The little mermaid isn’t so little anymore.


          In Monopoli, Italy a group of students at the Luigi Rosso Art School were commissioned to sculpt a sea creature to honor Rita Levi-Montalcini, a former Italian senator and neurobiologist who’d been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology Medicine (with Stanley Cohen) for the discovery of nerve growth factor. A local council approved the sketches of a plus-sized mermaid. But when the sculpture was unveiled to be a curvy statue with a large booty and cleavage, it made more than a big slash. It sent social media into a tsunami of controversy. But can a statue be too sexy or even obscene? Should we censor anatomically-correct sculptures because they make us feel uncomfortable? How big is too big?

            Seriously folks. Don’t we have bigger fish to fry?

            I normally shy away from highlighting statues that don’t showcase real women of substance who’ve made historic contributions to society (but I’d say Rita Levi-Montalcini meets that stringent criteria). If you follow my blog you’ll find I’ve already made exceptions for sculptures and performance art pieces that showcase feminism, humanity and equality (see Fearless Girl, The Embrace, Amal, Gullah Woman).

            Besides, there’s already another mermaid statue in Denmark. She was carved in the likeness of merfolk and water nymphs in Hans Christian Anderson’s folk tale of a young mermaid who’s willing to give up her sea life for an immortal soul. But it’s a dark story where she trades her voice for legs and although there’s a prince, a happy ending is debatable. Then there are the two Disney tales; the animated version from 1989 and the live-action movie from 2023. All three of these tales have something in common- all of the mermaids are young, thin, and beautiful. And while these statues haven’t escaped controversy (the statue in Denmark was smeared with the words “racist fish”) nobody ever complained about their size. But suddenly the new sculpture, which doesn’t show any more skin that the previous ones do, is too big, too fleshy, too voluptuous and yes, too curvy.

            But according to Whoop Goldberg, host of The View, “she’s not real.” Nothing to see here. And then there’s Vashti Harrison, author of the picture book BIG whose anti-fat theme lets girls know it’s okay to have big hearts and a big dreams, and yes, a big body. Love yourself. Every lovely inch.

            The take-away message for me is simple: Stop fat shaming women. We come in all sizes, shapes and colors. We are beautiful. Every one of us.

            Let’s also celebrate these brave students who went out on a limb not only to shatter an outdated oppressive image of beauty and sexuality but to memorialize expansiveness in all its largess.

            As always, Women Rock! Big and tall, small and petite. In ever color of the rainbow. From all walks of life. Monuments of the matriarchy have a new member to celebrate.

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