October 6, 2011

Mermaids vs. Whales

I've seen the following photo posted on Facebook with the text in italics as its "caption."  It currently has nearly 200,000 "likes," around 140,000 "shares," and over 60,000 comments.  Obviously I haven't read all the comments, but I'd like to share my thoughts below the italicized text.

(this is the picture that accompanied the post on Facebook)
 A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was "This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?"

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

 "Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness. They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia. They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on cds. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defend and admires.

Mermaids do not exist. But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish? They would have no sex life and could not bear children. Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad. And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I'd rather be a whale. At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.

We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn't enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies. We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated. Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: "How amazing am I ?! " (The girl on the picture is French model Tara Lynn)

Allow me to begin with my rant to the gym which posted this sign (allegedly -- I've yet to see or even look for proof of this.  For all we know it's fake and has just gone viral).  WHAT THE HELL, GYM?  Do you really think that's going to help anyone? Do you know how many people have a hard enough time getting up the nerve to even GO to the gym, a place where people in spandex do things that make body parts jiggle that they didn't even know they had?

How about, rather than making women feel even worse about themselves, you do something else.  Something actually inspiring, rather than berating and insulting.  Put up a picture of a normal sized woman crossing a finish line, shooting a basketball or swinging a tennis racket.  Make the caption something like "Feel better this summer than you ever have!  Ask us how we can help!"

Stupid gym.

Now, onto the woman's response.  I had a friend on Facebook comment on my post (I expressed annoyance and mild disgust at this whole thing) that she just took the woman's response at face value. That it's just a metaphor.  I get that, I really do.  And I'm glad if it makes some women feel better, which it most surely has. But a good metaphor is one that is well thought-out.  This is just a bad metaphor that, frankly, offends me as a writer.

Things she says just don't make sense.  Such as her tirade against mermaids, during which she says, "They would have no sex life...who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?" Um...so a man would prefer an even larger ACTUAL fish in his bed (the whale)? At least mermaids have boobs.  Poll 100 men and say "Real, 100% fish in your bed, or half-fish with great tits that maybe just smells like a fish?"  See what I'm sayin'?  BAD METAPHOR.

Now here is where I'm gonna hurt some feelings.  So get ready for it.

The part I take MOST ISSUE with is this: "We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn't enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies. We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated."

Um...hold on.  What?  Women gain weight because of their awesomeness?  My achievements and education and great knowledge is all manifested in my thighs and my ass?  I'm not fat, I'm cultivated!!


The thing is...I don't know the woman who wrote this response.  I don't know how old she is or what she looks like or anything about her station in life.  But I do know this...that response has a tone of painful familiarity for me.

As a former "fat" girl and a girl who still has some (ROCKIN') curves (I don't mind telling you I'm a size 12)...curves that I have enhanced and earned by working hard and making healthy choices (or trying to) regularly...I'm gonna say that I call bullshit.  You know why?  Because I have said those things:

"I'd rather be happy than thin!"

"Who wants to diet when I'm getting quality time with my friends eating cheese fries and drinking beer? I AM HAPPIER THAN THAT SKINNY GIRL AND/OR THAT GIRL BUSTING IT AT THE GYM 3 TIMES A WEEK!"

Then you know what I'd do?  I'd go home and get up the next morning and cry silently because nothing fit right and I didn't feel good or confident in any of my clothes.  Because I wasn't actually happy.  Not with myself.  Not 100%.  Yes, my life was (and is) filled with wonderful people and incredible moments.  But then the dust cleared and I was left looking at myself in the mirror, I wasn't actually happy.

So I made healthy changes and wanted to look better for ME.  And guess what happened when I lost weight?? I KEPT ALL THAT OTHER AWESOME STUFF LIKE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE AND GENERAL AWESOMENESS.

In fact, I'd say I earned even more throughout the process of becoming healthier.

Look, I understand that the woman is angry because the gym made such a ridiculous, extreme statement.  Extremes are rarely a good thing.  My response would have been, "Wait, THESE are my choices?? Mermaid or whale?"  And then I would've switched gyms.

Actually, I probably would've scheduled a time to talk with a manager or head of personal training or PR for the gym or whatever and calmly explained how harmful I thought the sign was.  But that's who I am in the world.

But getting all up in arms and turning an already ridiculous metaphor into something more ridiculous is not actually helping future generations of women.  Rather than telling them that being a whale is awesome, how about we tell them how awesome it is to be healthy?  That it prolongs their life, that it makes them feel better and feel more accomplished and feel sexier (ask my husband how much his life has improved since I started loving who I am more)?

 I think that would do much more good than continuing to make the case for "extremes."

Aaaaaand SCENE. 


  1. Well written! I would add that I feel most sexy and feminine after a great workout, when I'm feeling strong and confident. I would rather not be a whale or a mermaid, and instead the best possible version of myself, a woman.

  2. I really loved this post. I had this crazy urge to rant about the metaphor as well, but (since I am male) I thought better of it. Honestly, plenty of men love thick women, but thick isn't necessarily "whale"--if you catch my drift. If you are healthy and happen to actually have a natural build that leans towards thick that is fine. But, there is a level where you have to be taking care for yourself. A good husband/boyfriend/girlfriend or whatever is more concerned that you are healthy than necessarily that you have or don't have curves. My sister is thick, but I wouldn't say she is fat. She takes care of herself and, as a black woman, she is going to lean towards the thicker side anyway. Sir Mix A Lot was right. Love you, Mandy.

  3. You must have been inside my head when I first saw this on Facebook. :) Thanks for articulating how I felt about it, since I didn't have the energy to rant!

  4. When I said you must stop posting gorgeous pictures of yourself so that I can avoid being distracted and comment intelligently, you then went a posted a gorgeous picture of a naked woman!

    Are you trying to sabotage my ability to intelligently comment!!! ;)

    BTW, hell's to the yes to curves... And laughter, and joy, and honesty, and warmth, and all the millions of things that make a woman beautiful, apart from just the stuff you can see.

    And if I had to choose between a whale and a mermaid, I'd have to get to know them first before deciding which one I'd sleep with :P How's that for analogy!!!

    BTW, please don't ever become a "former awesome chick", cuz that would make the world a less awesome place...