How it ALL Got Started... Part 1
How did it all get started? I get asked that question a lot and it is so hard to answer. I’ve been a mermaid for so long now, and the answer seems like such a long one. I documented it a lot in my first book, but I really just wrote brief excerpts of what it was really like. I think it’s important for people to know how I started and how I got to where I am. So often mer-enthusiasts will see a big silicone tail and think, well she just bought that thing and got a business. It’s not that easy!
For me it started many years ago, in my early 20s. I had always had a love of mermaids and I had just moved in with my aunt and uncle while I was attending university. I just start dating Sean, was playing guitar, learning photography, modelling a lot… and not feeling too healthy. I was working at a book store and played guitar dressed as a mermaid for Talk Like a Pirate Day. It was the first time I ever really did anything as a mermaid. Back then, I had no idea being a mermaid was even possible. I worked with kids and found many ways to be a children’s entertainer. Through the book store job I even got to be a few well known characters… I had some mean Ariel red hair for sure!
It wasn’t until I got really sick that I started investigating mermaids. I didn’t know what I was sick with, but it really hurt my legs. Pain killers, heat, ice, baths, massage, nothing seemed to help stop the pain. I went from being a vibrant young university student to one who couldn’t get out of bed. Walking down the stairs meant horrible pain. I was sick constantly. Exhausted. Up all night running to the bathroom. Unable to focus. Really, just becoming depressed. I didn’t know it at the time because it took YEARS to figure it all out, but I had endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, and a weakened immune system. Between the illnesses that rested in my pelvic area, and the scoliosis, muscles, nerves, tendons, and bones weren’t sitting in the right place. This is what was causing most of my pain.
I was in bed watching the movie Splash one day, when I just got curious about the tail. I started googling and found out a little of the behind the scenes info, and an image tagged of Hannah Fraser- world famous mermaid. Hannah is now in her 40s, but back then she wasn’t much older than I am now. I couldn’t get enough of Hannah. I read everything there was to know about her. I looked at every photo… every video. I was captivated. This woman was so incredibly agile under water. I couldn’t get down my stairs.
In searching for Hannah I came across a long gone company called MermaidFX. They made tails from stretch vinyl. It had a bit of a fetish look to it, but I was hooked. I had no idea what a monofin was, there were no reviews, no videos of people in the tails. Just pretty photos. I thought at the very least I could make get one of these tails and use it for photoshoots since I was an active model at the time.
On the website they had links to Annette Kellerman. I have written entire blogposts about Annette so I won’t go on for too long here… but suffice to say; she was the first mermaid. The woman was a feminist, fitness, and activist icon. Arrested for wearing the famous Munroe styled bathing suit (which she invented) after beating men time and time again at swimming, publishing the first ever fitness book, and wearing mermaid tails in aquariums… this woman went on to film the first featured film underwater and the first film to cost 1 Million dollars to make. She also overcame leg pain to do it. I had found my new role model in Hannah and Annette.
I decided I would use earning a tail to help me get through painful physio therapy. That’s the thing with chronic pain… you need to endure a little more to get any better. When you’re caught in a pain cycle it’s not motivating. Knowing after X amount of months I would feel better and get a tail made it worth it to me. They weren’t too expensive so I sent away for it, only to find mine would be the last to be made as the person who sewed them had died, and the company didn’t want to continue.
My tail arrived and I took it with me to my aunt and uncles cottage. I was a terrible swimmer. I fitted the tail with two swim fins and put a lifejacket on because I was afraid of drowning and never swam with my head underwater. What the heck was I even thinking? I was clumsy. I was floating. I sucked. I was not Hannah Fraser. I was not Annette Kellerman. I was a girl named Stephanie who was a terrible swimmer, in a lot of pain, and playing dress up. I figured hey, at least I can use the darn thing to model in. I did like the way it looked in photos. So no dear fans, I was NOT an instant mermaid. Nowhere close.
As time passed I would take my tail and practice in pools and get photos on the beach. Every time I did I would get such a response from children. I started doing the odd volunteer thing, I did more photoshoots, I made a terrible bra. Twice. Eventually I started wondering if there was a way to apply what I was learning in my child and youth degree to what I was doing as a mermaid. It became apparent that I would need a slightly better tail than that.
I started saving all my money, and a few fans of my modelling sent me a few sand dollars too. I found this mermazing woman called Mermaid Linden and saw that she did a lot of work with kids. Maybe I could develop something for myself like that too? Eventually I’d saved $1000 for a mertailor tail. I sent my money off, after taking my measurements, and patiently waited a few months until the boxed arrived on my doorstep…. I had been following everything the mertailor did and loved the photos I saw. This was the photo of the tail I had asked to have made. I was convinced with a monofin and a new latex tail I’d be able to actually launch a business and swim a whole lot better.
The instant I opened the box my heart sank. I could already tell by looking at the thing on the floor (which looked nothing like what I’d seen on the site) that it wouldn’t fit. It was at least 10 inches too short. The colours were super pale and looked like they’d rub off. I wiggled into it; it didn’t even cover my butt and only came up about half way. I wanted to cry. I emailed the tail maker right away, but he insisted the issue was my measuring. I looked through my old emails I’d sent him and confirmed the tail measurements did not match my tail, and I’ve since confirmed that he indeed sent me a generic tail. I didn’t know what else to do, so I resolved to just make it work. I learned how to use the clone tool on photoshop so I could clone the scales to cover my butt.
The first few times swimming in it was horrible. It wouldn’t stay on because of the measuring issues. The fluke would fill up with water. The paint rubbed off the first swim. I was heartbroken but determined. I figured my mermaid dreams were over before they began. I didn’t know what to do until I found mernetwork and started talking about my experience. It was my first time ever talking to anyone who also liked mermaids, let alone dressed up as one. I made a good friend (the one who introduced me to mernetwork) and she mailed me a dry top and some crowns to wear. I started doing photoshoots in the tail and getting the photographers to edit it. Again I felt like, at the very least I now had a very expensive modelling prop.
I got my sister involved in mermaiding. She was so little at the time! I put her in the fabric tail while I’d wear this one. We did have a lot of fun just pretending to be mermaids and doing the odd volunteer gig. Even if the silly tail didn’t stay on. I still felt magical.
One day on mernetwork I decided to post a review about my tail. It caused some drama, but pretty soon other people started speaking out about their tails. Before long, we had a huge explosion of unhappy customers and I found myself the unintended leader of a splashback against this tail maker. I just wanted my money back, or a new tail. After hearing so many others were having the same experience I was, I just wanted people to KNOW about it so they could make an informed decision before buying. It turned into quite a war; one that caused me grief for years to come. I often wonder what our community would be like if I just said nothing. It seemed to start a revolution… but the whole ordeal caused me a lot of pain.
I met this wonderful girl named Raven. We didn’t hit it off at first, but after we got to know each other we realized we had a lot in common. She offered to fix my tail if I sent it to her. She’d figured out that the tail was made of materials that weren’t what the tail maker had claimed. It was a latex caulking- not real latex, and a wetsuit spacer. She thought she had figured out a way to manage it. I sent the tail off hopeful, but was worried of being disappointed again. The second she sent it back and I opened the box… I was floored. It was like a whole new tail! She made it fit me! Repainted it! Glued the fluke down! It was what I wanted it to be in the first place. I was so happy.
Things took off almost right away. I learned the hard way that even though Raven had done an amazing job on the tail; the paint would never stick because of the materials. I got a crash course in repairing my tail myself and learned a lot about it from the folks on the forum. I made this horrible choice to dye my hair blonde, and then as I started doing more dry gigs I got a LOT of media coverage. I wound up on the cover of our newspaper and another paper. I was still a terrible swimmer… I didn’t even have a wet top I could wear. I wore a black bathing suit top haha. Most of what I did was dry land parties and dry land events and I focused a lot on education. I did do the odd swim party. Then I finally had a shell top made too! I still found time to model. To be honest looking back I am kinda embarrassed by the media coverage, haha. The bleached hair, the outfit, the falling apart tail...
After all the media coverage, I realized I needed to up my game. I DID want to be like Hannah Fraser. I DID want to be like Linden. Maybe I could make a real difference for kids and the environment? I was learning so much through my merfolk friends on mernetwork, on facebook, and through emails. Maybe I could do this! But the repairs on my tail were becoming more and more. It was stretching out and I couldn’t keep up. I wanted something more reliable. I wanted something silicone.
Raven and I chatted for a while, and she decided she would try to make me a silicone tail even though she had never made one before. The whole process took about a year and during that time I continued to up my game as Raina the Halifax Mermaid. It was a cold blustery day when the tail arrived…
Don’t stop and think that it was all roses and easy the moment I opened that box! My career really took off after I got the silicone tail, but this story? It’s just starting.
Come back for part 2!
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