Lucy Milburn 5th December 2017
Fancy a magical career change? Want to escape the daily grind? Freelancing as a professional mermaid is now a viable and increasingly popular career in 2017.
A far cry from simply posing in a shimmering tail or posting a hashtag on social media, being a mermaid is a serious entrepreneurial endeavour. Mermaids are media-savvy and business-smart entertainers who are dedicated to transforming their childhood ambitions into a successful (and often very profitable) career.
Life as a professional mermaid is a tough gig. From struggling with a 15kg tail around your bound legs to risking infection from murky water, the lifestyle is not glamorous. There are huge start-up costs involved, as splashing out on a custom-made silicone tail can set you back more than £1,000.
It is physically demanding – professional mermaids must be strong, confident swimmers who can propel themselves through the water with only a dolphin kick. Freedive UK now offers specialised mermaid training courses as successful mermaids are highly qualified freedivers, capable of holding their breath for up to five minutes. A flair for social media is also essential as mermaids must market themselves effectively to book the most lucrative gigs.
The Overtake dove into the world of glitter and monofins to get the lowdown on “mermaiding” as a successful career.
Becoming a professional mermaid often has its roots in childhood fantasies and many mermaids cite Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid as kick-starting their mermaid obsession. Unicorns were the cultural touchstone of last year and mermaids are the latest mythical creature to become a burgeoning subculture. Colourful “mermaid toast”, for example, is the latest food trend to dominate Instagram.
“Mermaids are the new vampires!” says mermaid pioneer Hannah Fraser on the rise of mermaid-mania. They are powerful, independent women who own their sensuality and celebrate being different.
I think young girls identify with them so much because they exemplify eternal youthfulness and symbolise freedom
Fraser associates the increasing popularity of the mermaid with our growing concerns about the wellbeing of the ocean as they symbolise our connection to the natural world.
“At a time when our oceans are so threatened by pollution, oil spikes, global warming and trash islands, it is interesting to see the resurgence of mermaids as the figurehead for ocean life.
“I think young girls identify with them so much because they exemplify eternal youthfulness and symbolise freedom,” she says.
Mermaid Athena Storm (real name Yasmin Awan) is a medical student, moonlighting as a professional mermaid to pay her way through university. While she was studying (or procrastinating), Athena Storm discovered a new UK-based mermaid camp and immediately signed herself up. She echoes Hannah Fraser’s sentiments about the joys of being at one with the ocean.
“Our present-day realities are becoming busier and more stressful, and there is nothing more calming than the sea. To be a mermaid is to connect with the sea on a spiritual level.
“I was going through an extremely difficult time in my life, battling with stress, anxiety and severe depression. Mermaiding came as an opportunity and helped me to pull myself out of the dark hole that was consuming me. I am now a much happier person,” she says.
Laura Evans is also known as the resident mermaid of St Ives Bay and often makes public appearances in the harbour to surprise unsuspecting tourists. Now a fully-fledged professional mermaid with a growing fan base, it was her affinity with the deep that inspired her pursuit of the unconventional career.
“I grew up by the sea in Cornwall. All I remember of my summer holidays are the hours spent in the sea until my mum practically had to drag me out. I was always a mermaid and the longer I could stay under the water, the happier I was,” she says.
Being a professional mermaid is a challenging career – you must be incredibly self-motivated and build a strong backbone against criticism. You might have to ignore the weird sexual advances of “merverts” because yes, mermaids experience sexual harassment too. You will certainly encounter greater occupational hazards than shrivelled pruney fingers. Mermaid Kat, one of the most recognisable professional mermaids who originally trained as a scuba diver instructor, emphasises the physically arduous nature of her career.
“You have to be very fit. You must have many years of training and qualifications in scuba and freediving before you can safely do underwater shoots on my level.
“One of the most unpleasant things for me is getting water in my nose and up my sinuses! But that’s part of the job,” she says.
Laura Evans worked to overcome the physical challenges of her newfound occupation, conditioning her mind and body to withstand the freezing ocean temperatures. However, her greatest challenge is public perception and negative comments from those who misinterpret her career. The harsh negativity includes people questioning her sanity and her credibility to discuss important issues such as mental health.
“I was a tad naive when I started and was taken aback when I had criticism thrown my way.
“I like to think I’m a fantasist with a sensible dose of reality. You do have to develop a thick skin and approach what you do with a healthy sense of humour. I must be prepared to laugh at myself,” she says.
Hannah Fraser has transformed her mermaid dreams into an international franchise, encompassing performances, photography and activism. Working as a professional mermaid since 2003, she is a pioneer of the mermaid profession yet she still encounters criticism from those who see mermaiding as just an obscure hobby.
I’m running a business, negotiating deals with large companies… and I’ve faced off with a great white shark in the wild!
“When I am in more intellectual or professional circles, people tend to think that I am not as smart or real-world realistic as they are,” she says.
“The funny thing is that I’m generally making just as much money. I’m running a business, negotiating deals with large companies, handling my accounts, travelling the world, utilising multiple skills in editing, web promotion, licensing content and business management… and I’ve faced off with a great white shark in the wild!”
Making mermaiding pay
It requires dedication and hard graft to make life as a mermaid pay. Aysun the Mermaid had been attending her local Renaissance festival when she decided that she wanted to be part of the magic. You often need a unique persona (or “mersona” as it is affectionately known) to be a successful mermaid – Aysun’s character has a Turkish name, a Russian accent and originates from the depths of the Black Sea.
“My key thing is that I am more than just a person in a costume working as living scenery or a photo opportunity. I am a fully interactive character with an in-depth backstory,” she says.
Mermaid Kat has also built a worldwide brand which she believes will be the key to her longevity in the industry. Professional mermaid monofins can be purchased from the Mermaid Kat shop and the next generation of mermaids are being trained at the Mermaid Kat Academy, the first official mermaid school.
“I know that the time will come when I’m not able to perform anymore myself but with my mermaid shop and schools, I have built businesses that will be able to sustain for many years,” she says.
As a medical student, it is quite hard to juggle everything
Building a legacy is also crucial for Laura Evans who wishes to pass on her role of St Ives’ resident mermaid when the time comes. Being adaptable and open to change is necessary to sustaining a career as a professional mermaid and Evans also attributes a vibrant social media presence to her success.
“Working as a mermaid has given me a bigger audience and I have taken that as an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about issues that I’m passionate about. I want to be approachable, honest, open and real.
“The last thing I want is to create an unrealistic and fantastical image of life as a mermaid – I want to show that what I do is achievable because it really is. Not just being a mermaid but pursuing a dream that seems totally unrealistic at first!” she says.
To be booked for events such as children’s parties, you must put yourself out there in the public eye. Marketing herself to a wide audience is Athena Storm’s current challenge.
“I am trying to use social media more to advertise and encourage bookings but, as a medical student, it is quite hard to juggle everything,” she says.
Yasmin sees herself being Mermaid Athena Storm for as long as she can – who says you can’t be both a doctor and a mermaid?
Being a mermaid goes hand-in-hand with a passionate love for the ocean and many professional mermaids are thoroughly engaged with environmentalism. Project Mermaids is just one example of a mermaid-inspired campaign to save the ocean. Celebrity fashion photographer Angelina Venturella captures celebrities in mermaid form, with proceeds going to non-profit organisation Save Our Beach.
Eco-conscious Hannah Fraser is dedicated to ocean conservation and uses her high-profile status to educate a wide audience. Her most daring feat was co-organising a paddle-out to protest the inhumane slaughter of dolphins in Taiji cove, Japan. The shocking footage was featured in award-winning documentary The Cove.
“The fishermen were very angry at being filmed doing these violent acts. They began to attack us with long fishing sticks and push their boat propellers towards our legs.
“I feel incredibly lucky that I have a talent that gives me a voice to be able to speak for causes that I feel strongly about. This is the part of my job that gives me most satisfaction, where I feel like I can be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves,” she says.
Main image: Mermaid Kat
Lucy Milburn 5th December 2017