So as you might imagine, the internet has been pretty crucial in bringing the merfolk community together. Think of all the fairytale characters who would have been less lonely with a laptop—Cinderella could have talked with other hot ash-covered future princesses, the little mermaid could have befriended other human-loving sea creatures with statues of devastatingly handsome human princes decorating their lairs… In the same way, land-bound mermaids and mermen have found each other over MySpace and Facebook and perhaps on this VERY BLOG… as well as on Mer Yuku forum started by one Mermaid Iona and her cohort Malinghi. A gathering place for mermaids and mermen, Mer Yuku (now MerNetwork) provides a forum to talk about costuming and tails and tailmakers and mermaiding generally. And as the merfolk community grows, Mer Yuku has just undergone an overhaul and moved to its own hosted site to become the MerNetwork, which you should obviously join immediately.
Below, I talk to Mermaid Iona about her own mermaidliness and what makes a young merfairy start an online forum when there are so many oceans to traverse and princes to woo. (My interview with Malinghi will appear here soon as well.) Our Q and A follows.
So when did you become a mermaid?
Like many of us, my mermaid journey started when I was a little girl. Inspired by The Little Mermaid, Splash, and the Weeki Wachee showgirls, the passion of a mermaid was in me for as long as I can remember. As a child whenever I had access to water I could swim in, I spent all day in the water it was quite hard to get me out! I would swim around the pool pretending I was a mermaid, or even pretend to “float” around the house and make believe I was at the bottom of the ocean. I needed no imagination in the ocean, I felt one with it.
The passion was always there, but I didn’t find out how to really embody my passions until about four years ago. One day I was surfing the web and I stumbled upon a YouTube clip of Freshwater Mermaid swimming in her vinyl tail. I was astonished and overjoyed that having a tail you could swim in was actually possible! I got a monofin as soon as I could, right in time for my move to California. I delved into the net, searching for everything having to do with “real” mermaids- which back then was a rare find. Four months later I had a gorgeous fabric tail made by Mermaid Jewel. My first swimming in the tail felt so natural to me, and magical. I knew then that I wanted to try and learn more about all kinds of different mermaids, tails, and to try and connect with others who shared my passion. Years later I own three tails— two latex/neoprene and one spandex—and the mermaid community has evolved and keeps growing!
What other mermaids inspire you?
There are so many wonderful inspiring mermaids established and coming out of the waves, if you will. Each one I find inspires me in a different way. Hannah Fraser for her fearlessness, determination, and passion for the environment; Medusirena for her performance capabilities; Mermaid Raven (of Merbellas) for her awe-inspiring creations. creativity, and drive; Raina the Halifax Mermaid for her passion of educating the young and old on the health of our planet and how it effects our health, as well as her kind and grounded nature in the community. Also all the numerous merfolk that take a stand for our environment, spreading awareness and working to make changes for the better. Lastly, all of the merfolk that use mermaiding/mermanning to push themselves and live the dream despite any conditions or disabilities.
What appeals to you about mermaids?
There is of course the aspect and air of freedom when I think about merfolk—over 70% of earth is covered by the ocean, with its seemingly infinite depths. Not only is there freedom in the vastness of the ocean, but in what I think is the thing that most appeals to me about them—a mer’s sense to be true to themselves. A mermaid’s heart wants what a mermaid’s heart wants, and we refuse to ignore that. We are all unique individuals and reject the idea of being “cookie cutter” (despite what Disney may lead you to believe), but rather to embrace what we want and who we want to be, no matter what anyone says. It shows in our unique tails and accessories, our personalities, our opinions, and our actions. It’s great to see how this reflects on each mermaid or merman as they appear in the community, I must say!
Are you as into fairies as you are mermaids? Do your mermaid and fairy identities clash at all, or are they one and the same?
Fairies and mermaids both have been a passion for me for as long as I can remember. I discovered the vast fairy community around the same time that I discovered the merfolk community. I decided to give myself a separate name for my identity, as most mermaids and fairies do. I thought to myself, “I’ve always loved both- why should I have to only pick one?” Even the mermaids that had fae identities had separate names for each, but I decided to combine mine—thus Wingéd Mermaid Iona.
Sometimes my identities clash, but it’s less mental and more physical. I have a deep love for both water and earth, ocean and forest. Sometimes the love or yearning for one is stronger than the other and they often switch off. When I lived in a mountain state I loved and enjoyed the forest but I felt like I was going to go crazy if I didn’t get to the ocean! Now living near the ocean I enjoy it but I do miss the forests. I’ve found it’s all about finding balance, like everything else in life. Otherwise, I find that the identity and sense of self of a mermaid and a fairy fit quite well together.
Do you identify as a mermaid all the time.. or do you slip in and out of your mer self?
To me, a mermaid is just part of who you are. It’s my love for all bodies of water, from the ocean to small creeks; it’s my it’s my love for the ocean and it awe-some beauty, depths, and fantastic creatures; it’s my love for the environment and all animals; in my love for fantasy and the magical feeling that comes along with being a mermaid. I don’t think I could ever slip out of being a mermaid—I really feel like it’s rooted in me as part of what I am. However, as I come more into my public mermaid identity I do find myself separating from my personal identity, if only a little, to help more of my inner self and confidence show through.
Can you tell me about MerNetwork (formerly MerYuku) and the merfolk community generally?
Mer Yuku was born out of what I felt was necessity in order to connect with other merfolk. Back several years ago most mermaids were on Myspace—however it was hard to actually connect on a more interactive level with people. The reason Malinghi and I ended up as partners together was because he said I was the only one who wrote back when he messaged me. Myspace started phasing out and more and more people were leaving but had yet to resurface anywhere else. Malinghi and I stayed in touch, and I mentioned that I wish I there was a place where the mefolk community could come together and interact. There was also the matter that there were no places where people could find public reviews on tail makers—which I think is pretty important considering that they range from $120-$6,000, and you can’t see them in person before buying. I wasn’t very optimistic about the ability to create or the potential success of such a place, but Malinghi urged me to work to make it a reality. Together we decided to create a forum—we looked through hosts together, created the forum, and promoted to all our merfolk friends. It started out slow, but then exploded with active members and all kinds of information! The community formed and we have all shared, grown, and learned together, through good and bad!
As the community grew we decided that we needed more space, freedom, and security to let the community spread it’s fins. The new site has more features, freedom, and control to help us help the community be all it can be!
I must say MerYuku was more successful than I could have hoped for, and MerNetwork now has even more potential! Many mers are now surfacing on Facebook, but MerNetwork still has and serves its purpose.
How have you seen this community change and evolve (if you have)?
I would say one of the big players in the evolution would be the ability to have public reviews. One of my main goals for MerYuku was to be able to be able to post open and honest reviews of products and experiences with tail makers. Before this there weren’t that many people who had professionally made tails, let alone the neoprene and/or latex ones. Any one that did was very “hush hush” about it, like they didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
After review sections were made available people started coming out one by one and posting. There was a LOT of drama following all this. There were makers exposed for having a less than quality product and customer service, and makers exposed for being scam artists. One even attacked MerYuku in an attempt to have the negative reviews and comments deleted from the forum. In the end through awareness of the community the scam artist has seemingly given up his efforts to get “customers”, and the other has hopefully started to learn the importance of listening to feedback from their customers and from the community.
Another thing that has evolved the mer community is the ability to share the ins and outs of DIY merfolk fashion, from tails to accessories. One mermaid arrived on the scene and inspired a huge change in both. Mermaid Raven (of Merbellas) is famous for leading the DIY neoprene and latex mer tail movement, as well as inspiring and helping the rest of us with her beautiful accessories. Before it was all about the tail. Now more and more mermaids are looking to purchase, make, and even sell their own wonderful accessories in an effort to pull together their own individual looks and mer personality!
Lastly, just the ability to have a lot of the merfolk in once place sharing information, opinions, inspiration, and passions leads to continuous evolution in the community. We had been toying with the idea of meet-ups for a while, and now we have the Wold Mermaid Awards! Also the Merfolk Pods, introduced at MerNetwork.com, are in beginning stages. We hope that this will encourage more meet ups and a better sense of community for everyone. It’s an amazing thing to see. There are ups and downs, and as in any community there will always be drama, but all in all it’s amazing what we can do when we stand together!
As tails become more available and affordable, more and more merfolk are appearing on the scene, young and old. This movement started years ago, but is building more and more momentum as it goes. Similarly, as more and more people get tails and are inspired by others, more and more professional mermaids and mermen are establishing themselves. I believe this will continue with more momentum as it goes as well.
I think there may also be a movement coming where mefolk are not only interactive with each other online, but in person. In the past most mers keept to themselves, as mostly it’s hard to find others in the same vicinity. As more mers take up their tails, it will be easier to find ones close. But more than that, most people are pretty hesitant in meeting up casually with one another if they’ve only met and talked online. I think the WMAs is going to serve as a huge ice breaker for this community. Once people meet and see what fun it can be with other merfolk (and know that they’re not creepy stalker people, haha) I think smaller meet ups will be more common. Hopefully we’ll see Pod meet ups all over the country follow!
Lastly, some have been saying that mermaids are due to be the next “big thing”, replacing vampires and werewolves. I think that this is most likely a correct prediction, but it’s unsure how quickly this will come into being mainstream, or how far people will take it. I am also unsure how this may effect the merfolk community and what we stand for, but only time will tell.
How do people respond to you as a mermaid where you live?
Here in California people are generally pretty open minded. When swimming in public pools I get mostly neutral and positive responses from people. Some will try not to stare and just try and ignore me, but most people will come up and ask me about my tail. The most common response is, “Wow, that’s really cool!”. I’ve had a few negative encounters, but they were the kind of people who don’t have any respect for anyone, let alone a mermaid. The best reactions come from small children- they’re so interested and mystified by my tail and how I swim! The sparkle in their eyes and looks on their faces is priceless! They often ask to touch it, and if I’m Ariel or know Ariel. Often times as soon as kids see my tail I am instantly dubbed “Ariel!”, even if I’m walking out in public with the tail on my shoulder (to/from the pool). I have yet to take my tail to the beach, but plan to here soon for some photo shoots. I’m sure I’ll get some double takes and questions from curious adults and kids alike!
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Have faith in yourself! You never know what your passions can turn into if you just get out there and give it a chance. Look to other merfolk for inspiration, but concentrate on finding out who the unique mermaid or merman in you really is. Being a mermaid isn’t about how many pretty accessories you have, or how fancy and expensive your tail is- it’s about what’s in your heart, your passion and what you can DO with it!”