An unusual site is being spotted more and more frequently in Finland’s lakes – real-life mermaids. But these are not creatures of legend or sirens luring sailors to their doom. They are local girls who are dressing up in their own mermaid costumes and role playing for fun.
Mermaid culture, or ‘mermaiding’, has been growing in popularity around the world for several years now, mostly thanks to the rise of social media. Some create their own mermaid personas while others cosplay as famous mermaid characters in pop culture who have inspired their love of mermaids, the most popular being Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
A small number in the movement have been able to quit their jobs to become professional mermaids, such as Riia, a Finnish mermaid from Lake Saimaa (one of the largest lakes in Europe). As well as being a certified diving and swimming instructor, Riia makes a living appearing at events in her costume and giving mermaid classes, since swimming like a mermaid is a surprisingly good workout.
Most mermaids, however, are still hobbyists. The Finnish mermaid movement currently consists of only a few hundred people, mostly young girls, but is growing at an exponential rate. Most are centred around Finnish Lakeland, which is 25% water. Practically every local in this area has a lake within walking distance of their house and most stay at Finnish summer cottages or ‘mökki’ right on the lakesides.
The Finns’ strong connection to water and the clean and clear lakes are why mermaiding is becoming increasingly popular in the country. The water quality is some of the best in the world and the clear blue waters surrounded by pine forests make for great aesthetics, which are so important to modern mermaids. The majority of mermaids are drawn to the mystical fairy tale image of the mermaid and the sublime beauty of Finnish lakes fits them to a tee and makes for some great photos to share online.
Social media is hugely important in mermaid culture. It allows enthusiasts to meet and keep in touch with others both locally and internationally and spread the word about the movement by posting beautiful pictures and videos. The unusual nature of the hobby means that girls often have to keep it a secret in their daily lives, but social media connects them to a ‘pod’ of like-minded people.
One example is ‘Mermaid Jade’, a 14-year-old mermaid from Joensuu in eastern Finland, who has over 800 followers on Instagram and has been featured regularly in the Finnish media. She and her ‘pod’ of around 20 mermaids share their activities on Instagram and keep in touch through Whatsapp.
Another advantage of social media is that it allows mermaids to share costuming tips for how to do their makeup or waterproof their tails. The tails are made from monofin covered with decorated swimsuit fabric and cost several hundred euros each. They also take a lot of practice to use in the water.
With a combination of crystal clear waters and a small but devoted local following, more and more mermaids could soon be travelling to Finland from all over the world to test the waters. Growing attention online and in the media also means that more young girls in Finland will likely be joining the movement.