Mermaids are real…and so can you!
How women around the world are reclaiming mermaids by becoming them
November 17, 2015 at 10:26 am
Confession time: I am a mermaid. I have a custom, swimmable tail I bought a few years ago from a tailmaker online. That summer, a family friend was nice enough to let me use her pool for some photos. The next time I saw her, she said her granddaughter had loved seeing the pictures of a mermaid in the pool, and that she’d be disappointed when she found out I wasn’t a “real mermaid.”
I told her to tell her granddaughter that I was a real mermaid, and that she could be one someday, too.
My hobby (or alter ego) isn’t as unique as some might think. Mermaiding is on the rise, and People Magazine reported this year that there are about 1,000 professional mermaids in the US. That’s right—professional mermaids! For those unfamiliar, these mermaids typically perform at children’s parties, like the LA-based Mermaid Linden, or in aquarium shows, such as Florida’s famous Weeki Wachee Mermaids and the Mermaid Lounge at the Silverton Hotel in Las Vegas. Many mermaids, including Mermaid Melissa and the world-famous Hannah Mermaid, even do underwater ocean photoshoots, interacting with real wildlife to create stunning images.
Hannah Mermaid via Facebook
For performers and hobbyists alike, something about real-life mermaids I find particularly badass is the way women are rewriting this mythology. Historically, mermaid folklore, while fascinating and fun, was clearly far from feminist—you probably recall a few tales of mermaid beauties luring sailors to their deaths or falling in love with tragic consequences. Today, though, we’re telling our own stories.
MeduSirena, “the fire eating mermaid” who appears in underwater shows at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale, says that performing as a mermaid allows her to connect with the audience in a more personal way. In an interview for Carolyn Turgeon’s blog I Am A Mermaid, she explains:
“Perhaps it’s a person’s perception blended with the mythological – where one can fill those missing pieces themselves, and make the figure all their own, therefore identifying with it better. . . It allows me the opportunity to present to the viewer something that they not only can identify with, but can take in as a new experience.”
MeduSirena via Facebook
While performers wearing mermaid tails goes way back (the all-around amazing Annette Kellerman was rocking tails back in the early 1900s), I love that today’s sisters of the sea are reclaiming this narrative. Many performers use mermaiding as a platform for activism—raising awareness about ocean pollution and endangered marine life. Project Mermaids even has celebrities donning tails to support the cause.
Hannah Mermaid, pictured above and probably the most famous professional mermaid in the world (honestly, it’s weird to see her without a tail) promotes a message of protecting the oceans and all the creatures within it. She tells HuffPo she enjoys inspiring and educating girls and women:
“Mermaids are positive female role models and they are passionate about conserving our oceans. Mermaids are alluring, yet independent. Mysterious yet vulnerable, sexual—yet with no visible sexual organs. I think young girls especially identify with mermaids because they exemplify eternal youthfulness and a symbol of freedom inherent in the energy of the oceans.”
I love that she touches on mermaids being sexual but not sexualized. This is another way we’re reclaiming the mermaid—it’s no one’s fantasy but our own, and I think that’s awesome and empowering.
Many professional mermaids work with children, which gives them the opportunity to educate them about the importance of conservation while inspiring a sense of fun and wonder. Though I have not worked with children, I have seen firsthand how excited and curious they become at the sight of a real mermaid. I was on vacation, getting a few just-for-fun casual pictures on the beach, and was quickly swarmed by a group of wide-eyed little girls who asked questions I had never thought of (“Are you from Atlantis or Oceana?” “Are you a princess?”). It was a fun experience, but maybe the last time I’ll wear the tail on a busy beach!
“Being a mermaid is empowering. When people inhabit this kind of fantastical, otherworldly persona, they learn things about themselves that they didn’t realise in their ‘regular, human’ form. . . . When I’m in my mermaid form, I feel strong, graceful, and confident. I’ve seen the same phenomenon in the students in my mermaid school: shyness turns to confidence, insecurities turn into self-love. It’s a beautiful thing.”
While Syrena’s school is the first of its kind in Singapore, there are several in the US, such as the World of Swimming Mermaid School, with locations in New York and Michigan. And if you’re looking to book mermaid talent for your next event, performers across the world offer appearances at parties.
Of course, mermaiding isn’t just for the pros! If you’re sold and wondering where and how to get your own tail, you’re not alone. I’m not a performer, but my tail is one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever given myself (I know me so well). You have a wide variety of tailmakers to choose from, and tails are available for every age, size, gender, and price point—from affordable fabric tails like those from FinFun Mermaid, which run for about $60, to high-end custom silicone tails from tailmakers like Merbella Sudios that begin at over $2k, and beyond. No one is disqualified from being a mermaid—which I like to consider a gender-neutral word. (Many websites still use the term “mermen,” so I may be alone in that!) Some especially crafty mermaids also make their own tails, and YouTube abounds with tutorials about this. What I’m trying to say is that if you want to be a mermaid, you can be one. If you do want to go the performance route, there are tons of handy resources out there, such as Rania Mermaid’s book, “Fishy” Business: How to Be a Mermaid, and the MerNetwork forum.
And while I’m obviously a huge fan of the mermaid tail trend, it’s good to remember that the tail doesn’t make the mermaid. As Mermaid Syrena explains:
“I like to think I was a mermaid long before I had my fins. I often tell people that being a mermaid isn’t necessarily about wearing a tail and splashing about in the water — it’s about possessing a certain mindset, living by a certain set of values, carrying yourself with a certain kind of grace, facing life with a certain kind of strength.”
Now that you’ve had a crash course in modern mermaiding, one question remains: Are you a mermaid? The answer lies within your heart and is yours and yours alone. I spent my adolescence watching Splash on repeat and drawing pictures of mermaids with my gel pens, and then bought my tail in my late 20s. But as you’ve seen above, there’s no singular path to being a mermaid. And it’s a big sea out there—we have plenty of room for new friends!
Alicia (aka Neptune)
Disclaimer: Photos pulled from public sources. If any mermaids featured here would like your photo removed, please just let us know!