“Dear Ursula” by Melissa May

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.

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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.

Melissa May performs “Dear Ursula”
This video was produced by Button Poetry
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