Mermaid Tails: Just a Bad Idea

Two swimmers wearing mermaid tales underwater.
Photo credit: Sharla Stoffman, from the website (

Whose idea was this? Let’s create a thing that binds kids’ legs together and then they can jump in the pool! We’ll make it even more irresistible by modeling it after a Disney character and turning the kids into mermaids. Yes, mermaid tails have arrived.

You can go to school in Toronto or Montreal to learn how to swim with mermaid tails, The Toronto Star reports:

Disney’s aqua-heroine Ariel longed to be human, but a mermaid school that hopes to come to Toronto offers the opposite: a taste of life under the sea for two-legged folks.

AquaMermaid, launched in Montreal earlier this month, teaches kids and adults how to glide through the water wearing mermaid tails from the waist down.

“It’s just a fairy tale in everyday life,” says founder Marielle Chartier Hénault, who hopes to open a Toronto location this summer.

The idea came to Hénault, a model, during an underwater photo shoot in which she posed as one of the mythical sea creatures. “I really liked that experience and I thought it was a really good workout,” she says.

Call me a killjoy, but this mermaid thing just sounds like a bad idea.  You can package it up as a good workout, and this is something proponents like to do:

AquaMermaid classes, held at various wave pools throughout Montreal, are based on synchronized swimming techniques. During the poolside warm-up, students lie on their sides practising the abs-intensive “undulation movement” — a skill that any self-respecting mermaid must master. Slowly, they make their way underwater, their legs bound by scaly spandex in hot pinks and blues.

But just how great is the workout anyway?

It’s not exactly a demanding exercise, suggests New York fitness blogger Jessi Kneeland, but then again a fun activity like this doesn’t have to justify itself on those grounds.

“Calling it a good workout is a bit patronizing and misleading,” Kneeland told the Star, suggesting it’s also unnecessary, “as though the joy of acting out our favorite childhood fantasies wasn’t enough of a reason to do something.”

Forget the quality of the workout. I’m not down with the idea of selling a childhood fantasy either, especially at the cost of safety.  Isn’t it enough to get little girls to want to be princesses? Do we need to throw mermaids into the mix along with them?

I’m not the only one who worries about the safety of a swimming costume that binds the legs together.  Edmonton just banned mermaid tails from city pools. It’s not for the reasons that might first occur to you — that is, the fear that inexperienced swimmers will drown with their legs bound. Though that is of course a concern, the real worry is about the children who swim proficiently with the tails. The City is worried they’ll hold their breath for too long, black out, and drown.

Rob Campbell, supervisor of aquatic recreation for the City of Edmonton, said the mermaid tails could make for a great 10-year-olds birthday party with the right supervision.

“We might get there, but right now we’re just more concerned about the safety of patrons.”

The colourful mermaid suits with sparkles and fish-scale patterns are sold online and started to take off about a year ago. A mermaid school in Montreal opened several months ago with fitness classes for children and adults.

Strong swimmers can use them to swim like a fish underwater, but Campbell is concerned children might take several large breaths in a row or hold their breath for too long and black out as they swim.

“If you black out in a pool, you’re going to drown. That’s the biggest problem with it,” he said.

Even experienced swimmers can fall victim to what the industry calls “shallow water blackout,” Campbell added. If anyone plans to use the mermaid suits at a lake this summer, they should be supervising their children very closely to make sure they don’t hold their breath underwater too many times in a row.

Calgary, also in Alberta, is not imposing an outright ban. But according to this report they are requiring anyone who wants to wear the tails to take a test, as follows:

For now, Calgary lifeguards are making swimmers take the following test before they can wear their toys in a public pool. They must:

  • Swim 25 meters continuously.
  • Tread water for two minutes.
  • Swim with confidence while wearing the mermaid fin.

“There’s concerns that people won’t be able to save themselves or they might not be able to make it to the edge or stand up and that’s why we have a safety test,” said Jack Birkett, aquatic operations co-ordinator for the City of Calgary.

The Lifesaving Society of Alberta recommends pools across the province also adopt a “mermaid swim test,” and not ban them.

I’ve not seen them face to face, but it sounds as if the mermaid tails are getting popular enough that they’ll be making appearances at pools and beaches everywhere this summer.

If you want a sense of how they work and what the kids look like when they’re swimming in these suits, check out the video at the beginning of this article on I confess that it looks kind of cool. But I wouldn’t be rushing out to let my kid (if I had a kid) attend a birthday party organized around learning to swim with mermaid tails.

Not only do they strike me as unnecessarily risky, but combining that with the Disney princess/mermaid thing…no thank you.

15 thoughts on “Mermaid Tails: Just a Bad Idea

  1. I think imposing a ban is not the way to go. I like the Livesaving Society’s response: to teach how to swim in the mermaid tails safely. While it may offend our feminist sensibilities seeing girls dressing as princesses, or fairies, or mermaids, I don’t think there’s too much harm in it; what’s more important is that the girls see feminism in action around the house on a daily basis (sharing the housework, sharing the child care, treating each other with respect). And actually, that “undulating” motion is a very critical skill in competitive swimming; after you dive into the water, the aim is to undulate with a dolphin (or “mermaid”) kick and adopt a streamline position under water before settling into your stroke. They should be teaching these girls the butterfly!

  2. We have a number of mermaid tails.
    My daughter loves to use them as props in videos. There’s a popular TV show with mermaids called H2O. It’s pretty cool.
    Imagination and creativity is often inspired by mythical-like creatures. I see this from my daughter and her friends. They like the idea that they are a secret “superhero”. Seemingly normal girl by day. But the a powerful mermaid when wet.
    We have used the tails in the pool. We stay in shallow water as it is awkward. The kids generally tire of the novelty quickly.

    The tails are pretty cool. The thoughts they inspire are even more amazing.

    1. I like your different point about imagination and creativity — it doesn’t need to be something co-opted by Disney.

  3. There’s a legit sport (mostly European) called finswimming in which swimmers use a monofin–not that different than swimming with a mermaid tail. I don’t know what the fuss is about. As long as children are supervised and taught to use the tails safely, I don’t see a problem.

  4. It just sounds like something that requires adult lifeguard supervision all the time unless they are in shallow water.

    I appreciate the play-imagination for children. Is it primarily girls that participate in it?

    Actually when I first read about it a few months ago, I was slightly disgusted. You want to know why? It reminds me of footbinding in China where girls and women could not walk by making the feet tiny because it was considered erotic at that time. (I never had any known relatives in China who were subjected to footbinding.)

    It LIMITS their mobility. That’s how I see this form of swimming.

    I know my sisters would not want their children doing it. My sisters cannot swim (though they’ve tried to learn as adults) and hence, could not save their children. Their children do know how to swim though.

    1. Actually it increases it due to the way your pushing the water making you a faster swimmer. Also foot binding is a practice where gause is put over the feet to the point where it crushes bone in order to make the feet smaller. Mer maiding is not crushing feet nor ever that constricting if you try it with professional instruction you might understand what im talking about

  5. I totally understand safety. But I am so heart broken that kids ( most of whom are girls) are being denied an experience that was so empowering and life changing for me- essentially out of fear mongering and ignorance.

    Let’s lay down the facts:
    Mermaid swimming has been around over 100 years starting with feminist icon Annette Kellerman who became a fitness and activist role model for girls everywhere. It has seen many incarnations: notably the famous weeki mermaids of Florida dating back to the 60s. Tails have been around all that time with monofins dating back to the 70s. Kids tails began being marketed 15 years or so ago when established scuba and free diving companies started making them for kids. All tested.

    In all that time there’s been no recorded drowning due to mermaid swimming. However in the 7 years I’ve been performing in a mermaid tail I have saved 8 children from drowning due to inattentive adults. A lifeguard checking their phone, a parent nowhere near the pool. I once saved two kids at the same time as one fell in the 12foot deep end and pulled his friend with him. I swam with one on each hip. And without my tail I’m a terrible swimmer.

    This is the thing. Most child centered sports and activities come with inherent risks. But you wouldn’t keep your kid from playing hockey because skates are sharp, or stop them from doing gymnastics because of the risk of falling. Like anything you have to monitor your children, their skill level, and watch them in the pool. You take appropriate precautions.

    I think having a swim test is a great idea so long as it also includes showing the lifeguard that the child is confident in the tail and knows how to take it off in an emergency. Monofins come equipped with quick release for this very reason. I don’t blame pools for wanting to hold kids and parents accountable. But I honestly can barely swim until you put me in a tail.

    Tail swimming can burn more than 500 calories an hour (whoever you asked was very much not educated in the field) . We live in a time when girls aren’t encouraged to be as physically active as Boys. And while boys enjoy the tails too its so important girls are encouraged to be physically active. Childhood obesity is at an all time high and tail swimming can be learned so quickly!

    As someone with a background in child development I know that school aged kids being encouraged to enjoy dramatic play and use their imagination have a direct correlation with academic success, along with healthy development. Pretending to be a mermaid isn’t like wearing a cape and not being able to fly. Tails really make you swim!

    I wish there was a compromise. Banning is not the answer and I fear for a ripple effect across Canada. There is a happy medium where kids can have this experience, be safe, and pools don’t have to be afraid for liability.

    Mermaid swimming changed my life and in many ways saved it. I have chronic illness and it caused mobility issues. When I swam in a tail I felt strong for the first time in my life. Now I make a whole life out of this! I’ve launched a company, toured the USA, published two books, been on TV and music videos , changed the lives of kids, given back to my community, met lifelong friends…. All because I tried a fabric tail way back when. It keeps me moving when chronic pain wants me to be still.

    The only way to solve this issue is education and accountability. People fear what they don’t understand.

  6. I am barely aware of mermaid swimming. Just this week I saw a picture of a friend’s child in the US wearing one. It was my first inkling that this had hit the mainstream. My only familiarity with this idea was because I’ve known for some time that Jazz Jennings, the teen transgender spokesperson, sells them on her website. There are pictures of Jazz swimming in one of these tails years ago. I have a trans son, so am a bit oblivious to the desirability of this thing, but apparently mermaids are particularly attractive to trans children (particularly girls) because they are beautiful, free and non gender specific on their bottom half! It’s a symbol, mainly, but as I do know a bit about trans kids, I would imagine that it would be great to be able to swim in something that doesn’t highlight the genital region, as so many popular swim suits do. Something to add to the discussion anyway 🙂

  7. Hello
    I am a swimmer who uses one of these tails. And its safe if you get the fabric tails and your not attempting as a kid or adult to free dive with it with out professional help with that.what your thinking kids will do with it is incorrect. Kids believe it or not will come up for air when they go down when they can’t hold their breath anymore.
    Have you ever seen kids play who can hold their breath the longest most of them give up in five or ten seconds.Also that’s more dangerous then the swim suit like material that goes over a monofin. Im voutching for the safety of FABRIC tails not silicon which are really made for adults who have alot more experience so those are not as safe for kids . Those tails are like swimming with dive weights.fabric tails are much lighter and are like wearing bathing suits over a monofin
    also if a kid needed to take it off in an emergency they could in about 5 seconds. This consists of pulling down the tail kick out of mono fin. (It takes longer to put it on than off). Aldo the fin floats and can be used as a make shift kick board. Also if they are learning how to use it from a professional those things make you faster in the water because of the monofin. They can get to the side in three seconds. In addition this is being taught by a professional who knows what they are doing .
    So it is more safe than what you think.every thing we do has some degree of danger but we dont go banning swimming because of risk of drowning or going out side because of risk of bugbites cuts or scrapes . we think of things that can happen to people that 9 out of 10 times wont happen (other than that stupid kid that tries and fails miserably).as long as your following directions and comming up for air and not attempting to free dive with out professional help youll be fine. Its also no more dangerous than monofining where your bound at the ankles which is no different than mermaiding. Because its the same thing minus the fancy fabric cover.
    Also have you tried this your self? If you haven’t. You wouldnt know that the resistance of the material plus the water resistance gives a work out similar to that of wearing weights around your ankles while running but 1,000 times less dangerous. But swimming like this is more effective on core and legs. But unless you get in their with one of these tails you wouldnt know that.

    Also its not only girls who like doing this there are mer men as well ! We like thinking that mers come in only one sex wrong we have mermen too they make tails colored for men. Its just that men feel its taboo for them to do but once they do they love it. So there is no sexism in it. So fight it all you want ladies its just good ol clean merfun! And please don’t fight it untill you have tried it because in the end your claims will make you look foolish if you dont know what your talking about.

  8. Ridiculous. It isn’t a bad idea, it’s the parents who buy one for their kids, and leave them unattended. I have a tail and I never have had a problem with my legs ‘bound’ together, I swam perfectly fine the first time I used it. Poor girls who can’t wear their tails, I feel sorry for them.

  9. I strongly disagree that this should be banned.
    From a very young age i always wished i could swim in a mermaid tail.. and searched everywhere for a tail like these but they did not exist at the time.. i always swam underwater with my eyes open and swam like a mermaid..if it wernt for that i would not be able to swim the way i do now so naturally.. so now being an adult and found these tails were available.
    i decided to finally have a go swimming in the tail for the fun and to finally say that i did it. For me this was a big achievement and made me feel really good! I loved it more than id thought.
    Since then i have swam a few times in my tail and i can honestly say that for me its safer than swimming withought it!
    Yes, I swim better with the tail than withought.
    What really annoys me is how people refer to legs being binded together! It sounds worse than it is and is quite frankly a load of rubish..i think anyone that feels the need to ban it for being dangerous should atleast try it once themselves before calling it dangerous because they obviousley dont know how it feels to swim in one…
    If you were swimming in a heavy proffesional SILICONE tail then yes! Your legs would be restricted/binded tight and you would have to know how to swim very well as you will find most people in these tails have a level1 free dive qualification and are strong swimmers.
    But as for fabric tails its the opposite!
    Now they all come with the open bottom so you can quickly if neccessary remove the very lightweight monofin.. and as the fabric is NOT as most seem to think tight to your skin as lycra is stretchy you could easily slide the tail off. Your legs are not binded as you still have movement if you wish and is quite comfortable.. you can also stand up easily in the tails in the water, also the mono fin floats… so gives you good boyancy in the water… it can be so easy that i personally can be in deep water… moving nothing but my arms and manage to stick the tail out of the water and just float there..something i could not do with just my legs! I can also be vertically upright in deep water using nothing but a bit of movement from my legs.. now that i deffinatlely cant do with just legs withought moving my arms to hold me up… i can also say that my legs get tired pretty fast swimming… but in my tail i swam around for about two hours withought getting tired out… not to mention it excersized the muscles in my back that cause me a lot of pain and since this swimming it has really started to make my back better.. where as normal swimming did not.. obviousley this mermaid movement excersized exactly the right areas which is brilliant.
    I also suffer with anxiety and depression.. every day of my life is a struggle… before having the tail i never would have swam in cold water.. let alone enjoy it..
    When going wild swimming in my tail it made me feel amazing and took all my stress and worries away and the tail actually keeps you warm.. abit like a wetsuit would.. wild swimming in genral will make you feel great and is very good for you.. but my point is that i would never have done it withought having the tail.. and i still wouldnt do it withought the tail on. it really made the difference.. its a great release from depression… and i must say that so far it is actually the only hobby in my life that i can say i really do enjoy and makes me happy.. i know its an odd hobby .. but it truley does make me feel great. Its the only activity that takes me depression away completely …not to mention all the people and children you get to make smile.. its lovely.
    As far as being dangerous goes i personally believe this is a great idea and a perfect way to excersise and feel one with nature.. i think it can be dangerous if people are negligant..
    The problem is not the tails…
    The problem is kids that cant swim or not being supervised by parents.. and adult should be able to make their own choice.. as I have explained it bennefits me in a way where i have finally found something in life to enjoy and makes me want to live..
    Tails should not be banned.. and not everyone can afford to pay stupid money just for a days swim at a mermaid school… i want to do this reguarlly but most pools have banned it which makes me feel upset because i cant do the one thing in life i enjoy.. i cant afford to travel miles to swim.. and when i genuenly want to do it for my own well being and exceraize i think its discusting i cant go to ANY of my local pools.. i have to drive over two hours just to swim.. i find it really horrible. People tell you to exceraize more and to do what makes you happy and all that.. but because of all this health and safety nonsence i cant do that.. i cant take any of that advice because its been banned.. its like im not allowed to enjoy myself so back to depression and not going out because the world says its dangerous.
    Mermaiding should deffinaty not be banned.
    Because all banning it does is make people like me who want to swim so much have to find places to wild swim.. and this is more dangerous because if you are in a pool and something were to go wrong atleast there is people around or a lifeguard.. but when you cant use these facilities and are forced to venture outdoors a lot of people may not have the common sense to not go alone.. or may swim somewhere dangerous and get stuck in the current or may end up ill from the cold water… horse riding is a hell of a lot more dangerous and has killed many lives but that is not banned.. how does that work?
    If anything.. there should be an age limmit on childrens tails and a law that a parent must be present whist its in use.. which is common sense anyway..
    The tails should be alowed as its no different from diving flippers and thats not a problem, why is diving not banned? It should be under the same rules.
    If your of a certain age and the life guard can clearly see you are able to swim in the tail withought it being dangerous it shouldnt be a problem… i spend all weekend trying to find somewhere to swim in a pool as its to cold now for wild swimming but nothing… its a joke.. so either i go withought or i start winter wild swimming… i feel its wrong that i dont get much of a choice.. it would be nice to beable to swim with everyone else in a warm indoor pool.. but health and safety yet again has taken everything to far.
    Im not allowed to do what i enjoy.
    As i said.. anyone that judges it should try it first otherwise i cant see how their opinion is valid…how can you say something dangerous and restricting when youve never even tried it… teach people the dangers.. and how to do it like you would any other excersize or sport.. dont just ban it because your not open minded enough to accept it as something people actually enjoy and want to do.
    People dont seem to have anything better to do than ruin peoples fun, lives and judge everything they have never even bothered to try.
    Anyway im going to leave my rant at that.. i could go on for hours.. but what good will it do.. i still have to travel miles just to enjoy myself because of inconsiderate people.

    1. Thanks for your comment and your experience. I’ve definitely softened my stance since the original post, largely because of people sharing their positive experiences. So thank you! Enjoy!

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