Earlier this year, a hundreds of people from around the world who identify as mermaids and mermen got together in Greensboro, North Carolina, for the world’s largest first MerMania meetup.
The event was created by 200 eco-activists with the intention of focusing on environmental issues that affect our oceans, according to TWC News. The merfolk attendees ranged in all sizes, ages, and genders, and spent hours swimming across an Olympic-sized pool in bedazzling handmade fins and tails and makeup.
Mermaid tails cost anywhere between $10 and $3500, CNN reported. Many of the attendees had likely connected in online communities and wanted to meet and swim together in real life.
MerMania attendees had joined the mer-community for a variety of reasons, many of them doing it professionally. Shannon Rauch, or Mermaid Shannon, said she joined the community as a fun form of exercise. She eventually left her job as a broadcast journalist and became a professional mermaid. Marla Spellenberg, a mermaid since 1969, began working as a mermaid before the mer-community was culturized. Her husband calls himself Mertender Steve because of his role as a person who helps transport mermaids by wheelchair or dolly across land.
“The recent booming and upheaval of mermaid culture and mermaiding as a job has really brought to life my childhood fantasies, and I’d love to be able to live that out in a professional way,” 20-year-old student Justin Day told USA Today.
Hannah Fraser is an eco-activist who says being a mermaid helps her create “these images that show a connection and symbiotic relationship between humans and animals,” so “people can find they can approach the ocean in an entirely different way: without fear.”
Perhaps the most fascinating species of merfolk are those who do it for no reason other than essentially wanting to be human fish. One attendee from Orlando said s/he became a mermaid simply to “retreat into the fantasy world” and “not deal with people.”
A 60-year-old woman named Rebecca Woodard said she felt less shy once she became a mermaid. “I feel like maybe I’m not as shy. I lost a little bit of that shyness and was braver about things. It bled over and doesn’t matter if anyone thinks it’s crazy, but do what you want!” she said.
Christian O-Brocki, or Merman Christian, said he wanted to become a merman after watching the movie Splash as a child. “Being a merman isn’t as easy as the girls,” he told CNN. “You see a mermaid, everybody’s like, oh, how beautiful. You see a guy, and they’re kind of–” O’Brocki made a face to imitate a reaction he often gets.
O’Brocki is trying to raise awareness for mermen and merboys who are having a hard time fitting in with the mermaid community.
“We’re trying to have the world be more accepting of mermen,” he said. “We share a love of the sea, and the life that thrives in it and we’re doing this because it makes us happy.”
O’Brocki’s inspirational message to young boys was the following: “For all the little merboys out there, I’m going to say if you want to wear a tail, you put that on, if you want to swim in the sea and be happy because it’s fun, just go for it.”