By now you’ve surely heard of Erin Sayar, the “Horndog High” English teach accused of having sex with a 16-year-old student. You’ve also surely heard of Sayar’s ink, as a “sexy” mermaid tattoo on her upper thigh — pictured in reportedly steamy boudoir photos — might be a key piece of evidence in the case against her.
Statutory rape is a serious crime, and the allegations against Sayar must be handled properly — no sympathy for her here. It’s worth noting, however, that the media seems to be trying Sayar largely because of her body mods. It’s certainly no stretch to say that she’s being cast as a vixen and seductress: The Daily News, for example, quotes a tattoo artist as describing mermaid tats as “‘The temptress…the sirens, as soon as they opened their mouths, you couldn’t get away from them.'”
Hence the zeitgeisty question: Are chicks with mermaid tattoos sluts?
Let’s start with the whole “mermaid as temptress” motif.
Is this even a thing?
Well, the answer is kinda involved.
The American Museum of Natural History has great cross cultural info about mermaids that provides some insight into this.
In Africa, for example, Mami Wata can take the form of a mermaid and “heals the sick and brings good luck to her followers. But she also has a temper and will drown people who don’t obey her, and she will cause confusion, sickness and visions in those she calls to serve her as mediums.”
Lasirèn of the Caribbean, on the other hand, might better fit the bill of a siren — her name actually comes from the French word “sirene,” which means “mermaid.” (True Sirens, however, are bird-women from Greek mythology, who used song to lure sailors to their deaths.) Her followers claim that she will bring them below the surface and give them powers, which is how some women become Vodou priestesses. But she’s not all temptress:
“In Haiti, the mermaid Lasirèn is one of three powerful female water spirits, sometimes considered sisters, who are honored in shrines like the one pictured here. One sister is cool, calm and seductive. The other is hot, passionate, angry and strong. Lasirèn’s personality is a blend of these opposites. Together, they validate a wide range of temperaments for women.”
For the Inuits, Sedna is the story of a young lady thrown overboard by her dad. She didn’t die, but went on “to create the whales, seals and walruses on which the Inuit depend for food and materials.” She gets portrayed as a mermaid frequently, owing to European whalers’ recent influence in their culture.
This brings us back to the Western mermaid myths. In ancient Syria, the goddess Atargatis was portrayed as half women and half fish. Some say she cast herself into the water after accidentally killing her human lover, but she seems to have become associated with fertility and love.
Both Christopher Columbus and John Smith thought they saw mermaids, but they disagreed whether the sea creatures were pretty or not.
Henry Hudson, English explorer, thought he saw one near Norway in 1608:
“This morning one of our companie looking over the boord saw a Mermaid,…from the Navill upward, her backe and breasts were like a woman’s, her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long haire hanging down behind, of color black; in her going downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a porposse and speckled like a Macrell.”
There are even pics of merfolk in the 1483 Nuremburg Bible, swimming alongside Noah’s Ark.
In British folklore, mermaids typically meant bad weather was on the horizon.
But in one of the most famous accountings, Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, it’s the mermaid who gets tempted by humans — and suffers tremendously as a result.
There are more examples out there, but the point here is that the link between mermaids and perceived skankiness isn’t all that clear.
This leaves to the potential link between tattoos and “trampy” behavior.
There are a few studies on tats, piercings, and promiscuity. There seems to be a correlation between them, though evidence of a causal relationship is more difficult to discern.
[Full disclosure: The author of this post might have a few tattoos. And by a few she might mean ‘around 20,’ but whatevs.]
For example, a study in Psychology Today found people with body mods tend to be more sensation seeking and sleep around more.
Another survey claims that people with four or more tattoos do more drugs and drink and screw more than other folks.
So, there you go: whether mermaids are crazy, conniving water wenches is not all that cut-and-dry, though some data suggests that there is a link between body art and increased sexual activity. Ultimately, this seems to refute what’s being implied — that chicks with mermaid tattoos are sluts.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.