When Caitlin Nielsen told her kindergarten teacher she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up, the kids laughed at her. But now aged 32, Caitlin is living her dream: She is part of a ‘secret’ community of people who identify as part-human, part-fish and call themselves merfolk, Mail Online reports.
Caitlin had long dreamed of being a mermaid and watching the Disney movie The Little Mermaid did nothing to ease her aspirations.
So in 2015 the biology graduate quit her job so she could focus full-time on her real ambition: being a full-time mermaid.
Under her mer name of ‘Cyanea’, she earns a living running mermaid workshops and creates majestic silicone tails. But for her – and many more of her kind – it is more than a tail: it is part of her and she refers to it as a ‘prosthetic limb’.
She said: ‘I do feel like my tail is a part of me, and I do actually feel like it is a prosthetic limb.
‘I sometimes joke that I wear a prosthetic because I was born with a terrible birth defect – which is legs.
‘When my tail is off I feel a little bit awkward. Suddenly I have legs and I don’t know what to do with them. I feel extremely clumsy.’
There is a growing community across America of people who identify as ‘mer’ and spend their time donning elaborately decorated silicone tails that can cost up to $3,500 and take a year to make, swim in the sea and swimming pools and attend mer-conventions across the U.S.
This group of ‘professional’ mermaids converge on , a forum for the merfolk to discuss their new ventures and plan such conventions.
Last year hundreds of people from around the world gathered in Greensboor North Carolina for the world’s largest MerMania convention where they spent hours in an Olympic-sized pool, while sporting embellished handmade fins and tails and makeup.
But her mermaid life is not only a job but a teaching opportunity. As a former biology graduate and a child of marine biologist, she uses her new identity to teach others about ocean conservation.
‘Both of my parents are marine biologists, so I grew up knowing a lot about the oceans, spending a lot of time at the sea shores and really feeling like I was meant to be in the ocean.’
Under her Instagram username ‘Cait_stark’, Caitlin spends her time posting videos and photos to herself online following as well as hanging out with the growing community of merfolk in Seattle.
Her friends Ed Brown and Tessie LaMourea also identify as part-fish-part-human and like Caitlin, they are immersed in the lifestyle.
Environmental policy student Tessie was inspired to become a mermaid ever since she attended a magical mermaid school in the exotic Philippines three years ago.
Once she slides her tail on and becomes Mermaid Essie, she says her worries disappear and the magical feeling of invincibility and power arises.
The 24-year-old said: ‘I have a lot of body insecurities, I think a lot of people do. When I am in my tail I don’t feel insecure anymore. Because it suddenly doesn’t matter what size I am because I am a mermaid and that is what people really focus on.
‘When I take my tail off it almost feels like a piece of me has come off, that I am in a weird limbo. It’s very vulnerable feeling. It is an odd feeling for sure.
‘It suddenly doesn’t matter what size I am because I am a mermaid and that is what people really focus on.’
Ed Brown, 24, often swims with Tessie and Caitlin and says life as a merperson has been ‘magic’.
‘When I’m in the water with my tail on, it’s just like magic.
‘I could never have a bad day swimming, no matter what happens. If I put on my tail, I have done swimming, it’s automatically good day.’
Ed – whose mer-name is Mahtlinnie – identifies as being a non-binary, asexual person but becoming a merperson has helped the Disney fan come terms with their sexuality and the social anxiety it caused.
Ed said: ‘The best part of being a merperson is the chance to live out a dream or fantasy that a lot of people, especially kids, have. You know you can put on a costume and become a magical creature and be something other than who you are for a little while.
‘I’m still being me but I’m being more of myself than I might feel comfortable with just in my day-to-day life.’
Like Caitlin, Ed was inspired by the idea of becoming a merperson as a child, particularly after watching the Disney film The Thirteenth Year.
Ed believes being the mythical-being is a chance to live out a dream, or fantasy, which allows them to temporarily escape from reality.
‘Most merpeople have a movie or TV show that inspired them.
‘You know you can put on a costume and become a magical creature and be something other than who you are for a little while.’
As well as raising a few eyebrows at the local swimming pool, the merfolk’s friends and family have had to get used to the idea of having a fishy friend.
Although Tessie’s mother is supportive, she initially found the concept of being a mermaid ‘stupid’.
Tessie said: ‘When I told my mother that I wanted to be a mermaid, she just kept laughing at me. She thought it was hysterical and she never thought that I will actually end up doing it.
Tessie’s mother Cora LaMourea, said: ‘I thought it was a stupid idea first. I thought it was just going to be a waste of money and a waste of time. I thought her time could best be used studying as a graduate student than swimming with a tail.’
However, overtime, Cora has come to accept her daughter’s passion to be a mermaid and has even attended a mer-retreat and slipped on a tail herself.
She said: ‘I think she is in fantasy land when she is in her tail. It’s different than the reality of the hustle and bustle of being a graduate student. In the water she feels free, she feels there is nothing else more important than just swimming and enjoying the moment.’
Although Caitlin isn’t married to a merman, her human husband, Kim Lomman, proudly tells everyone that he’s married to a mermaid.
She said: ‘My husband thinks it’s really awesome that I’m a mermaid. He has known about it since we first met.
‘I’d probably look for merman boyfriend if I wasn’t already married to a human.’
Kim said: ‘I think it was one of the first things she told me. At the time I had no real understanding of what that meant but she didn’t seem too crazy so I just went with it.
‘I have been a part of a couple mermaid get-togethers, as support, helper, and photographer. I’m proud to be married to Caitlin and mermaiding is a large part of who she is.