Biologically Accurate Little Mermaid Uses Bumble

by | Sarah Day 1 - Group B

Ariel watches a video on YouTube on how to take the best selfies. Arm raised high, duck lips. But her matches aren’t ideal. Some men think her profile is a joke. She tells them if she were joking, she would’ve posted a picture of a manatee. They don’t get it. A few called her an eldritch terror. “Straight out of a horror movie.” Whatever. She only swiped on them in case they know the handsome man. The incensed men call her a dumb slut with a foot fetish who isn’t even hot anyway. Ariel decides not to google “slut” or “foot fetish.”
When she takes a break from swiping, she examines her brand new legs. They aren’t what she expected. They’re a shade of white that isn’t seen on land. Though now she’s so sunburned that she looks like a boiled lobster. She shudders at the memory. Restaurants full of her friends being torn apart and gnashed by the canines of land dwellers who stare at her like she’s the freak. Under the burn her body is beautiful. It’s perfectly adapted to living deep underwater where there’s no sun. The near-constant swimming gave her muscles that’ve kept her safe for sixteen years.
Back home she never had trouble finding someone who thought she was worth fighting for. Suitors swarmed like land flies. They whispered sweet nothings that her father the king told her to ignore since they were only trying to win her favor. Perhaps that was better. Being valued instead of constantly having to prove she’s worth someone’s time. She misses the power of her tail. How it propelled her through the water with a single thought. Racing her friends across the ocean floor as the Anglerfish light up the arena.
And her voice. Her fucking voice with its might. When she spoke, people listened. The patriarchy is something land dwellers invented. Back home she would be queen. Triton’s heir. In learning all the new land rules, she’d forgotten who she is. It’s time Ariel reclaim her place. She leaves the phone behind.

11 Comments

  1. Sarah Freligh

    Chelsea, this is just delicious and SO very timely, yes! I love the situation here and how it generates the conflict that fuels the micro. You’ve neatly captured the particulars of Ariel-as-icon, but you’ve also made her every woman –hell, every person — who’s had to endure the indignities of dealing with a dating app. That first graf is SO good, so rich with detail and character and irony.

    I’m thinking you could totally lose the second graf, the one that starts “When she takes a break from swiping . . . ” and not miss a beat. There’s such a natural transition from the sick shit the incensed guys are tossing at her and her recollection of the power she had at home–in shortening the piece, you’re deepening those universals I mentioned above. She’s Everywoman.

    Whichever way you go, long or short version, this one’s a winner.

  2. Kathryn Silver-Hajo

    I really enjoyed this story, Chelsea. I love that it starts out seeming like a light humorous piece about navigating dating apps and asshole men, but turns into a much deeper story of alienation and how we can lose ourselves by swimming into–and getting trapped in– someone else’s world.

    Love this:
    “She misses the power of her tail. How it propelled her through the water with a single thought. Racing her friends across the ocean floor as the Anglerfish light up the arena.” Wonderful!

    I think you really nailed the idea of using a pop culture icon to tell a story that is highly relatable (in this case in the surreal world of dating apps) and the sense of longing to get back to being yourself and accepted for who you are. 

  3. Mikki Aronoff

    Echoing the wonderful comments above. I tried reading without para 2 as Sarah suggested you could do. If you do jettison it, could you please keep “Under the burn, her body is beautiful”? That really grabbed me! So did “duck lips”! Think you could consolidate two sentences into “She misses how her tail propelled her….” Good story, Chelsea!

  4. Kathryn Kulpa

    I love the idea of Ariel on a dating app and how you bring in subtle aquatic humor, like the duck lips, lobsters, and manatee. I was a little confused by the “foot fetish” comment. If the picture is after she has her new legs, what is it that makes them think she has a foot fetish–or see her as a mermaid, for that matter? Does she self-identify as mermaid? Or maybe she’s still using an old photo? (Which would fit the “eldritch terror” comment–love the Lovecraftian reference, too.)

    I was thinking about Sarah’s suggestion to cut the second paragraph. I can see that working, but I would find a way to work in “under the burn her body is beautiful” and “the near-constant swimming gave her muscles that’ve kept her safe for sixteen years.” These lines give her a power and confidence that I like, especially when set against the jibes of the asshole guys who call her a slut and a joke.

    Just noticed a typo in the final graf: “It’s time Ariel reclaim her place,” which made me wonder if this was changed from first person or second person. Maybe I’m influenced by Sarah’s suggestion, but I can actually see it working really well in second person! It’s excellent in third, too.

    • Chelsea Stickle

      Hey Kathryn! The foot fetish joke is more about how she would’ve emphasized this new normal part of her that would come off as odd to someone who’s always had feet. The joke is also that deep sea creatures look horrific, and she only asked for legs. So she is actually terrifying.
      This story is entirely new. If there are errors it’s because I wrote it around six AM after barely sleeping. I did change tenses halfway through, though.

  5. MaxieJane Frazier

    Hi Chelsea, what a perfect choice given the new Halle mermaid coming to the big screen. You have such clever turns, such as the foot fetish, and a fantastic clue in her resistance to googling such commonplace (to us) words. The willing suspension of disbelief on how she got a phone is worth the image of her leaving it behind and returning to a world that supports powerful women.

  6. Koss Just Koss

    Love this Chelsea. I think also it might be stronger shorter, but also, maybe the feeling is coming from the second paragraph, which isn’t quite as rich and concise as the first. Maybe it needs a slight trim or a bit of honing, but love the story, including the weird fetish stuff. And it speaks too all the fuckedupness of online dating, which I personally hate. Mermaiding as the embodiment of that strangeness–perfect.

    • Chelsea Stickle

      I agree with shortening the 2nd paragraph. I cut it originally after the suggestions, but I do feel like it’s missing something without one at all.

      It currently reads like this: “When she takes a break from swiping, she examines her brand new legs. Now she’s so sunburned that she looks like a boiled lobster. Under the burn her body is beautiful. It’s perfectly adapted to living deep underwater where there’s no sun. The near-constant swimming gave her muscles that’ve kept her safe for sixteen years.”

  7. Nancy Stohlman

    This one is fun! I liked the second paragraph suggestion as well…I have other thoughts!
    Is she returning to the sea? Saying F-U to all the land men? Can she? Of course she can, it’s your story. But in Anderson’s version she can’t go back, she made the devil’s bargain, and all she can do is return to foam. In Disney’s version it all works out, of course. I love the I am woman hear me roar at the end…BUT what if it’s not that easy? What if it’s no longer possible? This may NOT be what you want from this story…but I’m always interested in the ambiguity between…
    I also think you have some fun choices to make around humor/not humor. I could see you pushing the humor and making the whole thing really funny. I could see it becoming more poignant. I think it could spin in several directions and all of them are interesting…which is a great place to be! xoxo

  8. Catherine Parnell

    Chelsea, This is a stunner and is sure to resonate with readers, but I wonder if you might consider tightening it a bit. Compression sends voice into the realm of loud and strong, and we want the full import of this voice, humor and all.

  9. Suzanne van de Velde

    Chelsea — Wow, you do know rhythm, girl. Love the flow here, perfectly evocative of this young sea-dweller caught in a serious transitional moment. Such wonderful lines:
    “She misses the power of her tail. How it propelled her through the water with a single thought.” That’s such a perfect description of swimming, thank you!
    “She only swiped on them in case they know the handsome man.” Not clear on the reference here but perhaps it’s just been too long since I’ve seen the movie… is she talking about her erstwhile prince?
    “They whispered sweet nothings that her father the king told her to ignore since they were only trying to win her favor.” Isn’t the winning of someone’s favor always the motivation to whisper sweet nothings ?
    Ah, and this central human dilemma: “Being valued instead of constantly having to prove she’s worth someone’s time.”

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