What Becoming a Mermaid Taught Me About Being a Modern Woman by Lara Ehrlich

I wait in an underground theater, surrounded by little girls in Ariel T-shirts and their sunburnt dads. At the front of the room, children press against a row of backlit curtains. The doors close and the curtains draw up, revealing windows streaked with algae, beyond which six mermaids blow kisses in a turquoise spring. A song pipes into the theater—“We’ve got the world by the tail! We’ve got the world by the tail!”—and the mermaids flow into a choreographed ballet, their tails sweeping behind them, gauzy fins fluttering. They sip oxygen from rubber hoses to remain 20 feet below the surface for a half hour at a time, smiling as they undulate past the windows with their hair clouding behind them.

This is “The Little Mermaid” show at Weeki Wachee State Park in Weeki Wachee, Florida, where alluring women have performed as mermaids—they call themselves sirens—since 1947. It’s a throwback to the heyday of American tourism, when every family had a car and road tripping was the summer adventure of choice. In the early days, the sirens would stand along the highway to wave cars off the road and into the park as their predecessors had lured sailors to shore. They appeared in commercials and films and performed for Elvis. Today, the perpetually sold-out mermaid show draws more than 400,000 visitors a year.

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