Plus-sized Singapore mermaid rejects fat-shaming, advocates self-love
Shamed and suicidal at age 10, plus-sized mermaid performer hopes to inspire others
Suicidal at the age of 10 from bullying and fat stigmatisation, Ms Merliah Moidu now puts celebrating her curves at the forefront and is adamant about being a conductor of change when it comes to body acceptance and positivity.
In fact, visit her Instagram page - with 11,100 followers - and you will be treated to pictures of the 26-year-old Singaporean in sparkling mermaid costumes, styled photo shoots and mirror selfies captioned with inspiring messages on self-confidence and about treating yourself with kindness.
Ms Moidu is a mermaid performer and instructor and bills herself as Asia's first plus-sized mermaid.
Here, the former Lasalle College of the Arts student, who cites US singer Lizzo as her role model, gets candid about the challenges of being a mermaid, the stigma that has followed her since childhood, and what more can be done to change the stereotypes and attitudes surrounding bigger people.
On her start as a mermaid
Ms Moidu's journey as a mermaid started in 2012, at the age of 17.
She said: "I frequented the islands of Malaysia and was always a water baby. I felt like the ocean was part of me."
On one of those trips, she bumped into someone with a mermaid costume, and it inspired her to research it and purchase her first monofin from mermaid tail retailer Mahina Mermaid.
"I started swimming everywhere with the monofin, and that led me to be good at swimming like a mermaid," she said.
How does one become a mermaid?
"If you are comfortable in the water, then get a monofin and start watching videos on how to do a dolphin kick.
"After that, buy that tail and start living your best mermaid life. There are courses for mermaid-ing but I personally think it is something you can learn by yourself."
She added: "The moment I get into the water with my tail, that is when I feel most beautiful. It is like a complete transformation for me. I get to be this beautiful creature everybody said I couldn't be. It is my escape.
"There is no certain way a mermaid is supposed to look like... that is what I love most about being a mermaid."
However, she admitted her job does come with challenges.
She said: "Posing underwater has to be the toughest thing for me. I struggle with buoyancy because I am a bigger mermaid, so naturally I am just a lot more buoyant."
Societal expectations and perceptions have impacted her confidence and self-worth.
" I have always been confident, it was just that society and the people around me kept telling me I couldn't be. That I shouldn't be. That I should hate myself because I am bigger.
"But deep down, I never really saw the issue with being bigger.
"When I was made fun of for being in a bikini at the beach, my mum and dad reminded me of what a great swimmer I was... how long I could hold my breath. That my worth is so much more than what my body looks like. And that helped me so much."
Rolling with the punches
And on days that she does not feel as fabulous, Ms Moidu is all for acknowledging her insecurities and not running away from them.
She said: "I wake up sometimes and I look in the mirror and think unthinkable things about myself. But I tell myself, 'These are just thoughts, not facts. It is okay to feel this way now but I give you 24 hours and then we are going back to being a bad b****.'"
She added that it is important to talk to yourself with kindness, like you were your best friend.
"Because if you wouldn't say that to your bestie, why would you say it to yourself?"
On what more can be done to change the conversations surrounding body image
Even as change is happening in this area, there is still more to be done.
"What frustrates me is a common perception that we are worth something only when we lose weight. But I am very happy there are more brands that are inclusive.
"Being plus-sized is way more acceptable than it was back then. So we are making progress, just very slowly."
She added that there should be more representation.
"We need to keep putting out bigger bodies. We need to do more interviews with successful fat women, and show more photos with fat models."
Embracing mental health and self-love
Now an advocate of mental well-being and loving oneself, Ms Moidu faced her own struggles with mental health and had suicidal thoughts when she was younger.
"Growing up, I was constantly bullied, and I was suicidal at the age of 10. Imagine what people did for a 10-year-old to feel like she didn't want to be part of this life any more.
"But I was strong. I fought on. If you told me when I was 15 that I'd be here at 26 doing what I love, showing people how to love themselves all over the world, and most importantly loving myself, I would've never believed you.
"So to everyone who is struggling, it gets better."
This article was first published in The Singapore Women's Weekly (www.womensweekly.com.sg).