ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A stunningly popular calendar of burly, bearded mermen posing against scenic Newfoundland backdrops for charity is back for a second year.
The 2018 'merb'ys' calendar — drawing its name from 'mermaid' and the Newfoundland moniker for 'buddy' — became a viral, global success when it launched last year, raising over $300,000 for mental health.
Proceeds from the second calendar, which launched Saturday, will go to Violence Prevention Newfoundland and Labrador, for a project that aims to challenge traditional concepts of masculinity and engage men in violence prevention.
Organizer Hasan Hai said he only expected to raise a few thousand dollars last year, selling to friends and family — but the merb'ys popularity was instantaneous.
"It just blew up. We had no idea, it was unprecedented, " said Hai.
Hai said the calendar was a hit with buyers of all genders for its light-hearted depiction of costumed, glittery men.
"Just showing men showing emotion, being vulnerable, being whimsical, and just having fun and shedding all the stuff that society tells us that we should act like. I think that translated incredibly well in the photos and people just connected with that."
Shortly after the project went public, Hai said people were stopping him in the street, asking how to get involved with the next edition.
Interest was so great that formal applications had to be introduced. The final roster of 38 merb'ys was selected from more than 150 applications.
The novelty of seeing bearded, traditionally masculine men dressed up in fish tails and glitter may have contributed to the calendar's popularity, but Hai said the merb'ys weren't selected for their physical appearance.
Instead, models were chosen based on how well their written applications aligned with the ethos of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Club, the group that pulls the calendar together — representing the community's diversity, with an interest in "breaking down traditional gender stereotypes in creative ways."
"Good people who had a story and wanted to do some good in the community and the world, that was the type of person we wanted in the calendar," said Hai.
Photos were shot all across the province, from St. John's to Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador.
More planning time allowed for higher production values and more elaborate costumes, including a custom-made metal tail weighing more than 20 kilograms.
The merb'ys roster has grown to 38 models, representing men of different sizes, racial backgrounds, and gender identities.
Pre-orders opened at the end of the August, with a print run greater than the 14,000 sold last year, although Hai did not provide this year's sales numbers.
Hai said posing for the calendar was daunting at times for many of the merb'ys, but ultimately offered a transforming experience in self-acceptance.
"It changes how you see your own body and your confidence, when you stop caring about what other people think about you and start loving yourself."
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly said sales numbers have already exceeded last year's. In fact, the calendar has a print run greater than last year's sales, but this year's sales numbers have not been released.