POET: Melissa May
PIECE: Dear Ursula
TOPICS DISCUSSED:
Society and Culture
SUMMARY:
Yes – Ursula, from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Melissa May laments the slimming down of the villain and brings an endearing quality to her character.

Key Lines/Phrases

Key Line/Phrase
Discussion

“You made living in this body a little less like a curse”

Melissa May’s “Dear Ursula” is a letter to the villain from The Little Mermaid. This poem is a response to Disney’s ‘Designer Villains’ collection of dolls and products released in 2012. One of the most striking issues raised by this poem is that of cultural values; meaning that which is desirable or undesirable by a group or in a given society. Melissa May illustrates the cultural value of unrealistic standards of beauty, especially as portrayed in marketing and advertising.

In-depth Analysis

Melissa May’s “Dear Ursula” is a letter to the villain from The Little Mermaid. This poem is a response to Disney’s ‘Designer Villains’ collection of dolls and products released in 2012, which features numerous female villains in altered appearances. Ursula’s change in appearance is the most drastic, leading Melissa May to a rather sympathetic and insightful piece about a character we are supposed to dislike.
One of the most striking issues raised by this poem is that of cultural values; meaning that which is desirable or undesirable by a group or in a given society. Her actions in The Little Mermaid film is complimented by her appearance as socially undesirable, especially in contrast with the film’s protagonist Ariel. Consider how the white against red hair, age against youth, conspiring plot against naivety, and raspy against melodic voice operates unfavorably for audience’s reaction to Ursula.
That all of these undesirable qualities exist on Ursula’s seemingly obese body reinforces the negative stigma and marginality of those whose bodies do not fit more idealized notions of beauty. The poet explicitly remarks on the contrast of these ideas of beauty in questioning the decision to slim down the character, “Explain it as a marketing technique/a vehicle to make you more palatable to a culture that demands perfection.” Melissa May illustrates the cultural value of unrealistic standards of beauty, especially as portrayed in marketing and advertising.
Yet what makes this poem incredibly powerful is May’s sympathetic relationship with Ursula. While audiences are expected to have a negative reception to Ursula, this poet has a seemingly positive reception with the villain. Film scholarship examining spectatorship explores alternative viewing experiences and how audiences identify with marginalized characters. In this poem, Ursula may be read as the tragic hero for Melissa May. Understandably then, the decision to “slim down” the character is another tragic loss for the already defeated character.
(Ant)

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Resources
Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

  • What is weight stigma?
  • How is obesity and the people who do not fit ideal standards of beauty portrayed in film and television shows?

Artist Comments

This space is reserved for any comments the author of the piece may have about the points he was trying to get across and the background of why he wrote the poem.