During the early days of Las Vegas’ pool-party explosion, Mervat Berry found a void in the scene: LGBT events. So in 2009 she created a gay-specific pool event, Sunkissed, at the Luxor, and later moved the party to Mandalay Bay under a new name, Hydrat.
There she became interested in bodybuilding competitions. “When I was doing my pool parties, I’d be on the deck in bikinis and the guys are all, ‘I can’t believe you had a baby less than a year ago. Look at your abs,’” she says. “Funny thing is, I didn’t even work out.” Berry had modeling experience, though, and wasn’t shy in the spotlight. With the encouragement of friends from the fitness industry, she toned up, and in November 2011—a little more than two years after giving birth to her daughter—competed in her first show. She began in the bikini division and eventually moved up to the figure division, which focuses on slightly heavier muscle tone, and became a national-level competitor.
Along with long hours of working out, the competitions demanded a perfect tan—the kind that couldn’t always come from the sun alone. At each competition, Berry saw professional tanners working with the competitors. In September 2012, when the owner of a Las Vegas tanning salon decided to sell, Berry saw an opportunity. She bought the salon, Sunkissed, and swiftly turned a struggling business into a lucrative one. It meant tabling her competitive career—temporarily, at least—but it brought its own brand of fulfillment: Sunkissed is now the official tanner for Chippendales, UNLV’s Rebel Girls and the Las Vegas Figure & Bikini Team. Plus, Berry travels across the nation to tan competitors at bodybuilding events.
Berry, a first-generation Lebanese-American, grew up in the heavily Middle-Eastern town of Dearborn, Michigan. At 18, she left for Miami and eventually found work at a modeling agency. She came to Las Vegas in 2005, and today juggles Sunkissed, Industry PM (her event-planning and concierge business) and raising her daughter. “I do feel bad when I’m away working at the shows,” she says. “But I manage.”
Traveling the nation to keep competitors properly bronzed can be tough on the 28-year-old single mother, but the shows are both lucrative and rewarding: “A tan is a critical element to their success,” she says. “And I like to be under pressure. That’s the way I focus.”