Poor, Unfortunate Souls: Finding Your Voice in the Lyrics

There seems to be a message in every song; I feel like this is what is so powerful about music. Sometimes even if the lyrics don’t match up to our individual situations or experiences, the beat and melody just connect with us. I think this is even more evidence of how we all connect to each other–our pain, our fear to share our feelings, experiences, dwelling in the prison of our own minds–because when we feel the power of that beat, those lyrics, that tune, we just get it.
Art is a great way to express ourselves, our experiences. As I’ve stated before, no one is truly ever alone.
With that said, it’s time for a dose of Disney! I know, I know, there are probably plenty of other songs I could have chosen from, but The Little Mermaid’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” came on my itunes playlist (don’t judge me, Disney tunes are epic) and hit me in a way I didn’t think a Disney song could.
I couldn’t help but think of Ursula representing that destructive voice in our heads telling us that something will make us better, that something will improve our lives if only we make the deal. Yes, “poor unfortunate souls” we are indeed if we find ourselves in that position:
Ursula: The only way to get what you want – is to become a human yourself. (Is our yearning to become “human” that holy grail of thinness?)
Ariel: Can you DO that?
Ursula: My dear, sweet child. That’s what I do – it’s what I live for. To help unfortunate merfolk – like yourself. Poor souls with no one else to turn to.
Cue music:
I admit that in the past I’ve been a nasty
They weren’t kidding when they called me, well, a witch
But you’ll find that nowadays
I’ve mended all my ways
Repented, seen the light and made a switch
(Society and the media portraying thinness as ultimate happiness, as something that will make our lives better. Sure, there’s a dark side of it, but the voice convinces us that we will do it right, that we won’t fall like all the others.)
True? Yes
And I fortunately know a little magic (eating disorder behaviors)
It’s a talent that I always have possessed
And here lately, please don’t laugh
I use it on behalf
Of the miserable, lonely and depressed (don’t we seem to flock to the eating disorder when we are feeling this way?)
Poor unfortunate souls
In pain
In need
This one longing to be thinner (ha, there we go)
That one wants to get the girl
And do I help them?
Yes, indeed
Those poor unfortunate souls
So sad
So true
They come flocking to my cauldron
Crying, “Spells, Ursula please!”
And I help them?
Yes, I do
Now it’s happened once or twice
Someone couldn’t pay the price
And I’m afraid I had to rake ’em ‘cross the coals
Yes, I’ve had the odd complaint
But on the whole I’ve been a saint (so deceiving!)
To those poor unfortunate souls
Ariel: If I become human, I’ll never be with my father or sisters again. (Eating disorder translation: “If I attain this ideal, I might have to give up spending times with my friends and family, have to give up commitments and events, have to give up my life.”)
Ursula: That’s right. . . . But – you’ll have your man (weight loss?). Life’s full of tough choices, innit? Oh – and there is one more thing. We haven’t discussed the subject of payment. You can’t get something for nothing, you know.
Ariel: But I don’t have any –
Ursula: I’m not asking much. Just a token, really, a trifle. What I want from you is . . . your voice.
(Voice? Yes, when you give in to the eating disorder, you lose your voice. I got my back by speaking out about it – first to my mom, eventually friends, and finally by starting this blog. In falling for what society deems as “best” and falling into the eating disorder, you have to lose your voice in the process—at least I did. I could no longer speak up because the eating disorder kept me quiet and scared. I know we always talk about the control thing but I really feel it took over.)
Ariel: My voice?
Ursula: You’ve got it, sweetcakes. No more talking, singing, zip.
Ariel: But without my voice, how can I –
Ursula: You’ll have your looks! Your pretty face! And don’t underestimate the importance of body language! Ha!
The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore
Yes, on land it’s much preferred
For ladies not to say a word
And after all, dear, what is idle prattle for?
(How true is this? I may get into the feminist issue of eating disorders in another post [I know eating disorders happen to men, too, but the rates are much higher for women—and there’s a reason]. In short, by advocating this ideal of thinness after years of women struggling to have a voice, their voices are suppressed further by weight discrimination. I have even succumbed to this way of thinking: how many times have I looked at a slightly overweight woman and thought, “She just needs to have more control over food” while seeing a man who may be just as overweight, if not more, I don’t think twice about it?)
Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn (And you do become withdrawn when you are focused on that control and ideal)
It’s she who holds her tongue who gets her man
Come on, you poor unfortunate soul
Go ahead!
Make your choice!
I’m a very busy woman
And I haven’t got all day
It won’t cost much
Just your voice!
You poor unfortunate soul
It’s sad
But true
If you want to cross a bridge, my sweet
You’ve got to pay the toll
Take a gulp and take a breath
And go ahead and sign the scroll!
Flotsam, Jetsam, now I’ve gother, boys
The boss is on a roll
This poor
(Ariel signs contract.)
Paluga, sarruga, come winds of the Caspian Sea.
Now rings us glossitis and max laryngitis,
La voce to me!
Now . . . sing!
Ariel: (Sings.)
Ursula: Keep singing! (Giant magical hands rip out Ariel’s voice and give it to Ursula. She laughs as Ariel is changed into a human and rushed to the surface by Flounder and Sebastian.)

Whether its an eating disorder taking your voice away or any addiction or desctructive action in your life, finding your voice again is a key to bring the true you back again.


The ironic part about all of this? I decided to be “Ariel” for Halloween the year I fell deeper into the grips of the eating disorder.
Don’t lose your voice to this eating disorder.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals. Subscribe to stay updated on the release of Running in Silence, and feel free to email Rachael Steil at runninginsilence [at] gmail [dot] com for more information.
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12 Responses to Poor, Unfortunate Souls: Finding Your Voice in the Lyrics

  1. DRA says:

    I tend to find music without lyrics inspiring, while music with them are depressing (that’s not to say I don’t enjoy them). It is odd even when the words are happy and hopeful. I think it is because lyrics tell you what to imagine, while orchestras give you a mood and you decide the image. I love to write short scenes of a story that is in my mind while listening to music. In a way, it almost helps me to see what events can correspond to particular music pieces. I still enjoy the classic Disney films and their music. I just hope Disney doesn’t lose its identity owning Marvel and LucasArts.

    • rachael says:

      Interesting insight, I agree that music without lyrics “give you a mood and you decide the image.” Great way to put it! I also listen to music often when I write–but it has to be music without words as well.

  2. On the feminism note, I never realized how much these lyrics aim to oppress Ariel as a human! Wow. (I understand that it’s Ursula’s manipulation and all, but still…)

    I can’t help but be drawn to the lyrics: “It won’t cost much/Just your voice!” The price we often pay for something we think will influence is heavily is hardly worth it in the end. You gave a clear example of that here. While I am sympathetic to your struggle, I did like the analogy with this lyrics.

  3. Tamara Steil says:

    Fabulous correlations! What insight! The “perfect” Disney song for the myriad wrong things most of their female “heroes” choose.

  4. Megan Hornyak says:

    The lines from the movie “Across the Universe.”–that’s what this post reminded me of Rachael. The guy with guitar (forgot character name) says “Music is the only thing that makes sense anymore.” Sometimes music is the only way we can speak. It’s the voice we use. I’m glad you found a Disney song to do it too! I always liked “A Whale of A Tale,” and “I wanna be like you” as the Disney songs that played out the most accurately for my life. I always wanted to be something I wasn’t, always wished I was a bit different–less outspoken here, a little prettier there, I’d be perfect you know? I’ve leaned on artists like Ani Difranco, Beth Hart, Tom Petty, Thom Yorke, Coldplay, Billie Holiday, Mumford & Sons, Fiona Apple, Erik Satie, and several others to help speak for me when I needed it (yes classical music speaks too). And I leaned on soundtracks. Elizabethtown starring Orlando Bloom was an “alright” movie, but the soundtrack was just amazing…(and I shouldn’t say alright…I mean it was good subject material, underrated for sure–dealing with loss is a tough topic and the love story bit was kinda of a cop out, but I transgress). “Io this time around” by helen stellar was on that album…and it sometimes speaks for me when nothing else could. I’m glad you’ve found some connection. I’m glad you’ve found an outlet in music, may we always have that outlet.

  5. Annabel says:

    I think it’s really interesting that you were able to make a connection between a Disney song (something children grow up with) and apply it to something in your adult life that has made such a huge impact. It’s really weird how a single song can change your whole perspective on something and how you think about it.

  6. I love this about songs (all the better that you picked a Disney song). They are a lot like writing, where as long as you can support your viewpoint, the lyrics can really mean anything you see in them. I’m guilty of being a music junkie. I have my Pandora Radio playing every chance I get. Lately, I’ve been getting more into folk-ish music, primarily for the reason that it tells a story. However, the moral of the story, much like that of Ariel’s song, is based on your own perspective.

  7. Jacquelynn Bourdon says:

    I am always amazed in the way people can find inspiration through something so different. You’ve taken a (classic) disney song, something almost everyone (80s/90s kids) can relate to, and connected it to something not all of us are forced to think about on a day to day basis. I don’t have a problem with food, so eating disorders are not something that I think about often, but the way you’ve taken this song, and pulled a subliminal message out of it is pretty genius, particularly when you’ve taken the moral finding and keeping your voice and related it back to a struggle that has taken your voice from you.

  8. Elizabeth Swanson says:

    Wow! This blog connects to me on so many levels. First of all this is probably my favorite Disney song besides magic carpet ride. I always though it had genious lyrics and a much deeper psychological meaning, though your interpretation was one I hadn’t thought about before.
    However, I too have suffered from an eating disorder, probably since high school, but I never realized it until the last couple months. It all started in August when I weighed myself and realized I only weighed 97 pounds. I didn’t admit I had a problem but I did start gaining weight. The scary part though is that now that I am a heathy weight, and people have been telling me how good I look, when I look in the mirror I have started thinking I’m fat again. Last month I hated out I looked because I was a skeleton. For me there seems to be no happy middle. This is what made me realize I had a problem, and your interpretation of the song gave me faith that I will get better.

  9. Becca Ryan says:

    I’m a strong believer in music. Interesting, how from this movie you choose to dive into one of the musical numbers. Music is art, and art is created by and for the human mind. Finding connections in art with our own minds, coming to grips with it, and sharing it with others is the most beautiful thing. All of our flaws, all of our joys, raw but purified, are brushed on canvas or transcribed into melodies. Rachael, you’re a writer– I applaud your courageous art!

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