by: Tristan Risk "Little Miss Risk"
Mangled Mermaid Moments
You always remember the first time - the first time you try to swim, legs fused together, to emulate a mermaid. Whether you were a child in a community pool or a drunken adult at the beach, few things can be more awkward than the experience of expectation over reality.
I’ve had two of these starts, in my own mermaiding journey. It began when I was six or seven, and my mother had rented the Disney film, ‘Splash’. In one scene, the mermaid, she rises with legs from bed, and draws a bath for herself, pouring salt into it.
Presumably, to make it salt water like the ocean. She slides into the tub, and transforms into a mermaid, promoting that moment to imprint itself onto my fresh little brain tissues.
Fast forward to I don’t know how many baths later that I’ve been through in my life where I tried to emulate that scene. I’ve lost count of how many times, I emptied half the box of salt into the bath thinking that maybe this time will be the time when I finally ‘make the change’. I had female relatives who referred to starting your period and menopause as ‘the change’, so I felt it reasonable to assume that this change meant mermaiding was a viable option. I didn’t realize it was supposed to be the alpha and omega of my fertility cycle, but I still think that my way is a far superior option.
When I grew older, I appreciated that the ability to change into a mermaid was still a possibility, though it wouldn’t be through magic or biology, but rather through costume. Fine, I thought. It wasn’t the most ideal way, but it was better than nothing, and besides, at the end of the day, I was presenting myself to the world how I wished to be perceived. However, the saga of the mermaid tails begun with the Halloween I decided to trick-or-treat as one.
My mother has a lot of fine qualities, and is as sweet as the day is long. But a seamstress she is not, and when it came to my Halloween costumes as a child, the expectation/reality dynamic reared it’s ugly head often. When I announced my intention to go out with my friends as a mermaid, I distinctly remember the face she made. It was one of pained resignation, knowing that I had made up my mind, and that entailed a lot of unpaid costume labour on her behalf.
The final product was a far cry from Darryl Hannah’s costume in Splash. There are photos of it that exists that will never see digital translation from physical media. I’ll spare details, but it was a grand effort, but fell far short of what my own personal expectations were. To be fair, the one thing that I’ve learned from a lifetime of being a performer is that you cannot expect anyone else who is making your costume to give a fig about detail and execution, unless you are paying them. At least the candy haul was good that year, but I can’t shake the feeling I got extra pity candy for the ghetto costume.
My first adult tail was a bit of a shit show. I had a friend take one leg off of a pair of yoga leggings that had a hole in one knee, and sew up the side. The fin consisted of silver lame, where my legs poked into. The scales were fashioned by making a stencil with silver spray paint. As with many of the costumes I work on or embellish myself, it was made with the assistance of a one litre bottle of Chardonnay. It was, as we say in burlesque, ‘good from afar, yet far from good’. It was no matter, I finally had a tail of some semblance, and given that no one else was renting themselves out as mermaid for events at that time, I didn’t do too poorly.
However, I recall one memorable time with that tail, when I had worn it to the Pieces Playground Party, an annual event in Vancouver that showcases electronic music in one of the local underground art spaces. I had entered the ‘perfect storm’ of bringing it to the party with the intent to find somewhere to perch among the perch, potentially. However, my experience with those parties was short at that point, and I wound up sitting for most of the evening in a dark corner with people on MDMA too high to function. It was definitely the type of party to favour the bipedal.
None of these are the most horrendous experiences I’ve come across. I’ve spoken with a few different mermaids, who’s names I’ve changed to protect their monikers, brands, and future employment at kid’s parties, but whom wanted to share their own awkward siren moments while in tail…
Carrie, 24, TX
“I work as a professional mermaid and a princess at children’s parties. Usually, I’m in tip top shape to give the little ones my full energy (and boy, can they take it!) when I’m doing a job. However, one night it was my best friend’s birthday, so we all went out for Japanese food. I don’t normally eat sushi, but decided to try anything and everything they ordered. One of the rolls has a funny ‘not quite right’ taste to it. Long story short, I was stricken with food poisoning, and was up all night, sick in the bathroom. I had some stuff to deal with my low end, but I couldn’t stop wanting to puke. I decided to put on my tail, go to my gig, and do my best. I carry a small chest that I usually keep party favors in for the kids, but for some reason, the smell of the barbecue in the backyard, where I was set up, triggered me, and I wound up discreetly heaving into it when I thought that no one was looking. I couldn’t wait to get home and wash it out after that and sleep it off!”
Jade, 32, MN
“I’ve been obsessed with mermaids since I was a kid, and when I found out that you can get realistic tails made, I was game. I bought one before I bought my first car! I was so proud of it, I’d take it anywhere I could and got a reputation as ‘the mermaid chick’. I was totally fine with that. I wore it to a party with my friends one year who all dressed as pirates. They found an awesome spot on the patio for me to chill out, and would lift the lounge chair I was in up, like a litter, when I needed to go somewhere. I felt like the Ocean Queen until my pirates got too drunk to keep the chair up, and they wound up dropping me. I ended up breaking my fall with my arms onto the concrete patio and getting both of my wrists broken. Fun times!”
Alexa, 28, FL
“I have learned the value of time management when I go into ‘mermaid-mode’. I have a tail that is custom made, but I’ve gained a bit of weight with my job, so it’s really tight. I still wear it though, but it takes a bit of time to put on so I don’t destroy it. It also takes a bit of time to get it off too. I found that out the hard way when I took my tail to a resort with a huge pool. I had gotten my tail on, and was living the dream poolside when I needed to go to the bathroom. I was lying on my back on the side of the pool, and I listen my legs up in a right angle to my body, to let the excess water out. My core strength isn’t as good as it used to be, and the monodic is heavy. My legs went up over my head into a yoga plow position, and I wound up putting my back out. I had to call in to work sick to tell that I had injured myself as a mermaid. The office all gave me fish hooks as a get well joke while I was laid up.”
So, as it stands, there is truly a struggle that most folks don’t appreciate when it comes to a dual life of land and water. Hopefully, next time you see a mermaid at an event, beach, or pool, you might have a greater understanding of her lifestyle, and the hidden dangers that come with it, outside of sharks, overfishing, and global warming.