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Davi Moreira looks like any other young Rio de Janeiro beach lover as he heads down to the Ipanema surf each week -- at least until he dons his blue mermaid's tail.
Other bathers look on in astonishment as Moreira, 22, performs his weekly ritual. However, as part of a trend in Brazil and as far away as Holland and Canada, he is far from alone.
"It's a lifestyle, a way of expressing my love and respect for the sea and this encounter between two worlds. When I'm in the water I feel like another person," he said while resting on rocks with his tail glittering in the sun.
Like many who feel the need to dress up as mermaids and swim with the up and down motion of the broad tail, Moreira was inspired from childhood by Disney's popular animated movie "The Little Mermaid."
His obsession to be a second Ariel, the main character in the movie, extends to dry land.
His bedroom is full of references to the movie: Ariel-themed bedcover, "Little Mermaid" cups, Ariel shirts, Ariel dolls, every Ariel movie or series, Ariel pictures...
Moreira, who also has a "Little Mermaid" tattoo, has adopted the persona of "Davi Sereio," or "Davi Mermaid" in Portuguese, and has recorded a gay spoof version of the Disney film on YouTube.
But he says not everyone accepts his passion. Some insult him, while others suggest he get psychological help.
Two youngsters from a nearby favela who'd come down to well-heeled Ipanema shook their heads at Moreira's antics on the beach. "That's not right, it's mad," one said.
Moreira says his mermaid obsession is an answer to a "cruel" world.
"People laugh at me because I am different, but I laugh back because they are all the same," he said. "I'm not trying to escape reality. I know perfectly well how to deal with adult life. But this makes me happy and I'm not causing anyone any harm."
- Telenovela mermaid -
Brazil already has its traditional sea goddess called Iemanja.
However, the popular telenovela "A Forca de Querer" is swimming in another direction with a character played by Brazilian actress Isis Valverde who seduces two men -- and the audience -- with her free spirit and love of taking a dip in a big orange mermaid tail.
Behind Valverde's on-screen swimming skills is Mirella Ferraz, who describes herself as Brazil's "first professional mermaid." She trained the actress for four months so that she could convincingly use the mermaid costume.
Ferraz, 34, says she had to overcome years of mockery and bullying but now she says she's "happy that it's fashionable, although I think many people do it for the looks, without knowing the myth of the sirens or our environmental activism."
Ferraz estimates there are about 1,000 mermaid aficionados in Brazil and that the numbers are rising. Online sales of her mermaid tails reach some 90 a month now, up from just 10 or so when she started in 2012.
Back then, it was mostly for girls wanting to be Ariels. Today, many buyers are men.
"For many it might be a fad, but not for me," Moreira says, admitting that his only weakness as a Brazilian mermaid is an inability to sing.
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