Saturday, September 5, 2015

How To Be A Glamorous Dolphin Trainer...And That Moment You Realize It's Impossible (special guest writer Brigid Dodge)

Brigid brought this idea to me and I had two concurrent thoughts: YES and I AM NOT QUALIFIED TO WRITE THIS.  I am the least glamorous person ever and stare with mouth agape at trainers who are able to pull off the full makeup affect.  Or have no stains on their shirts.  Or avoid the Freshly Electrocuted look with their hair.  

Can't this go back in style? Because then I'd be set without even trying.

So when Brigid sent me this blog, I knew I had to feature it on The Middle Flipper.  And it's definitely better than Shasta quality.  


First off, I would like to profusely thank Cat for letting me guest blog. As I already told her, I’d thought about starting a blog when I first started training, but then discovered The Middle Flipper and quickly realized that anything I did would be the Shasta brand cola to her Coke. Or the Cheese-Nips to her Cheez-Its, if you prefer that analogy. Cheese Nips are so incredibly inferior that it almost makes me angry. 

But I digress.

In college, I used to consume women’s magazines as fast as I now consume a pint of Ben & Jerry’s strawberry cheesecake ice cream (graham cracker swirl!). I’d savor each makeup tip, each fashion suggestion. 

And then I got my dream job. Not the job they talked about, where you had to “dress for success” yet still be “fun, flirty, and girly.”  No, I became a dolphin trainer.

My job took that 10-day, chip-free nail polish and destroyed it in a matter of hours (Yes, even gel. I have chipped GEL polish).  My job laughs at the concept of anything waterproof. Mascara, band-aids, you name it, it’s gone in 30 minutes.  My job makes my hairstylist weep with pity when she looks at my split ends and ponytail-broken fly-aways and I tell her, “No more than an inch!! I need to be able to pull it back!” (Sorry, Pam.)

My job forces me to be unglamorous in more ways than one. 

So, is it even possible to be a Glamorous Animal Trainer, or GLAMinal trainer (See what I did there?)? Well, you can certainly try, but there are a few things you’re going to want to consider. 

I remember meeting a celebrity at work once and then going to the bathroom afterwards only to discover I had had an entire conversation with this person with a glob of fish guts on my cheek. I know that fish oil is good for you, but I doubt that’s the type of DIY treatment the editors of those beauty magazines I used to read had in mind.

There comes a point in a marine mammal trainer’s career where you have to make some tough choices regarding skincare. One of the most frustrating ones is choosing between: acne, cancer, or bankruptcy. 

Allow me to explain.

If I choose this career of being out in the sun all day, I obviously need to be smart and apply, reapply, and then re-reapply my sunscreen. But no matter how much one exfoliates, properly protecting your skin means you’re going to also have some clogged pores to deal with.

So, do I forgo the SPF and hope the wrinkles and freckles (curse you, Irish-ginger gene!) aren’t noticeable at age 28? No, not an option.

I prefer to think all my freckles come from educating guests.

Well, then the obvious choice is to buy the expensive, natural, good-for-you sunscreen and get facials on the regular. Except this conflicts with the immediate need of having to pay rent, and my long-term goal of being able to afford cable by the time I’m 30. So, I stick to the sunscreen I can afford, and pray that my skin stays relatively clear.

When you want good skin care, and a salad for later.


You have one wardrobe option: the wetsuit.

I suppose I should preface this by stating outright that I’m extremely proud of my wetsuit. To a marine mammal trainer, it’s something that is, in a sense, earned. Just like being presented with your bridge (earning it means your supervisors trust you with the responsibility of knowing correct criteria for behaviors asked), picking up your wetsuit on your very first day of your very first training job is a Big. Deal. 

It’s only after years of wearing it that you learn to detest it to a certain extent. There are a few reasons why we trainers hate them:

1.) The chaffing: affectionately called chub-rub; I should really buy stock in Desitin.

2.) The moisture: and unpleasant, mostly female-related, medical problems that come with
      it. I mean, it’s a WETsuit after all; it isn’t known for it’s rapid-drying power.

3.) The cold: Cat has already covered this one brilliantly, but I will reiterate that even
     dolphin trainers in Hawaii constantly shiver in the winter months.

4.) The tan lines: brown neck, white sternum? Not attractive. Don’t even get me started on
      the fact that I look like I’m wearing brown gloves 24/7.

5.) The sheer amount of time and energy it takes to put it ON! And at my current facility,
     where we shower out for lunch, that means I’m putting on a wetsuit twice a day. Even
     more if, God forbid, you have to pee in between. It’s exhausting. 

The struggle is REAL

 6.) And finally, there’s that interesting slimming effect that has allowed me to lovingly
      dub my wetsuit my Body-Spanx. Because it doesn’t slim you in all the right places. It
      slims you EVERYWHERE. I don’t care how good you look in a San Lorenzo bikini, put
      on a wetsuit, and you, too, will experience the uniboob.


Not only do you burn a bajillion calories by simply getting into your wetsuit, you also stay active while actually working! Almost all facilities require that you be physically fit enough to pass a swim test. Sometimes it’s annually, sometimes more. No one I know ENJOYS taking a swim test. I have yet to see anyone on a dating site list “apnea” as a hobby. Breathing is fun. I quite enjoy it when I’m conscious I’m doing it (thanks for handling that, brain stem!). But it’s part of the job and you have the responsibility to be physically fit in order to do it.

I had gone my whole life being a fairly curvy girl. With grandmothers from Texas, it was virtually impossible for me not to grow up having a healthy, committed relationship with fried food. 


And, having gone through treatment for an eating disorder when I was 19, I was finally healthy, happy and comfortable in my own skin when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in animal care.

But once I got my first training position I dropped about twenty pounds. 

Since I personally don’t believe in weighing myself/living by numbers, I didn’t even really notice until I started getting pictures from the photo staff.  They constantly took funny photos of us in programs, and the more hideous I looked, the more I loved it. But the weight loss was definitely noticeable.


When bombarded by Facebook messages asking what diet/gym/cleanse/cult I was participating in, I responded honestly. I was on the Apprentice Trainer Program. A program where you do manual labor for eight hours a day, every day. A program where many times you must chose between restocking the fridge, or paying the electric bill to keep aforementioned fridge running. A program where you have this wonderful, sweaty, daily body-wrap treatment called a wetsuit. None of it easy, none of it glamorous, and every bit worth it.

The wonderful thing about my job successfully thwarting my every attempt to look good is that it helped me to realize that looking good really isn’t that important in the long run. I don’t need to wear makeup to work every day because those little grey faces I see don’t care if my eyes “pop.” I can go on a first date with a fish scale or seven stuck to my body (yes, even AFTER I shower) because it makes for a funny story. It all comes down to the fact that what I do is so much more rewarding than how I look. It’s quite liberating, going to work knowing that no co-worker, aquatic or otherwise, is going to judge you based on your appearance. I really wish more people could experience it.

...But, seriously, please tell me when I have fish guts on my face.

Expectation versus reality.


Brigid has a blog of her own called Just Flush Me covering a much more sobering topic.  It's well worth a visit.

1 comment:

  1. I want to be a dolphin trainer but I also love makeup (I am 16) I will totally give up makeup for dolphins, but can I put on just a bit? Mostly spf makeup with benefits for my skin (multitasking)