, there was definitely an "ah ha!" moment for me as a girl. Although Princes culture wasn't as pervasive then as it is now, I still somehow had this idea of what an attractive fairy tale girl was like, and I knew I wasn't it. Of course, I loved Clever Kate, the princess who served her father Meat Without Salt and Tatterhood but I always felt unless I was being actively witty or daringly brave, there wasn't much going for me. The following passage opened my eyes to the fact that those weren't my only options:

“But if you take away my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what is left for me?”
“Your beautiful form, your graceful walk, and your expressive eyes; surely with these you can enchain a man’s heart. Well, have you lost your courage? Put out your little tongue that I may cut it off as my payment; then you shall have the powerful draught.”
“It shall be,” said the little mermaid.

You know what? It DOES take courage to put yourself out there this way. When you're not exactly princess-y, being confident in a culture of pretty-and-petite-rules is intimidating (seriously - I'm a size 2 to 3 and I feel like an overweight lump in LA! How ridiculous is that?). And this is one of the big things the Little Mermaid needed to learn. She had to mature and take charge of her whole self, and not rely on nature-given gifts.

When this descriptive scene from Andersen's story (see HERE to read the many details) was put on screen by Disney with a larger-than-life Ursula, shaking her, um, "head" at the naivety of the little Ariel, ("...BODY LANGUAGE! HA!") is it any wonder that Ursula resonated with so many? As I watched the movie, as a still-not-small-enough-or-pretty-enough girl, it was one of those moments that brought home to me, the fact that it wasn't ALL about beauty, perfect hair and a gorgeous (especially singing) voice. Ariel had a lot to learn, as do many pretty girls who have gotten by only on their looks (something we all have to contend with one way or another as we get older, looks or no looks).

Not only was she worldly-wise but she was confident and knew how to use her full body in all it's glory. I could easily see how such a character would illicit a cheer from full-figured girls. In Ursula's song, Poor Unfortunate Soul, she vividly demonstrates just how to use curves and wiles, while using her forceful presence to intimidate Ariel into doing exactly what she wants her to do right there and then.

When the Disney Dream Portraits series featured Queen Latifah as Ursula there was a strong rumble of approval from the internet and beyond, as the Sea Witch got even even higher notch on her sexy-icon status.

But then, a redesign:

In 2012 Ursula (Ursula!) got a princess-ish makeover and lost half her curves for the Disney Villains Designer collection doll line. (!!!)

I wasn't surprised to see outrage on the internet. I was right there with everyone. (See HERE, HERE and HERE for starters.) The redesign trend onDisney dolls and marketing images outrage, continues from character to character for various reasons (Merida, Mulan and even Snow White) but while Disney has responded (albeit, cagily) to the outrage over Merida (which, it should be noted, has people riled for similar reasons), I haven't found any response to the Ursula madness. That doesn't mean it's gone away though.

One poet, Melissa May, who always saw Ursula as somewhat of a personal hero, decided it was high time to air her outrage at the Women of the World Poetry Slam this year (2014) and it's one performance I think is worth seeing and listening to, despite a small amount a strong language. (FYI she placed 7th.)

Highlighted recently on UpWorthy, a website that is dedicated to bringing uplifting things to their readers and making the world a little bit of a better place, here's what they had to say about this:
Ursula (the sea witch from "The Little Mermaid") has always been considered a villain, but after listening to this, I'm thinking she's kiiiiiiind of a hero. To more people than you'd think. 
"Sure, Ariel had her itty-bitty seashell bikini, but Ursula "made back fat f*cking sexy." 
And we need more of that kind of bravery in pop culture, if you ask me.
(Transcript below*)
And it should be noted, Ursula herself would probably have something to say about this too, as in, speak up about things that matter to you, like this... because you can.

*In 2012, Disney released a line of villain dolls depicting Ursula, the classically full-figured Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid as a designer, couture, size zero.
From one rolling midsection and tameless will to another, my sweet Ursula — I cannot imagine the sick flip of your stomach, to see your image dissected, chins shaved waist cinched, your silhouette robbed of every ounce of delicious curve.
To find after two decades of existence that your evil was more worthy of preservation than the iconic body that held you, you — big lady, were the only Disney character who ever looked like me.

And while you may not have had the waist-line of a princess I'll be goddamned if you didn't have the swagger of a Queen.

The way you sashayed around your lair in full makeup black flamenco number cut so low in the back that your every twist and shimmy displayed the gorgeous tuck of your rolls.
You made back-fat look f*cking sexy.
You made living in this body a little less like a curse.
I wonder how they told you, did they sit you down over tea, delicately frosted cakes lining your chipped porcelain? Explain it as a marketing technique, a vehicle to make you more palatable to a culture that demands perfection?
I hope you crushed the f*cking teapot in the clench of your fist.
I hope you grew a thousand feet tall and drowned them in the whirlpool of your rage.
I wish I could have watched you suck the voices from their tiny, breakable throats.
But I know you wept, I know you licked the icing from each and every cake, I know you broke, like a slow burn.
Wasn't it enough that they made you a witch? That you were already beyond the bounds of their franchise royalty? They expected little girls to recoil from the wicked inside your laugh, when instead, they worshiped your honesty.
Ursula, I don't want you cut down into bite-sized pieces.
You weren't easy to swallow for a reason.
I want you larger than life, flaming red lips, black flamenco dress — I want the thick of your tentacles, your conjurer's hands, the jiggle of your ample bust. I want you dressed to the nines on a runway, I want every little girl to see a heroine in a size 24.
Ursula, Queen of the Ocean, you were never just a witch to me. You were perfect — every pound, every inch, every swell, perfect.
And I pity the poor, unfortunate soul who would dare paint you as anything less.

1 comment:

  1. This moved me. I was honestly in tears by the end of it. Ursula has always been someone I look up to, even though everyone always says "she's the bad guy!" or "She tried to kill them!". In my eyes, that made her even better because it just proved my point: Ursula got shit done!!! She wasn't one to sit and cower in a corner. She would stand up and scream. She was never one to worry about wearing dresses that were a little too tight or necklines that were a little too low. She would wear them a little tighter and pull them a little lower. Every time I had a decision in my life about myself and how I looked, I always though 'What Would Ursula Do?' and kept it moving. The fact that the very franchise that built such a monumental and unforgettable character that not only myself - but many others - look up to, has ripped her from her glory and cut her down to size (literally and figuratively), sickens me to my stomach. Little girls and even little boys need to know that it is ok. It is ok to be big, to be voluptuous, to be full-figured. It is ok to be sassy, and powerful and dangerous. It is even ok to be a little evil. Ursula will always be alive in my heart as the beautifully full-figured, no-nonsense having, regal, head bitch in charge PERSON that she was and is. I say person because c'mon, let's really think about it. Ursula is too much to be described so minimally as a drawing on a piece of paper or a movement on a movie screen. She is a person. And a beautiful one in fact.