“You got your own style, now let it come through. And remember no matter what, you got to be you” -Sebastian (Little Mermaid TV show).
Over the course of my university education (undergrad and grad school), I’ve found that I gravitate toward outreach opportunities. As an undergrad I led tours of our university’s touch tank facility (and loved pretending we were ‘divers’ when we squatted down low to see the tanks from an ‘underwater’ view) and in grad school was a “star” 3 years in a row at our open house ocean themed puppet shows. Something about educating the young and dressing up as fun characters while singing about the ocean, makes my heart sing too. When I started my fellowship, I wasn’t sure how much of this type of outreach I’d be able to do, so like the saying goes “sometimes you have to make your own job”. And that’s how I became a mermaid at the State Fair.
I did a brief recap of this experience in “Goodbye Grad School, Hello Fellowship“, but I thought I’d share more about my spent time as a mermaid.
When we fellows were asked if we were interested in tabling a booth at the State Fair in the Beach Buddy Adventure Exhibit, I jumped at the chance to do some outreach. A couple of us ended up going out to visit with the head lady of the Beach Buddy Exhibit area to get a tour. Seeing the small waterfall, “sandcastle” in the making, and stations teaching about threats to the ocean (ocean acidification, trash, oil spills etc…) I sort of jokingly/not jokingly said “I have a mermaid costume, would I be able to dress as a mermaid when I table?”. We all kind of laughed, but it planted a neat idea because it would be cool to have a mermaid 🙂 So I worked out the logistics, got permission (the head lady of the exhibit was actually SO excited about it) and worked out a suitable, family friendly mermaid outfit. Which meant, NOT using the top I made for Halloween a few years ago.
I thought I could use the skirt at least, but having done more Body Pump and cycling, my lower body has more muscle than back then, so it was uncomfortable to walk/sit in (still fit, but WAY too tight). So, I made a new mermaid skirt from scratch (with blue, shiny, scaly fabric), got a cute sparkly tank from Amazon, and a FABULOUS wig from Amazon as well (only $17!).
State Fair Go-ers Reactions
I got a range of responses when kids met me, everything from extreme shyness (yes I am a stranger, so I understand their reluctance) to full on smiles and chatting me up! Most people though, were actually SO excited to see a mermaid, especially little girls who love the movie “The Little Mermaid”. Just wearing a purple top and having long red hair meant I was automatically branded as “Ariel”. While I was trying to go for an Ariel-like mermaid, I was still surprised at how many little girls would shout and point “It’s Ariel, its Ariel!”, while dragging their parents over to get a picture with me.
Have to say, it was quite awesome being a bit of a “celebrity”. I also brought along my best friend Flounder, who was in fact, more of a celebrity. When I asked the kids if they wanted to hold Flounder and get a picture with him in front of the CA Coast whale plate, many interpreted my motion of handing Flounder over to them as “I-get-to-keep-Flounder”. Lol. Then parents had to tell them to give my best fishy friend back to me. Sometimes I asked the kids if they wanted to say hi to Flounder, and many would actually say “Hi” and wave to him. So cute!
Some kids and adults asked why Ariel was at the state fair. So I would tell them that “I’m here on behalf of the Thank You Ocean campaign to help share Everyday Actions you can take to help protect my home, such as using a reusable water bottle and and carrying reusable bags to the grocery store”. When I made those suggestions, I would point to my Ariel reusable bag and a flowery metal canteen. Since there were so many people passing through, that’s about the extent of messaging I could get across before something more exciting caught their attentions, like the bald eagle or sea otters (who can blame them, eagles and otters are super cool!).
Many of the adults that made comments said things like “I love Ariel, can I get a picture?” or “My friend loves Ariel, she is going to be so jealous when I show her I got a picture with you!”. It really was fun to see that Ariel still holds a place in people’s hearts as adults (like me!). However, sometimes I would get the occasional comment (and very rarely mind you) to the effect of “You’re not a real mermaid”, sometimes pointing out “flaws” in my costume, sometimes joking, but other times it didn’t feel like joking the way it came off. My main response was “Well I have my Masters of Science in Marine Science, so I’m about as close to a mermaid as you can get” while smiling and then turning my attention to people coming into the exhibit. However, I was a bit sassy to one guy in my reply. When he said “Well you’re not a real mermaid” a bit snarkily, I quickly responded by saying “Well you’re not real nice” in a light tone and a full smile. When he was no longer in earshot, the person I was tabling with laughed so hard! She said “Ariel has some attitude! It was so funny how polite you were when you said it!”.
My thoughts in my head during comments like this: I know I’m not a mermaid, I’m here to spread the message of protecting our oceans and to do outreach with kids. I do know that my costume isn’t perfect, I purposefully made a functional and practical skirt to comfortably walk and sit in during the fair (knowing it would be and was 90+ degrees out). If I were “locked in” to a “real mermaid tail”, what would happen if I needed to use the restroom (farther than hopping distance away)? Would someone wheel me in a wheel chair or carry me? Not unless I had my very own prince Eric 🙂 , which would actually be awesome! This song line kept running through my head during those times: “Don’t tell me not to live, just sit and putter. Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter. Don’t bring around a cloud to rain on my parade!” -Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl
I’m SO GLAD I got to be a mermaid ‘for real’ (aka being Ariel = dream realized!). Also, I wasn’t the only Disney connection at the fair, the C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A letters at the front off the State Fair entrance were actually donated by Disneyland CA Adventure to the State Fair in 2012! Pretty cool 🙂
And for all of you wondering, yes I will be Ariel at the Princess Half Marathon in February. Ariel with legs!
“Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun. Wanderin’ free, wish I could be, part of that world.” – Little Mermaid “Part of Your World” lyrics.