Back when I started researching for my third book: The Fishy Business Handbook for Mermaids, I asked the community what sort of information they'd like to see in the book. I had an overwhelming response asking for the experiences of other merfolk in different demographics. So I began running surveys and collecting experiences from different demographics from our mer-world. This included asking men about their experiences, asking the merfolk who are trans/non binary, looking at issues specific to merMAIDS, and a big request was research into the area of weight and body image. The information I collected went on to be in my book, and other blogs, such as the recent on on Mermen.
I ran a survey for months where anyone who identified as "plus size" (a term suggested) within the mer community could share their experiences. The survey results were published in my book, and now I'd like to share some of them with you all here! All of the photos you see were submitted by people who self-identified as "plus size" (or a similar variation) and were happy to contribute.
Our Weight is a Personal Journey
The following is an excerpt from my book, wherever you see the "" marks.
"In trying to represent various demographics in the mer world, I knew I would have to address body weight. Since I started as a mermaid I have been sent thousands of comments, messages, and emails asking me “can I still be a mermaid if I am fat?” “Should I wait until I lose weight before I buy a mermaid tail?” “Does anyone want to see a fat mermaid?” These questions break my heart! Mermaiding is such a pure joy that I personally don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t do it… for any reason!
I was privileged for a very long time to never have to worry about my weight. Until I had a traumatic experience and put on 30lbs of fat in the space of one month. Suddenly, I didn’t fit in my tails! In fact, I broke my $4000 mermaid tail, twice, thanks to my stomach being too big for it. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror, I didn’t fit in my clothes, I wasn’t comfortable being naked, I overthought everything I ate, and I felt horrible about myself and was depressed. I got a personal trainer, started training 3 times a week on top of additional cardio and mermaid work. I monitored my diet closely. Guess what happened? I gained even more fat. Yes. Fat. Not muscle.
The experience really made me understand the body positive movement. While I tried to never judge my friends on their weight, I never really understood what it was like. You will see internet posts criticizing overweight people for being happy with their body, saying they should be striving to be healthy. This is what the body positive movement is often confused with- just making excuses or being lazy. But this is not what it is at all. The movement is about accepting who you are today, in this very moment, and being OK with it. Knowing that you’re doing all you can and maybe someday it’ll change, and someday it might not, but that today, you are OK.
The Merfolk Taking the Survey
"The first thing I learned when I ran my survey – which broke a personal record for how many responses I got - easily tripling all the other survey participants- was that not everyone likes the word “plus size”. In this book I decided to keep the phrase because everyone has a general sense of what it implies, it’s typically used for clothing/costumes, and because at least half the participants were OK with the term. I do think this is interesting however, the language we use around our body weight. Some participants loved the words fat, curvy, or plump, while others found them offensive.
The majority of the huge amount of participants were female, with only 2 participants being male, and 1 identifying as agender. For the age demographic, there was a spread of merfolk between the ages of below 16, to over 45. 1% were under 16, 12% at the 17-20 range, 19% at 21-25 and also for 26-30. The majority at 22% went to those aged 31-35. 36-40 made up 8% while 41-45 made up 1%. A whopping 15.5% were older than 45. "
What Merfolk had to Say About "Terms" For Weight
I use *heavy* or *big"
"When referring to myself I usually say overweight, out of shape, or chubby. Occasionally I say fat."
"Sometimes curvy, mostly no references"
"I use the term "plus size" but I actually sometimes get push back for not being big enough to use that phrase to describe myself. I also sometimes just refer to myself as a "big girl" since nobody can dispute that."
"Nothing at all, I'm a mermaid!"
"Nothing at all, I hate the phrase"
"I use "plus-size" and "fluffy." I would use "curvy" but that denotes thinner w/only a little fluff- which I am not. *lol* "
"I have used the phrase [... plus sized...], but I found that some women who are bigger than me were offended by me using it as I am plus size, just the lower end."
"I call myself plus sized when referring to clothing"
"I use it because it's popular but I don't really understand the term. I'd prefer something else or nothing at all. I don't feel the need for the categories"
"I don't care for it. I tell people I'm not fat, I'm fluffy."
"I prefer my hubby's favorite "Pleasantly Plump"
"I'm neutral on it. It works for describing clothing sizes. As a label for a person it sucks "
"I don't mind using it to describe sizing for clothes or costumes"
""Plus size" or "a little extra curvy"
"I don't use it to refer to myself, because I'm not really sure I qualify. I'm overweight, but probably before the border to plus sized, at least in terms of clothing. I feels like it's a relatively neutral term, and I think many people default to it because of that. However, used as a category separate from standard sizing, I think it can definitely imply that plus size is abnormal, and be really alienating"
"It's not my favorite, but it's better than a lot of other names I've been called... "
"I use plus size, fat and overweight interchangeably.I believe they are descriptor words, it doesn't define me as a person."
"Indifferent, though I wonder, "plus what?"
"I use plus size. I also use "big." I know fat is just a description, but I find it hurtful."
There are more quotes, but as you can see there's really no wrong or right answer. It really depends on the person and it can be tricky to describe the circumstances a person is experiencing as we are all so individual!
Weight and Mermaid Tails
"I am always asked about this idea of losing weight before buying a mermaid tail, so I decided to ask these merfolk what they thought. The majority of the mers at 30% decided to buy their ideal tail regardless of their current weight. 16% didn’t have their ideal tail yet but it had nothing to do with their weight, while 25% already have the tail they wanted and did make an attempt to lose weight or meet a weight goal before buying it. Finally, 17.5% were waiting until they lost weight to buy their tail.
When asked about the mentality behind this, 36% said that merfolk should NOT wait to buy their tail once they’ve lost weight. They encourage mers to buy their tails now. 31% felt it wasn’t their place to comment on what other mers should do. 17% would tell other mers to do what they feel is right for them. In the comments field some mers suggested starting out with a tail that can adapt to weight changes.
When it comes to owning a tail and the potential for fitness, 28% didn’t feel that tail swimming made them lose weight, but they did feel it made them stronger and a better swimmer. 21% specifically used their tail as a means to lose weight, and 21% weren’t concerned at all with fitness. Of the 28% who didn’t fall under these categories, many didn’t feel they had enough mer-swimming experience to be able to categorize themselves. Some felt limited by how often they could use a pool. Other felt there was potential with a different tail type. "
The Pressure in The Community
"In both the mer community and society in general there can be a lot of pressure on mermaids to look or act a certain way. I personally experienced this when I had the audacity to cut my hair, and actually got hate mail about it! Didn’t you know all mermaids have long hair? Go figure! I wanted to explore the perceived perceptions of both society and the mer community. 41% did feel pressured by society to change their body, and 18% felt pressure from both society and the mer community. 3% felt it was only the mer community pressuring them, 14% did not feel pressured, and 22% claimed people try to pressure them and they just don’t care.
Half of all the merfolk in the survey did feel like there is an expectation that they have to live up to standards, and 27% admit that while they feel that expectation they try to ignore it. 15% didn’t care if others had expectations, and 7% didn’t feel that there was an expectation at all. "
How Does It All Come Into Play as Merfolk?
The final question I asked the participants was a tricky one. You will always get a different answer for this depending on who you ask. I asked, do you feel your weight or body image plays a role in your mermaid life at all? The answers varied all across the board and was easy to see that was very much dependent on the merson’s personal experience. Most agreed that their weight didn’t just play a role in mermaid life, but also their regular life. A lot of emotions was associated with their weight. Many also agreed though, that when they’re swimming in their tail as a mermaid they stop worrying what other people think, and feel strong and graceful.
A few mers had their tails made specifically to cover their belly, or wore a belt or scarf that made them feel more comfortable about their belly. Some explained that while they were very self-conscious in the early days, mermaiding has given them new confidence. A few mers did have some negative experiences regarding being made fun of on the Internet, but also explained that the mer community rallied behind them. Some found that they personally focused on their weight more than anyone else ever did. Some were concerned their weight kept them from booking gigs. A lot of mers admitted they feel like two different people when they’re in their tail, and out of it.
A few mers did explain that being bigger meant items like tops were more expensive to accommodate a custom size. Some shy away from photo-shoots while others enjoyed them, and others forced themselves to do them to try and gain some confidence. Many struggled with comparing themselves with other mermaids.
The main message I got from reading so many responses for this particular survey, is that we are much harder on ourselves than anyone else. I read a lot of sadness and pain in the responses of people who felt like they didn’t deserve to feel good about how they look. I can relate to that thinking, and it’s so hard to get out of.
...So What Now?
"So what can I (or any of these mers) say to the overweight mermaid, or the mer who considers themselves to be “fat”? I know it’s easier said than done but this life is just too short to let people’s uncomfortable-ness with our bodies keep us from doing things. Yes, as merfolk we are putting ourselves out there and opening ourselves up for taunting just for our hobby or job, but also… you’re wearing a mermaid tail! Most people are going to be looking at that." If they aren't picking apart your weight, they're going to pick apart something else "There will be mean comments. People who want to be mean are going to find any way to do that. But trust that there are also kind people who are going to go speak up against those people.
The hateful mentality is shifting in our culture. It’s not as easy for people to be cruel anymore without being held accountable. Years ago I read an article that focused entirely on a mermaid’s weight. Now, recently, I saw a heavier mermaid featured in a CNN video and people were praising it in the comments section. Anyone who made a nasty comment got ripped apart!
Everyone has that one thing holding them down that makes them not want to be vulnerable, makes them feel scared, and causes them problems. Sometimes it’s weight, or sometimes a physical feature like teeth or a scar. Some people have learning disabilities, illness, disability, or look different. Some people are transitioning from one gender to another. Some people are just a little more socially awkward. You can lose all the weight and become a super model, and people will just find something else to pick on you for. But mermaiding is SO amazing, how can we deny you something so awesome because you have fat? Have. Not are. You have fat. The same way you have hair and are not hair.
The mermaid world has opened me up to so many amazing people, experiences, and things. I want this same joyful experience for everyone else. Guess what? Being heavy really doesn’t change the actual capacity you have to sit pretty in a mermaid tail, or swim in one. You are a beautiful merson. I am not saying that to you to cheer you up either, I say it because all mers are beautiful - we can’t help it! It’s magic what we are and what we do, pure magic and beauty. You become an ethereal creature! You become a legend from stories! You have the power and capability to educate and empower others! You are a literal embodiment of something magical. Isn’t that amazing? And none of that changes because you’re heavy, or any other reason.
Special thanks to all the merfolk who submitted information for the surveys. You can see the entire survey and all anonymous results and comments here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-6KS8QMHN/