THE BEAUTY of THE BEAST
Performance poet and author Laura Dockrill celebrates being different
Iadore the “freak”. It’s what I look for in art. It’s what I like to read about. It’s what I like to write about too. The oddballs, the obscure, the isolated. The weirdos, freaks, beasts and monsters. And it’s not because I’m being voyeuristic or perverse. I just think it’s really cool to be different. Don’t worry, I’m just as terrified of the ghoul under the bed as the next person and not all that keen on meeting an actual monster. But I worry we are losing the natural beastliness that makes us human – that makes us beautiful. In the past few years, I’ve visited hundreds of schools, both primary and secondary, and I’ve been scarily struck by the pressure young people put on themselves to look and behave the same as one another. Eradicating all of the distinctive beastly eccentricities that make us human beings creates our own terrifying species of monster – the natural beauty of being a unique individual feels like it’s dissolving grain by grain. Mix that with the unobtainable, lofty ambitions of celebrity culture and we’re at risk of young people losing themselves in the attempt to be clones of a person that doesn’t exist in reality.
Of course, I understand that we live in a world where “just”, “be” and “yourself” are perhaps the three scariest and most annoying words in the universe. To blend in with the crowd is cosy – especially for teens, where company is necessary, there is safety in unity, and it’s nice to not be the runt of the litter. Nobody wants to be scrutinised or judged, or stereotyped as that weirdo. But what makes us unique is what makes us special. And to be special is a superpower. We can’t help but be different because we all are by default. We are meant to be.
As a writer for young adults, I feel like I have a secret passage into which I can whisper kind thoughts. But a protagonist can’t tell us how great it is to be different, they have to show us. By creating a monster you can demonstrate somebody who was beautiful because they were naturally different.
Mermaids have always been seen as mythical, alluring creatures – a comforting dream conjured up by seasick, home-starved sailors. They are the ultimate beacon of temptation, spiralling pirates to their downfall. We think of hair, boobs, a shimmering tail in The Little Mermaid and Splash – and maybe the three really banging babes from the triumphant Steven Spielberg film Hook. But we always forget the one really true important and best bit about them… They are monsters. (And if you disagree, just for a moment swap the human/fish bits around... not so hot now, right?) Mermaids make an ideal mythological character to contort and play with. They are bewildering and evocative and they live in the sea!
Yes, playing around with mermaids is really fun and a chance to be inventive – they can use sunken cars as beds, comb their hair with forks and lust for life on land. But think about them as beasts and things can get interesting. An underwater female-run world where scary stuff can really happen. Where hair doesn’t have to be quantified as something pretty but can become useful – rope, a net to hunt beasts, a ladder, a cage, a noose... I can create a new set of rules where women aren’t objectified but feared, are in power. Where same sex couples aren’t a minority, where colour or age doesn’t have to matter. When the world just is because it just is. Nature is at its best – enhanced by its distinctive attributes.
Fortunately, beauty can be found in any beast.
“THE NATURAL BEAUTY OF BEING UNIQUE IS DISSOLVING GRAIN BY GRAIN”
Laura Dockrill’s Aurabel – featuring a mermaid – is out now from Hot Key Books.
Even Ariel, with her perfect hair, wants to fit in.