Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or a shell, in this case), you won’t have missed the influx of mermaid-related goodies being available in most mainstream shops. Nor would the popularity of mermaid-themed make-up have passed you by.
But what happens when mermaiding is more than just a trend or Instagram-worthy post? What happens when becoming a mermaid is simply your way of life? I’m lucky enough to have a real life mermaid as one of my best friends, here I talk to Carla Watkins, mermaid extraordinaire, about all things mermaid-related, body positive and general feel-goodery…
1. Hi Carla! Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
Hello! Thank you for having me! I’m a body positive photographer & mermaid, addicted to all things fairytale & mythical. I believe in magic and make-believe, and the gorgeous rebellion of making your life absolutely your own. I live by the river with my two silly kittens Luna & Clover, am a firm fan of wearing glitter in the daytime, and I have more fountain pens than is reasonable for one human.
So, you’re a professional mermaid and mermaid photographer? What does this entail?
Being an actual real life mermaid! Swimming in a mermaid tail, posing in a tail, and turning other people into mermaids and photographing the results. My aim is to get people to see themselves differently (both wearing a tail and as a human), use their imaginations and play more, and if I can do all of that while wearing a fabulous tail, all the better!
How did you discover mermaiding?
While stuck in a miserable London job several years ago, I came across a video of Hannah Mermaid, and had one of those lifechanging moments where I knew without a doubt that was something I wanted to do. It took me another four or five years to get hold of a tail and swim in it for the first time – and it was worth every moment of waiting! I also found a great community of merpeople which has been a wonderful part of the journey.
What are the best and worst parts of being a mermaid?
Flying underwater, stepping into my mermaid alter ego and showing people you don’t have to be Ariel’s shape to be a gorgeous, glorious sea siren are my favourite parts. Chlorine burn in my eyes and constantly tangled hair are probably my least favourite, though totally worth it to be a mermaid.
What does it feel like to swim as a mermaid?
Honestly, it is like flying underwater. It’s quiet, and calm, and you are totally at one with your body and your mind. No matter what kind of a day I’ve had, or how I’m feeling about myself or the world, it never fails to bring me back to myself and remind me of just how amazing life can be.
Can you describe any positive/negative experiences you’ve had to your mermaiding?
It’s brought me even closer to my body and made me love it more – a journey which started with burlesque. Curvy mers are underrepresented (though the mer community is delightfully body positive & welcoming), and I love making people do a double-take when they see me confidently sitting around in my tail. Aside from the actual feeling of swimming, I really enjoy seeing people smile watching me dive & swim. And I’ve made some fantastic friends!
There aren’t many negative things, but as with anything outside of societal norms (and not only am I a mermaid, I am a curvy mermaid with back rolls and belly rolls and body hair and glasses), there are always the people who try to put me down and make me feel small, call me names or ridicule me. I quite enjoy slapping them with my fin… no, it hurts because I’m human, but also makes me more determined to set an example for others, and let other people discover their geekery and imagination, free from fear.
How do you feel when in your mermaid tail?
Fabulous! I do a lot of alter ego work, my mermaid is just one of them, but there is something unique about looking down and seeing, not human legs, but a graceful, powerful, colourful tail. I feel like me, but more vibrant – and I get a real kick out of making people smile seeing me wearing it.
What’s your mermaid name? How do you come up with a mermaid name?
Mermaid Kerenza Sapphire – from my favourite gemstone (it’s blue like my hair!) and an old Cornish word for love – my Dad’s side of the family is Cornish so it seemed appropriate. My alter egos often present me with names for themselves when I start to work on their character and look, and then I have a process of refining the names till they’re perfect using a combination of research, self-reflection and messing about with name generators on the internet!
Do you prefer photographing mermaids, or becoming a mermaid yourself?
Hardest question to answer! I adore being a mermaid myself, the feeling is like no other. But if I really had to choose, I’d choose photographing others in their tails – I’m a photographer at heart, the transformation is wonderful to see, and their excitement when they see the finished images is an unmatchable high!
What do you enjoy about photographing mermaids?
Is it too cheesy to say making people’s dreams come true? I love to help people see themselves differently and show up in the world as their real self – I also photograph lifestyle & boudoir, and I coax people to let themselves really be seen. I specialise in photographing grown ups as mermaids (though children do sneak in occasionally and are very welcome), and I love helping people to relax and put aside their body hangups or feeling silly, so they can really experience being a mermaid. Whether they are more pastel & glittery or more of a dark siren, the absolute best bit is seeing the joy on people’s faces when they put a tail on for the first time and see themselves as I do – glorious no matter what!
Is mermaiding diverse? Does it celebrate body image?
It’s a beautiful community which celebrates all kinds of mers – female male, trans, non binary – everyone is welcome and everyone is celebrated. We are still human, so people do have body hangups, but I’ve never witnessed anyone vilified for their body, which is refreshing. I think as a whole it could do with being more racially diverse, but the community is welcoming of everyone, no exceptions.
Are there any male mermaids?
Yes! Not as many as I’d like to see, but there are mermen out there – and at least one here in the UK is also a tailmaker, which is good news for aspiring mermen!
Do you have any advice for any budding mermaids out there?
The obvious is never to swim alone – mermaid tails are not dangerous in themselves, but like any sport, should be approached with caution. Having said that, I would say put aside your hangups and your fear of being laughed at and just try it! It’s the most wonderful feeling, whether you’re swimming in a tail, or you’re a non swimmer posing for photographs & autographs & making people smile. Plus, what better response is there to the question “and what do you do?” than “Oh, you know, I’m a real life mermaid”?!
And finally, where can we find you?
- You can find me, my mermaid shoots & my mermaid shop at Mermaiding UK and on all social as @mermaidinguk – I’m most active on Instagram.I run a pop up mermaid shop most months in Colchester, and also run mermaid hen parties – you can find details of both on the Mermaiding UK site.
I’m a classic multipod with lots of things on the go, and when I’m not being a mermaid, I’m a body positive photographer, a blogger & a not-even-slightly-recovering stationery addict – come and say hi over there too!
Body Positive Photography: @carlawphoto
Blogging Extraordinaire: @duckingfabulous
Stationary Goodness: @inkdropsbox