Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade -- the ecstatic annual gathering of scantily clad folks who aren't afraid to wear sequiny, sea-inspired costumes in broad daylight, with thousands of people watching. Where do these revelers get their amazing body confidence? That's what we wanted to know. So we asked some mermaids point-blank ... and their answers inspired us! Check out the slideshow:

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  • Claire Michaels, Jilly Castiga*, Anna Schwartz, Brooklyn

    <strong>"I think getting older gives you more perspective about how you really look, and what people find attractive. Plus, there are so many different kinds of bodies here at the Mermaid Parade, and being in a costume is liberating. You almost feel like a different person!" -- <em>Claire</em> "Age teaches you how no one cares as much as you do! There's always someone more beautiful than you, and there's always someone uglier. I think part of what is liberating about the Mermaid Parade is that everyone is creating their own costume and working with their own imagination and whatever else they've got. It's about using your body as a canvas for art! It's about displaying your personality, not showcasing your body. It's an art show, not a beauty pageant." -- <em>Jilly*</em> "It's such a welcoming, open atmosphere here. It's not about your body, but about how creative you are. I think I was lucky to have found a community of supportive girls and women who embraced different body types and helped me to be comfortable with my body when I was growing up -- especially during those junior-high/high-school years when a lot of people struggle with body confidence. They embraced me as a full person beyond what I looked like. I learned to have confidence in my body because I had confidence in myself as a person and what I have to offer the world. I know it's been said a million times before, but we get so many negative messages about our bodies from the world around us that it was very helpful to get positive messages from important people that I met along the way. Other than that, for me personally, I love to be active. Dance parties are pretty much my favorite activity in the world, so busting it out in my kitchen in a dance-party-for-one is a way I continue to have a positive relationship with my body." <em>-- Anna</em></strong> <em>*Not her real name.</em>

  • Elizabete Pata, Amanda Hoffman

    <strong>"I have a good sense of humor; I laugh [my body fears] off. It's not that big a deal in the end. I deal with my insecurities with laughter, basically. What I've learned over the years is that having a positive self-image and shaking off any insecurities that come your way will open up many, many more doors to you than if you stay home worrying about the pimple that won't go away, or the stretch marks that drive you crazy, or whatever else we find wrong with us. I have my weak moments where I invest way too much time thinking about my lack of dangerous curves (butt/boobs/hips) that tend to epitomize a sexy female. However, I feel that being confident about what I have got makes me a lot more attractive to those I spend time with, and that makes me feel good about myself. I love my energy, my humor and my sportiness. It's what makes me the loveable, crazy gal I am!" -- <em>Elizabete</em> "I used to be afraid to do anything, because I'm kind of heavy. I've always fought with my weight. But I'm not waiting to be skinny before I do things anymore! The people in the Mermaid Parade are all shapes and sizes. I have a chronic health condition -- ulcerative colitis. The chemo for it made me photosensitive. I used to be on steroids for the colitis and I got really big. But I learned that no matter what, you've still gotta get out there. If you wait to be skinny, you might miss out!" -- <em>Amanda</em></strong>

  • Louisa Petsitis, Raina Kapicic

    <strong>"I'm from Floral Park, Long Island, but live in Bed-Stuy. I'm 40 years old! I've been thin. I've been chubby. I've been through a lot over the years. I've learned to accept that this is how I am. I had vitaligo as a child and was always insecure, so ... I like to tell young girls, 'Stop dieting every day! Don't let any boy, or girl, or bully tell you that you look fat, or skinny, or anything else! Women <em>should</em> be curvy. We really should!" -- <em>Louisa</em> "I still get insecurities. I try to connect with who I am on the inside, to connect with my heart instead of my body. My favorite body part is my boobs. My least-favorite is my thighs. Showing confidence is more beautiful than wasting time worrying about your body parts!" -- <em>Raina</em></strong>

  • Jill Valentino, Pine Bush, N.Y.

    <strong>"I haven't always been confident with my body. I am a curvy gal who developed waayy early. I was also the only overdeveloped, curvacious Jewish gal in my clique of skinny, athletic, WASPy friends all through school. I had a lot of issues with the way I looked and was constantly comparing myself to my friends and trying to look just like they did. Then one day, as a teen of about 15 or 16, I must have had a dream, some kind of epiphany, something -- I can't really remember -- I just recall waking up and thinking, 'I am who I am. I can be happy with it, or not. I can care what people think, or not. I've been miserable caring about how folks perceive me, and trying to transform myself into some 'ideal' that society has drawn up as to what a beautiful girl should look like. So today, I am changing all of that. I am going to be me, do my own thing, and screw what anyone else thinks!' I have been much happier ever since that day. I have also become very confident (sometimes almost too confident) and comfortable in my own skin. I mean, I have had a child, and you can tell. I have had a caesarean section. I have stretch marks. I have no semblance of a six-, four-, or two-pack of abs. I am 34 years old. I wear bikinis. So what? I know that I am not a 'thin' woman. I never will be, either. My husband thinks I am the most beautiful, sexy woman in the world. I think I am not all bad. My daughter looks up to me. I have a responsibility to set an example for her to follow. My mother's reaction to my seashell string bikini? 'Wow. You have a lot of confidence.' Damn straight."</strong>

  • Melanie Ambridge

    <strong>"This is my second year in the parade. I'm from Baltimore. I used to be a fitness model, but now that I'm 37, I'm not as comfortable exposing my body. My preparation for this involved getting in shape just enough to feel OK about exposing my stomach. When I was younger, I had this crazy knockout body. I did not realize it until I was a bit older. I am Greek and Italian and love food! I also have a slowing metabolism. It's hard to deal with, since I work out all the time and eat very healthily. My body went from tiny and slender to zoftig -- which isn't bad -- but since I used to pose in a bikini, it's a hard thing to 'stomach,' so to speak. Thank God the curvy body has become a popular one and that my husband loves my curves. As critical as I am about myself, I think all women are beautiful. I still think people should eat healthy and exercise. This does not mean you should have a goal to be a size zero. It means your goals should be more like: run a 5K, exercise consistently, or have a BMI of between 20 and 25. What is beautiful is loving your body inside and out. Not every woman can look like Jennifer Lopez or Gisele, but every woman can love and respect her body! Nobody should ever hate their body. Ever! Ever!"</strong>

  • Kathleen Hayes, West Hempstead, Long Island

    <strong>"I've been in the parade many times -- 10? My body confidence came from surfing my whole life, and skateboarding. Growing up contributed to that confidence. I've had weight issues -- my weight has fluctuated over the years. I've struggled just like everyone else. I have great legs! My least-favorite body part is this little pooch I have from surgery -- I had ovarian cysts removed. I love the scars, but hate the pooch. I'm 37 now and more comfortable in my skin than ever before. I just get more liberated as I age."</strong>

  • Natalia Lopez de Quintana, Brooklyn

    <strong>"It's my first time in the parade. I'm a Cuban girl from Miami, living in Brooklyn. Growing up in Miami, I was always surrounded by curvy Cuban women like myself who, thankfully, really owned what they were given. I learned to really <em>own</em> the fact that I'm curvy. I've always had body confidence -- I'm curvy and love it! My favorite body part is my legs, because they're strong, and they get me places. I don't have a least-favorite part. I suppose I just always knew that I'm special and I'm me and if I don't learn to love myself, I'll be unhappy all my life. Sure, I had my moments of insecurity in middle and high school, when I was starting to learn how my body moved, but I always knew deep down that I was above any criticism, because the only opinion that matters where my body is concerned is mine."</strong>

  • Amy Huggans, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

    <strong>"Coming to the parade, you see all shapes and sizes, and they look beautiful! It's not about your body, it's about your attitude -- having the best attitude, one of confidence and joy. I remind myself of that every time I feel chunky! It's not about someone else's idea of beauty. That's what I tell my kids."</strong>

  • Jenny

    <strong>"It's my fifth time in the parade. I didn't think I could ever be like this until I came here. I had no idea that I would like to be half-naked and painted and be happy with that! My favorite body part? Boobs! Least favorite? Ass! It's too big." <em>-- Jenny </em></strong> (last name withheld on request)

  • Casey Brouder, Rockaway, Queens

    <strong>"I grew up in a snotty neighborhood, and I had a more athletic build than the regular Joe. Now I have a lot of gay friends, and they gave me a lot of body confidence. They make me feel like I'm a fairy princess! My gay friends have taught me that even if I get chubby one year, it's OK. Mermaids are all sizes! It's fantastic!"</strong>

  • Maria Cuartero, Zaragoza, Spain

    <strong>"I don't think about my weight. The Mermaid Parade is about having fun. I don't have shame! In Spain, they all have body-image issues. No one wants to stand out. American people don't have the shame to dress up. They are more open to looking different. My favorite body part? I like my waist. My least favorite? I don't like my knees. They look like two puppets!"</strong>

Want an even bigger boost of body confidence? Watch this video, wherein a multitude of mermaids explain why everyone should love his or her own body:

What personal lessons have you learned about fear and fearlessness? Comment below, or tweet us @HealthyLiving using the hashtag #becomingfearless. If you tweet, you will automatically be entered into Toyota Corolla's Most Fearless Tweet Contest! (Click here for the Official Rules.)

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