We hope you’re having a shimmering, summery week! We wanted to interrupt your day with some news from the mermaid world. Do you remember Virginia Hankins, who appeared on one of our most swoony covers ever, shot by Steve Parke and styled by Tricia Saroya (with armor by Michael Gould), for our spring 2017 “Warriors & Goddesses” issue? (You can order it and other back issues here). (Speaking of which, we’re working on lowering our international shipping costs for single issues, so email us at email@example.com if you’re hankering for one!). Here’s that cover:
And one of the equally swoony spreads inside:
You may or may not remember that Virginia is a bona fide mermaid, one of the few featured in The Mermaid Handbook. And now she’s come out with her own gorgeous mermaid tome, full of all kinds of mermaidly secrets, called Be a Real-Life Mermaid: Unleash Your Inner Siren with a Colorful Swimmable Tail, Seashell Jewelry and Decor, Glamorous Hair and Makeup, Fintastic Persona and More. In it, she offers her best advice on becoming the mermaid you were meant to be, from throwing the perfect mermaid party, to splash-proofing your beauty routine. Look at this stunning cover (stunning covers being another of Virginia’s specialties):
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Below, we ask her a few questions about the book and hermermaidly ways generally:
How did you become a mermaid?
I had the opportunity in 2012 to go on an underwater shoot in Mexico with the legendary underwater photographer Brenda Stumpf. Brenda and I had worked on a lovely underwater Joan of Arc piece the year before where I appeared in full plate armor under water. We worked well together and when a model for her Mexico shoot cancelled she asked if I would consider modeling for her. Brenda was wonderfully open about collaboration and told me that while she had some things that she wanted to shoot that there would also be time to shoot other “for fun” items, if desired. Out of spontaneity to do something completely different I said that I’d like to be a mermaid. I genuinely did not see that ever being a career path! As no one would rent costumes to us and there weren’t many major brands on the market, the shoot team had to make our own and learn how to do the swim work by hiring subject matter experts in diving and swimming to figure it out. Six years later I am privileged to run Sheroes Entertainment, one of the most, if not the most, successful mermaid company in the world that has worked with and performed for famous A-list clients and companies like President Bush, President Carter, Hillary Clinton, Billy Idol, Quincy Brown, Jessica Simpson, Gwen Stefani, Lucky Brand, Next Top Model, Google, and Ellen to name a few!
What appeals to you about mermaids? Did they always intrigue you?
I personally love the infinite challenge of my work as a mermaid. For me mermaiding is a job but also a genuine challenge due to the intricate details that are needed to do it well. Doing things like underwater modeling, creating an incredible stage show, or training in apnea diving are hard work. I don’t know of any other industry where you are expected to smile and look pretty while being cold, blind, and wrapped in tight clothing with weights under water! Mermaiding gives me the opportunity to try difficult new things while also enjoying a bit of an advantage based on my look – something very unusual in my life that drew me towards the genre. I remember that when I grew up having red hair was a horrible disadvantage in school settings… I was bullied unmercilessly and attacked at school for looking different from the other children. Like most kids, I tried to find people that I could look at and feel similar to. One of the few characters that looked like me was mermaid Ariel from the animated feature film “The Little Mermaid.” I think that is why I gravitated towards her; just seeing someone else that remotely looked like me when I didn’t have anyone that did in my social circles. I also liked that she was able to speak to animals. As an utter animal enthusiast (I wanted to be a veterinarian) the fact that she could talk to so many animals was magical to me. How awesome would that be?! Now that I’m an adult my unique hair color helps me to be remembered as a performer and I’m able to pull my love of animals into my work by teaching kids about the wonder of what lives in the water.
What inspired this book?
Writing a book had been on my wish list for years and when the publishing house that scouted me based on my professional mermaid performance work reached out it was a natural “yes.” The experience was a challenge and also a great growth opportunity. It was a unique challenge of balancing the things that I wanted to teach about (like freediving, water careers, and technical skills under water) with what the publisher thought young readers would enjoy (crafts, hair, and makeup). Compromise and collaboration are such invaluable skills and both were heavily used in that process. I am truly blessed that I was able to work with such an incredible publisher on the piece to work through the hurdles and be able to see it on shelves.
Do you have a favorite theme/tutorial/subject in the book, something you’re especially excited about or proud of?
I like the pretzel anchors, as silly as that sounds! I love to cook so I did several weeks of research and testing to create a pretzel recipe. In terms of skills, I believe the section on tail selection and care is also extremely worthwhile for a new mermaid. Due to my work with Sheroes Entertainment and LA Mermaid School I’ve been able to test and use over 50 different tails… not many people have that much experience with so many tails so I think that will be useful to people.
What is the most fun you have ever had as a mermaid?
Oh gosh, that’s a hard one. I have traveled and done so many crazy adventures with this job. I think that appearing as a siren for a Halloween party was probably one of my favorite memories. We don’t do much siren work as most clients want a beautiful polished looking happy mermaid, but that’s what this family hired. I was working with another mermaid covered in dirty looking makeup, net, fangs, random seaweed, and just grit lurking in the pool for a pair of siblings’ party. The dad had made it clear that he wanted “scary” mermaids so we started mimicking movements of alligators and doing some amazing physical acting work that was truly not human looking. The preteen kids were so terrified that they would run by the water’s edge instead of getting in and would hide in the clubhouse. I finally was able to lure them in and taught them them how to play volleyball in the pool with a skull by heavily pulling from my mime training without ever breaking character—it was pretty fabulous to see.
How have you seen the mermaid world evolve in the past few years?
The mermaid has changed (and not changed) in several ways over the last few years. It’s still primarily a remarkably woman-dominated world, it’s still a very artistic genre, and there are still people creatively working at all different types of places from bars to birthday parties. What has changed is that it has become much more inclusive with companies like Sheroes Entertainment actively showcasing mermaids from countries and cultures around the world and helping LGBT merpeople to get their career starts. There are also MANY more mermaids and mermen, both professional and amateur, in almost every country in the world. It’s exciting because with more mermaids there are more conventions and fun opportunities for hobbyists to meet each other and make new friends in social settings. The downside for established mermaids is that with companies mass producing silicone look-alike tails in less expensive neoprene and fabric materials, anyone can now get a professional look for a tenth or less of the cost that already established performers had to pay. The mass production of the photogenic look-alikes has triggered an aspiring performer surplus in the market. Ambitious new mermaids looking to start out are skipping business basics and are “racing to the bottom” in price to compete with each other rather than even doing the numbers to make sure that they break even. It means that mermaid performers will need to budget wisely, market in a clever manner, and work much harder to prove their worth through original content and enthralling performance work if they want to work.
Can you share some advice for aspiring mermaids?
The one thing that I can’t say enough is to never compromise on safety or training—it is the job and expectation of every mermaid or merman to be as safe and conscientious about the water and the people around them as they can be. Water is inherently dangerous, despite being deceptively common, which is why at Sheroes Entertainment we require full lifeguard certifications on our performing mermaids and mermen who work with children. Other ways that people can become more safe include taking a mermaid or underwater modeling class from LA Mermaid School where we teach safety and self rescue skills, swimming and doing cardio regularly to keep up a good fitness level, limiting performance or shooting time in aquarium or open water conditions to 10-20 minute sets based on temperature and water conditions, avoiding known risks like being carried in tail and giving “mermaid rides” on their backs to children, knowing and training in equipment and costumes to the point that working in them is second nature, never working on breath hold work alone, and always shooting with a certified and insured safety diver in open water or complicated situations that involve elements like underwater nets, large volumes of fabric, confined spaces, and marine life. The most important thing is that the more actual formal training you have, the safer you will be and ultimately the more fun you will have.
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