Shine tries it: the mermaid trend

Breaking news: Mermaids are real. Kind of.

Discovery Channel’s recent faux documentary “Mermaids: The Body Found” convinced viewers nationwide of evidence of the mythological creature.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
The “Blair Witch” style special, (which aired on Discovery this past Sunday after its May debut on Animal Planet) used CGI technology to create false proof of bones of a human-fish hybrid. Soon enough the Internet was ablaze with speculation, and government officials from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were forced to release a statement disproving the images’ validity.

"The belief in mermaids may have arisen at the very dawn of our species," a statement from NOAA reads. "But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists. "

Maybe so, but Yahoo! Shine took a shot at it first. While actual mermaids may be mythical, humans with working fins are growing in numbers.  A subculture of mermaid wannabes have emerged in blogging communities in recent years, prompting a niche group of “mertailers” that custom-design and sell tails that really work.

I first spotted online evidence of a mer-culture thanks to a blogger named Mermaid Shelly, a San Diego environmental activist who joined fellow mer-folk at designated pools dressed in hand-made tails. Her links to “merfolk directories” and “mer-meetups” revealed an underground world some would consider creative conservationists other would dub fetishists. Mainly women, the mermaids meet at pools or seaside, joined by “mer-tenders” there to provide physical assistance in getting in and out of tails.

Initially, I questioned the psychology behind the trend.  ”I was always a shy person, so imagining an underwater world where I could retreat to was comforting to me,” explains Shelly in an interview with a fellow mer-blogger named Cynthia . “When I was a freshman in high school, I met my husband, Chris. It was wonderful to finally meet someone who felt the same way and was as drawn to it as I was! Needless to say, it has been a lifelong journey for us and we have built our lives around it.”  

Yes, Shelly’s husband is now high-tailing it too. A generation raised on “Splash” and “The Little Mermaid” has grown up to create a world where the human fin is a reality, science be damned.

As part of that generation, Shelly’s description of the unique feeling of swimming with a tail had me convinced: It’s worth a try.

I wasn’t alone. This past summer retailers like Mermagica, 3fin and The Mertailor have been fielding requests from those outside the mer-folk subculture. This past week, style sites around the web have tagged mer-tails as summer’s most surprising trend.

About a month ago, I placed an order with Mermagica for a custom-made tail. After giving foot, waist and leg measurements, along with $135, I finally received a blue, shimmery “Supertail” of my own. It felt like a wetsuit made out of a prom dress. Putting my feet in the fin, a conjoined snorkeling flipper, I understood why mer-tenders are a must. You can’t really move on land once you’re in it. With my feet bound in the water, I thought not of the myth of mermaids but the myth of old-school mobs (you know, traitors tossed into rivers with cemented feet). But like magic, I could swim—not like a person, but like a fish. It’s an incredible core workout  that forces your entire body to move in a head-to-toe wave, like a muscled bluefin tuna swimming upstream.

My rarely employed stomach muscles were forced to react and as a result I swam faster, and more gracefully than ever before.

The reactions from non mer-folk at the pool ranged from muffled chuckles and fearful avoidance. But a little girl swimming beside me totally got it. Later, her mom explained that her daughter has been begging for a swimming tail for months and asked if they made tails in children’s sizes. They do.

They also make them for men. By the end of my swim, I offered a fascinated male spectator the chance to try on my tail. Once he got past the awkward suit-up and unbridled blushing, he kicked off like King Triton and dove dolphin-style in arches through the pool. (The dorsal fin on the back of my tail was particularly convincing on him.)

“Mertastic!” he said, which made sense only in context. Then we agreed to not mer-speak of that mer-moment ever again. Sorry, guy.

-Piper Weiss, Yahoo Shine