09/08/2017 04:03 BST | Updated 09/08/2017 10:18 BST

Becoming A Mermaid Gave Me Strength And Freedom

Mattias Stålbrand

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It could be autumn or early spring, I won't care, my shoes come off and I lower my toes into the cool lake or feel the gentle touch of waves crushing against my skin. I fill my palms with the crisp water and splash my face, instantly feeling my heartbeat slowing down as if I've been baptized by mother nature herself. Taking in the ocean with every human sense; the stroke of the waves, the sounds of them crashing, the smell of salt and the sight of the blue horizon calms my mind and washes away worries. Even as a child I was the first to go into the water and the last to get up - my grandmother would laugh joyfully and call me her little dolphin.

Growing up with the story of the Little Mermaid, whose film version came out the very year I was born in 1989, and living very close to the statue of Den Lille Havfrue based on Hans Christian Andersen's original tale- magic was always close at hand. Four-year-old me would draw mermaids in every colour and shape, even cats and dogs got mermaid tails. I looked for lost treasures in the creek and whenever we drove by the ocean I stared at the glittering waves, thinking I might catch a glimpse of a mermaid tail breaking the surface.

For years my passion for mermaids was still very vivid and manifested itself in a great collection of books, movies, artwork, figurines as well as historical and mythological stories. Mermaids were still one of my favourite motifs to draw when I went to art school, so I was known as the mermaid among my classmates and teachers. Even when I studied at university to become a teacher I made use of my passion for mermaids academically and wrote an essay on mermaids with a linguistic approach. Then it finally happened; I got to embody a mermaid physically. 2012 was the year I bought my first tail.

linda mermaid

A close friend of mine is an amazing photographer, and we talked loosely about having a mermaid photo session by the sea. Back then I was a shy girl who rarely took spontaneous opportunities so the photoshoot felt like this ambiguous dream with a big price tag and no set date. Then I went through a bad break-up. I decided to do this for myself and no-one else so I ordered the tail and booked a date. When I got to see the fantastic results; the beautiful mermaid portraits of myself, I couldn't help but smile. I felt so strong, beautiful and independent and the mermaid helped me overcome the break-up and to believe in myself - and that's what mermaids finally came to mean to me as a grown woman.

As a child I was amazed by the glitter and the wonders, as a young teenager I started fearing that my love for mermaids meant that I would have a heart as cold as the ocean and remain alone forever, that whoever came close would drown. As an adult however, I realised that they make a pretty good role-model, especially for young women, because as a mermaid you're strong and independent because no-one can do anything to you or your body that you don't want them to. They are powerful enough to drown whoever might cross the line, but they can also choose to love.

As the various myths and stories have taught me about mermaids, no two of them are the same. They can be like sirens who are destructive and sing to sailors in order to drown them, or there are mermaids who are helpful, care for the sea and the people who travel upon it. That is part of their charm and appeal; they can't be defined and categorised as mere good or evil, there is so much more to them. Just like human beings we are always a little bit of both, and can choose what to let out. Mermaids come in every shape, colour and gender. To me, being a mermaid is freedom. When I slip my tail on and dive in on that final breath, it's like entering a different world. Everything is suddenly silent around you and you're weightlessly floating or swiftly swimming.

Being a mermaid also means that you have a responsibility. As my mermaid persona Athiraa I perform at children's parties, events and charity. When I prepare to meet children I put a lot of love into my appearance and character; I wear a handmade seashell bra with actual shells, blue scales on my face with blue water-like make-up and I usually do some voice and breathing techniques as well to last longer underwater. Sometimes I make an entrance in a wheelchair, because how else should a mermaid move on land? I want the children to feel that they have met a real-life mermaid, whether they swim or take a picture with me - or perhaps teach me something about the human world. When you are a young child you should be allowed to believe in magic and have wonderful and nostalgic memories to look back on as you grow up. This enhances your ability to be creative and imaginative. If I can make one childhood a little bit more magical by having them meet a real-life mermaid, then I have succeeded.

linda mermaid

As a teacher, I have the weekends and holidays free to indulge in my mermaid passion as Athiraa to perform on children's parties and events, which makes for a good balance between a day time job and being a part time mermaid. I have always been the mermaid in school or the mermaid at work, and both friends, family and coworkers are very supportive! My friends always send my pictures of mermaid things they have seen, and my co-workers have had me over for children's parties and have shown up with their children to events. I have so much in store for my mermaid, and you will see more of my me. I will probably splash my tail for as long as I can, but even without the tail I am always metaphorically a mermaid at heart, which permeates every aspect of my life and brings me joy.

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