On Coney Island and Mermaids

This year was my first Mermaid Parade! Well, technically second because last year I was a spectator, but seeing the beauty of 2016’s costumes (the glitter! the sequins! the swimsuits!) made me certain that I would never again visit Coney Island sans costume (parade or no.) So, Coney Island Mermaid* Parade 2017!

Preparation:

Plans began a good few weeks in advance (because one must await the arrival of one’s Amazon-ordered shells, crown, and glue gun.) A blue umbrella was painted with colourful scales and glitter glue. Pinterest was browsed. Pins were pinned. Inspiration was everywhere! Interestingly, my final costume ended up being entirely composed of clothing and accessories I already own (conclusion: I am more than just a Pisces by star sign.) There was that attempt to create a shell crown, but teeny-tiny plastic + gorgeous, heavy shells = one crown fallen from my head to the floor of the apartment, smashed to near smithereens. The glue gun instead found its purpose in attaching strings of plastic pearls to the umbrella.

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The Day’s Events:

After a morning of fawning in front of a mirror and listening to the obvious Disney soundtrack, it was time to depart. The journey to the beachfront felt ominous in the rain, but the skies cleared just in time for us to walk. I found fellow mermaid-in-crime, Tina, (unfortunately Jess couldn’t join us after all) and we made our way through different sections of the parade, amazed by the creativity on display and beginning to brainstorm costume ideas for 2018. Parade-goers really went all-out – it was quite the spectacle! (See a description of costumes below.)

Towards the end of the designated march, the crowds hung out on the boardwalk, in line for Nathan’s Famous hotdogs or hovering around the beer tent. We beelined for the trusty Pineapple Queen – $15 dollar frozen margaritas in a giant, carved pineapple, with a free refill! (I can’t get over the joy of those drinks – they feel like such a steal compared to expensive Manhattan. And they taste delicious.) Other culinary experiences of the day included nachos and tacos (both fairly average) from a food stall pretending to be a club (shame) and my first-ever funnel cake (fried dough and mounds of powdered sugar.) Good job, American cuisine.

We sat on the beach, ogled the roller-coaster rides, and decided to attend the legendary “freak show” of fire-eaters, contortionists, and weight-lifters. The show’s “Freak Bar” offered drinks (and a much-needed end-of-day bathroom with a shorter queue than usual) and the opportunity to bond with a Mermaid Parade veteran who told us about her costumes of yore (once, a Snow Globe Mermaid made out of a big plastic sphere, packing peanuts, and electronic fans sewn into the bodice!?!) Our trip home was accompanied by sweets from the local candy shop – a wonderful end to a beautiful, exhausting, inspiring day.

The Costumes! 

I would be remiss if I did not describe some of the magic seen this past weekend. A good deal of time was spent fawning over the creativity of the gorgeous people present. Of course, there were the usual rainbow-spectrum wigs and sparkling body paint, plus a full array of shell- and sequin- studded bras and swimsuits (and breasts themselves in the cases of mermaids donning pasties.) Others’ glorious imaginations resulted in the following outfits:

  • Holiday-themed mermaids, including Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (who walked non-stop in chronological order, thanks to Christmas Mermaid cracking the whip.)
  • Alice in Wonderland mermaids, with a Queen of Hearts, Cheshire Cat, Tweedles Dum and Dee, the March Hare, Mad Hatter (including boat-themed teapot), and a young Alice herself.
  • CLAMilton! Cream corsets and shell-shaped skirts (which Google tells me are called “bums,” “rumps” or “culs.”) The best part about this troupe was their dance sequences to the soundtrack, and their banner:
  • A Handmaid’s Tail mermaids (praise beach)
  • Wizard of Oz mermaids, with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, Elphaba (can I call her that in this context or does it break from the official canon?)
  • SO many Wonder Woman mermaids! ❤
  • Crop-themed mermaids? Corn-on-the-cob handbags and straw hair? What even is America?
  • A marching band playing in the rain (that poor euphonium)

 I said it last year, but it bears repeating: Mermaid Parade is an absolute celebration of bodies and their beauty. People of every age, size, colour, and ability show up in various states of undress and various degrees of sequinage and have a blast!

It should be noted, though, that despite this wonderful, body-positive spirit, there are still those who make Mermaid Parade an uncomfortable experience at times.

Men.

The behaviour of men at the Mermaid Parade is astounding. The day is a microcosm of every strained gender relation and serves as an excellent study in gender relations (as, of course, every large gathering of people is wont to be, especially for my gender-studies-loving soul.) What follows is an outline of the gendered elements of the day at Coney Island which struck me as profoundly troubling.

First, a disclaimer. Of course, #NotAllMen behave in the ways described below. There are #SomeGoodOnes out there. Some men dressed up too, either as pirates or fully-body-painted lobsters and fish or in drag (though I have some complicated feelings about the latter; see work on the mockery and frequent – even inherent – misogyny in male-to-female drag performance.) Those questions aside, kudos to the men who clearly made an effort and had fun. (Fewer kudos to the man who attended with a fully-costumed woman, while he himself donned a towel around his shoulders to “dress up.”) So for a good deal of the male attendees, good job. I make this disclaimer because goodness knows the internet will bleat at me if that goes unmentioned. But, #GoodMen, where were you when the following happened?

  • Men leering at women in ALL states of dress. The women who chose to wear skintight clothing, or bras and swimsuits, or pasties, or nothing at all especially endured whistles and comments from spectators.
  • Men commenting on the parade-goers in the rain with hardly obscure sexual undertones: “I love me some wet mermaid in the morning.” 
  • Men taking photos of scantily-clad women. I will grant the fact that the parade is a spectacle, and that photographers of all genders were present. But the appearance of a nearly-naked mermaid led to a swarm of male photographers gathering around the mermaid in question, jostling to get a good shot. Take your artsy picture, and then move on. Do not make her feel uncomfortable. 
  • Men taking photos of women eating: a personal story. While enjoying our pineapple-and-nachos lunch, Tina and I noticed a photographer standing near our picnic table, fiddling with his camera. A few moments later, and I was about to take a bite of my meal, he dashed to the table and aimed the camera at me and my open mouth. A little taken a-back, I said, “Wow, haha, you just got a shot of me with food all up in my face…?” His response, instead of an apology, was, “Huh. That was the point.” He wandered off. I was incredulous. Had I expected an apology? An offer to take a better photo, with a smile instead of ridicule? I should be clear – I do not mind that a silly photo of me exists on the internet. Goodness knows I have had fun with #AwkwardProfilePictureWeek:

     

    And yet. This man’s approach was to surprise me, shove his camera into my face, and saunter off when confronted. He did not bother to ask my consent. I would have happily posed or given him a candid eating shot. If he had asked. Instead, he saw fit to invade my space and my privacy (which, yes, still exists in public spaces.) Be better, man!

  • One male spectator reaching across the barrier into the crowd, calling to women to come and hug him. He was especially persistent towards women wearing less clothing, and make gross chuckling noises when they came close. Many women ignored him or gave him the evil eye, but some women chose to hug him. Unfortunately, those who did so were subjected to him pulling them into a VERY close full-body press across the barrier, refusing to let them go. It was SO uncomfortable to see, and not a single person around him told him to stop, even when the ensnared women verbalized their discomfort.

This trend of a lack of consent is staggering.

From photos, to comments, to leering and ogling, to actual physical grabbing and abuse, men at the parade treated the mermaids like we were simply on display for them; playthings to enjoy and tease and mock.

What follows are the obvious responses to this bullshit.
(I kind of can’t believe that the points below STILL need to be made, but clearly we live in a world in which #MenAreStillShit, so for future Mermaid Parade attendees, please take note:)

  • Mermaid Parade is for everyone’s entertainment – that of walkers and spectators. This does not give anyone a right to comment on someone’s body, or to make them feel uncomfortable for choosing to create their costume in a certain way.
  • There will be a fair share of nudity. Let’s recognize that bodies are just bodies (I mean, duh) and that sexualizing them is both boring (grow up and move beyond the shock factor) and, more importantly, dangerous. Ogling someone because they are not wearing any clothing is a step towards seeing that person as an object. Objectification leads to violent, abusive circumstances, the beginnings of which are described above. Just stop.
  • Mermaids may dress up and put in a good deal a effort because their costume garners attention. Sure! Show off your work and your body and have a blast! Note: there is no “but” to this point.
  • To anyone who says, “People who do not want to be leered at should cover up,” fuck right off. Read up on rape culture here, and then we’ll talk.
  • If you see someone behaving grossly, call them out on it. Men who treat women like objects are less likely to listen to women telling them to stop. #GoodMen, this is where we need you to step up. Do us all a solid.
  • Just be a better human. We will all thank you for it.
That way, we will be able to appreciate future Mermaid Parades for the wonderful spectacle and celebration of creativity that it is. Here’s to a magical, misogyny-free 2018.

* I keep on accidentally typing “Meermaids,” which makes me think of meerkat mermaids and which also conjours the following image:

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