The Medium-Sized Mermaid - A Love Letter to Body Positive Swimwear
By Becca Heywood from The B Word
Alan Menken, Ron Clements, John Musker and Howard Ashman have a lot to answer for: they made a significant amount children want to be mermaids. Yes, I’m talking Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I can’t say I ever wanted to be a mermaid, but I did have a lot of love for Ariel. She had sass, amazing hair, a killer singing voice and animal friends – what more could a girl want? However, despite being idolised by countless children, Ariel spends the majority of the film wanting to change the way she looks. Ironic, right? This got me thinking we spend so much of our time comparing ourselves to others and wishing we could change our physical appearance, that we sometimes forget to just let go and enjoy ourselves.
Me and my Body
I recently realised that I have spent more of my life absolutely hating my body than not and a lot of that definitely comes from comparing myself to others. We all do it, don’t we? Even if we don’t realise we are. I can remember being thirteen and at a sleepover with two other girls my age and for some reason, we decided to weigh ourselves. Looking back, this is odd in itself. Anyway, I was heavier than the other girls. This made absolute sense as I was a head taller than them and an early developer, but thirteen year old girls aren’t known for thinking logically, are they? All I could see was that I was bigger and, at some point in my thirteen years, I’d learned to associate being bigger with being bad. Isn’t that awful? I was a child, my body hadn’t even begun to finish growing yet and already I hated it. My parents have never been overtly body conscious, so where had I got this mentality from?
“Careful the things you say, children will listen.”
Just a strategically played Sondheim quote, don’t mind me. But back to the matter at hand, children and young people are so impressionable. All it can take is a throwaway comment which, when paired with the aggressively airbrushed media we’re bombarded with, can cause a lot more damage than we’d perhaps think. As adults, we have a responsibility to ensure our body woes don’t negatively affect the young people around us.
A Woman on a Mission
Antonia Furlong is one woman who is acutely aware of the effect our behaviour and culture has on young minds. As a mother to two daughters, she believes it’s her duty to ensure they grow up seeing women of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures. Antonia is the business owner of Mermaid in England (brilliant pun alert), a swimwear company based in Bristol. Along with “creative genius” Natasha, Antonia has created a line of quality, simplistically gorgeous swimwear that changes colour when wet. The colour changing part is very, very cool.
Mermaid in England swimwear is made by a team of craftswomen in Wales who, between them, have 237 years of experience. The quality is fantastic and comes with a guarantee it won’t “pill, bobble, fade or fall apart”. There are also no nasty chemicals involved. A detail I love is the zig-zag stitching. This is chosen by seamstress extraordinaire Kath as not only is it stronger, it’s also more elastic, coping better as it stretches and so less likely to break. You can tell these women love their craft and put so much care into their creations. This list on the Mermaid in England website explaining why you should buy from them just sums it all up for me:
Keeps our manufacturing in the U.K. healthy and thriving.
Keeps skilled craftswomen happily employed when the rest of the industry has gone overseas to exploit cheap labour.
Ensures that these vital skills stay alive and are passed on to others
Ensures these women can continue to support or contribute to their families.
Together we are all a community of women making a positive impact in the world.
A Body Positive Vision
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Antonia recently. Over an iced coffee, we discussed the brand, her vision and both our views on body positivity. Size is usually in the foreground of most body positivity movements, but it was refreshing to talk to Antonia about other, less focused on aspects: scars, stretch marks, birth marks, pigmentation, skin colour, body hair, allergic reactions, freckles and moles, to name several. Everyone has at least one of these on their body and almost everyone wishes they didn’t. I am ghostly pale all year ’round, scar ridiculously easily, sport many stretch marks and regularly have some kind of skin reaction going on. Am I self conscious about these things? You betcha. Should I be? Hell no.
Part of Antonia’s vision for the brand is advertising using unedited and natural images of “real women”. The phrase “real women” can sometimes grate me. It’s so often used in the sentence “real women have curves”, which is damaging in itself. Why are we incapable of praising curvier body types without critiquing another? “Real women” come in all shapes and sizes and this is the inclusive message that Antonia aims to promote with her photos. One such photoshoot can be found on the Mermaid in England website along with some testimonials from the women involved. It’s a truly lovely read and I’d really recommend popping over for a look. Their next “real women” photoshoot is taking place on the 14th July and I’m very excited to see the end result.
Putting it to the Test
Antonia very kindly gave me a bikini of my own to take for a spin – specifically, this top and these bottoms. I wore it while swimming in the River Barle on a recent camping trip and it was so, so comfortable. The colour changing element is simple yet so brilliant. I’ve since washed the bikini and it’s holding its shape beautifully. There was a time I’d never even consider wearing a bikini, so it felt good to acknowledge how far I’ve personally come on when it comes to body image and positivity.
Full disclosure: we did have some shots from the front, but my hair placement along with the sun making my skin and the bikini top glow SO BRIGHTLY made me look topless. I’d personally rather not even give the illusion of that online
“We are not determined by what we look like, but what we can do and everyone is capable of making change.”
– Antonia Furlong, Mermaid in England
I have loved embracing all things mermaid with Mermaid in England and cannot get enough of their ethos. Looking back on this post, some lyrics from from the aforementioned Disney classic come to mind: “bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand”.
Your friendly neighbourhood, not-defined-by-her-size mermaid,
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