Jessie Jewels is Miss Mermaid Rhode Island 2022. Hers is a tale of advocating for cleaner water, educating the young about environmental issues, and generally making a splash in local entertainment. For year’s end we asked Jewels what a year as our head mermaid was like and how the work of ocean preservation is going (we’ve edited for length).
Mike Ryan (Motif): Let’s start with Miss Mermaid Rhode Island. What the heck is that? How long has it been going on? And how did you first get involved?
Jessie Jewels: I have loved mermaids ever since I was a little girl. The Little Mermaid was my absolute favorite movie growing up. And when I started getting older, I found out about this subculture of mermaids – a new thing that’s been coming up in the world in the last, I would say, probably four or five years. When I found out that I could become a professional mermaid, I was all about it because I’ve been working in the circus industry for over a decade now. So I’ve always been into performing and working with people and especially families and children.
I found out that there was actually a pageant. Miss Mermaid USA is the national competition but then there’s actually a Miss Mermaid Universe that I competed in in Virginia back in May of this year. There’s an underwater performance aspect to it where you actually swim underwater through an obstacle course, and do a choreographed performance.
MR: Do you swim with the tail on?
JJ: Absolutely. There is also underwater modeling involved and also above water modeling.
MR: Will you compete again? How does that work?
JJ: I am competing in different pageants moving forward, including a new pageant for King and Queen of the Sea.
MR: On a personal level, what is it about the ocean that you feel is important to you?
JJ: I’m an artist. Ocean inspires literally everything that I do. My art is inspired by the ocean. I do a lot of seascapes, sea creatures, mermaids in my artwork. And then I’m also a circus artist… I’m a professional hula-hooper and fire dancer. What I do is considered flow art. And the whole idea of Flow Arts is being in the state of flow, where one move is just seamlessly moving into the next. There’s also this idea of getting so lost in the flow that, you know, the whole sense of time sort of drops away. I feel like that when I’m near the ocean as well, so it’s all kind of connected for me. Big circle.
MR: What causes are you affiliated with?
JJ: The ecology of our bay and its ecosystem. Because there are so many days that the beaches around here are just closed because it rained heavily. There’s bacteria blooms, there’s oil spills, there’s pollution from marinas. All these different reasons that the bay’s becoming polluted. Save the Bay does such a great job of advocating and putting together different programs to help reduce that, and also advocate with legislation to help and get some of these problems rectified. They’re working right now on helping Champlin’s Marina to be more environmentally friendly, because it’s hurting the ecosystem.
I’m a beach cleanup captain for Save the Bay. So I’m trained to organize and help with the beach cleanups. I’ll show up at the clean up and organize it as a human, and then by the end, all of a sudden, miraculously, I’ve turned into a mermaid, and it’s really, really fun. Also, I try to use my social media platforms to get people excited about getting out and volunteering with the organization, helping people to get signed up.
MR: You work a lot with kids, too. What are some of the goofiest questions you’ve gotten from kids? And how do you respond to them?
JJ: I usually say I live in that body of water, that’s right on the street or in the neighborhood. It’d be like the Scituate reservoir or the central reservoir, but then someone had to carry me all the way here. So I usually get the question, how did I get here? And I try to use the geography of wherever it is.
MR: Do the young ones ever ask why your hair isn’t wet?
JJ: No, that’s a good one.
MR: Okay. I guess I was a weirder kid than I realized. Are there any other standout stories from interacting with your fans?
JJ: I was asked to make an appearance in New Hampshire over the summer, and it was because it was a little girl’s birthday. And the little girl is wheelchair bound. Can’t walk but she can swim. So I had the opportunity to go up there and actually get in the pool with her and swim with her. And it was just a really magical experience. You’re so excited to see a mermaid – she loves Ariel – It’s just a touching moment.
MR: How do you swim with the tail on?
JJ: With a mermaid tail you have to do what’s called a dolphin. It’s much different than a regular doggy paddle or butterfly stroke – you have to articulate your body from the top of your head all the way down to the bottom of your feet. So full body motion, and it uses a lot of muscles. It’s definitely a workout. You’re sore afterwards.
I took part this year in the world’s largest mermaid convention, Magic Con [in Virginia]. You have to collect underwater treasure and place it into designated containers on the side of the pool, and then you have to swim through rings without hitting them with your tail… I actually placed in the top 10 out of 400.
MR: Wow. Nice. This sounds like all good fun. But are people like, I don’t know, waxing their tails to make themselves faster? Or How seriously do people take this sort of thing?
JJ: I trained for months prior and timed myself in every single tail top combination that I had to compete.
MR: What was the winning combo?
JJ: I’m gonna keep that to myself, because I’ll be competing again next year.
MR: Tail for another time. Yeah. Let’s talk a little about the waterways around around Rhode Island. Do you ever swim in Narragansett Bay?
JJ: I swim frequently down at the RIC campus.
MR: Okay, so that water is mermaid safe? Would you swim in the Providence River?
JJ: Not in its current state. But it would be great if we could get to a place where I would feel like that’s possible.
MR: And are there any other waterways around Rhode Island that you particularly favor or bodies of water?
JJ: I love Warwick and we are having a big issue with our sewer system right now. And that’s another thing that Save the Bay really works on is helping to reduce the amount of pollution in the drainage that’s going into the bay. So just drainage in general, I would say, is a big passion of mine. Helping to unblock any of the sewer drains – and then, how can we reduce what’s actually going into them? There’s a lot of junk that gets put into the bay because of that.
Look at what happened on 95 over the end of the summer. Everything was blocked up and it flooded. I posted a picture and Photoshoped myself into it as a mermaid
MR: So tell us what you have coming up.
JJ: I’m working on ways of giving back. I am having sort of a giveaway – any organization that works with underserved populations, mental or physical health for any age, especially children, can apply to have me come out and do a meet and greet. You know, a little back and forth or “Storytime with the Mermaid,” or photos. In the past I’ve done these at St. Mary’s Home for Children, some children’s group homes; that sort of is my way of giving back to the community. We got some really great responses for this year, so hopefully I’ll be doing some as a fun thing for the winter when things are a little bit slower. I also do birthday parties. Next year, I am going to be offering mermaid makeovers, and then I have a professional photographer who will take your photo while I help coach you through mermaid poses. That’s for children and adults.
MR: You’re half fish. Do you hibernate, or take a winter rest?
JJ: I’ve been seen in the snow. Mermaids aren’t afraid of snow.
MR: What do you hope for in your mermaid future?
JJ: I hope to just continue making people happy. You know, it’s not every day that you get to see a mermaid, and when I see people at appearances, I just love seeing your face. Not what you expect to see every day.
MR: Yeah, I believe it. I’m still getting over the part that you can’t walk.
JJ: I have a couple different modes of transportation. I have a mermaid mobile, which is a converted wheelchair. I have a mermaid flatbed.
MR: Do you encounter a lot of mermaid jokes?
JJ: Sure. Ask me how the mermaid became friends with the dolphins.
MR: How did the mermaid become friends with the dolphins?
JJ: On porpoise.