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Swimming her way to the Miss Mermaid crown

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Meet Audrey Chen, Singapore's very own Little Mermaid.

Most of us would think that mermaids are naturals in the water. But not Audrey Chen, Singapore's first ever mermaid beauty queen, who had a near-drowning incident when she was 4.

She started swimming lessons after that and the rest is history. Audrey, 25, clinched the crown during Miss Mermaid Singapore – the first such competition here – last September, and represented Singapore in Miss Mermaid International in October.

Aside from large-scale events, Audrey also performs as her mermaid persona for client-based events such as birthday parties.


THE PETITE MERMAID WAS A FEATURED SPEAKER AT THE ASIA DIVE EXPO IN SINGAPORE IN APRIL.
PHOTO CREDIT: AUDREY CHEN'S FACEBOOK PAGE


IN APRIL 2017, AUDREY TRAVELLED TO KRABI, THAILAND, TO CONDUCT HER OWN UNDERWATER SHOOT.
PHOTO CREDIT: AUDREY CHEN

Not many people know about her turbulent relationship with water in the past.

"I was 4 when I had my first, and hopefully last, near-drowning experience. I was playing in the water at my grandmother's condominium pool, under the supervision of my mother. It was purely an accident when I slipped through my float and had my head under the water."

"It was all blurry and suffocating in an instance. I struggled for a couple of seconds before my mother bravely came to my rescue, lifting me up from under. Those few seconds felt like an eternity as I gasped for air.

"After the incident, my mother motivated me to take up swimming lessons. Without knowing how to swim when I am alone, I may really drown," said Audrey, a beauty entrepreneur who is pursuing a psychology degree at the University of Windsor.


WE SPOKE TO AUDREY CHEN TO FIND OUT HOW SHE TRANSFORMS INTO HER MERMAID PERSONA.

Audrey first stumbled on the mermaid beauty pageant in 2016.

"Growing up, I've always wanted to be in my own fantasy world of being a mermaid. And when I saw there was this Miss Mermaid competition last year, I decided to join."

As her makeup artist transformed her into a mermaid during this interview, Audrey shared passionately about her hobby.

She said: "Being a mermaid makes me happy because for a moment, I am not myself. I am actually taking the identity of a mermaid and I can just be at peace with myself, especially in the water. It is like I'm meditating."

Explaining the difference between mermaid pageants and other beauty contests, Audrey said: "It is different because you need to be able to swim, and hold your breath and poise underwater. It combines athletic elements with the usual beauty element of pageants."


IT TOOK MORE THAN AN HOUR TO TRANSFORM AUDREY INTO HER MERMAID PERSONA.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ANISAH AZMI

We watched in awe as Audrey's makeup artist worked quietly, applying glitter and gemstones onto her face. Audrey then put on her costume, which comprised a frilly bikini top, a monofin, and a mermaid tail right out of Finding Nemo.

"Mermaids have to go into the water, so I must use waterproof makeup. But it is harder to remove than everyday makeup, and I have to pay more attention to my skincare regime to maintain healthy skin," said Audrey, who is a skincare junkie.


THE PROCESS OF PUTTING ON THE MERMAID TAIL WAS LIKE PUTTING ON A PAIR OF JEANS. 
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ANISAH AZMI

As she sat on the lounge chair by the pool at Bay Hotel, Audrey seemed extremely comfortable, despite not being able to move her legs in her skin-tight mermaid costume, which weighs less than a kilogramme.

Out of curiosity, I asked her what it takes to become a mermaid.

I soon learnt that being a mermaid is more than just slapping on waterproof makeup and a tail.

Audrey said: "A mermaid should go for yoga and pilates classes, and swim more. With more practice, swimming gets easier because when swimming with the monofin or tail, we have to do the butterfly stroke, which trains our stomach and core muscles.

"Mentally, you have to be at peace with yourself while being underwater. If not, you will start to struggle and feel even more afraid in a foreign environment. So, you have to be focused," said the beauty queen.

"It is relatively expensive to be a mermaid because I have a silicone tail, and that itself costs me $3,400. I had to order it all the way from the United States," added Audrey, with a grin.


AUDREY'S MERMAID PERSONA IS CALLED "AUDSIEBABY".
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/ANISAH AZMI

It was not all easy when she participated in Miss Mermaid Singapore last year, and Audrey had doubted herself.

Right before the competition, Audrey shaved her head for Hair for Hope, which made her feel like a fish out of water. Most of the local contestants were taller than her and had flowy locks.

"I heard some people say that a bald head equated to celibacy. Some commented, 'how can a 'nun' be a mermaid?'," recalled Audrey, as she adjusted her posture on the lounge chair by the pool.

How did she deal with it?


AUDREY'S HAIR HAD JUST STARTED TO GROW OUT WHEN SHE COMPETED IN MISS MERMAID SINGAPORE IN 2016.
PHOTO CREDIT: AUDREY CHEN'S FACEBOOK PAGE

"We always associate mermaids with long pretty hair, but I feel that hair is just an external accessory. It is okay to not have it, as everyone is equally beautiful."

"Seeing the other girls with their long beautiful hair did hinder my self-confidence, but I told myself that I am going to go out of my comfort zone and just go for it," said Audrey.

"[The judges] were also looking for strong swimmers who were good at speaking and carrying themselves. It did catch me off guard, and I had to put in a lot of hard work to excel in the competition," she added.

Thankfully, her efforts paid off. After winning the local pageant, she flew to Egypt to compete against 12 international mermaids in October.


AUDREY COMPETED AGAINST 11 FINALISTS IN THE LOCAL PAGEANT.
PHOTO CREDIT: MISS MERMAID SINGAPORE'S FACEBOOK PAGE

Despite her achievements, Audrey still receives hurtful comments about her peculiar hobby.

"There are people who say that I am too showy, that I have nothing better to do, or why do I want to be a 'fish'," said Audrey, with a laugh.

To such naysayers, Audrey had this to say: "Nothing is right or wrong. Life is short, so I should just go and follow whatever my heart tells me to because I only live once. I should be living for my own dreams and not for other people."

She added: "Thankfully, my family and friends are very supportive because being a mermaid is just a hobby."

So, has being a mermaid helped her in her relationships?

"Currently, I am single but not available. I am attached to my tail. I just returned from an underwater shoot that took place in Krabi. It was a joy meeting my fellow underwater friends," she joked.

TEASER AND BANNER PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/ANISAH AZMI