A Wild Panel Review Appears!

Guys, many of you may know that I am a panelist and cosplay and you can read all about there here.

A very dear friend of mine wrote a review about one of my panels! Check it out!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/57e35f98e4b00267764fb96f?timestamp=1474519040614

 

 

And Maybe Perchance to be Exotic

beauty-is-a-short-lived-tyranny-socrates

You should smile more.
You’d be prettier if you smiled.

Have you thought about losing weight?
You should wear make-up more often!

You aren’t married yet? You should get on that!

My hair is kept short. I’m plump, to say. I’m short, quite petite at maybe 5’2’’ on a good day. I’m a nerd, an otaku. I love uniforms. I sew, I cosplay. I write, oh stars, I write. And I list these things for one simple reason: for all of my quirks and interests, there are aspects of me and so many others that are acceptable to some and deplorable to others.

There’s a certain beauty to being raised Southern. Things that are simply aspects of life for many Southern women that were once points of ire from our Yankee friends are now oh so en vogue. The fact that I sew, I clean, I can bake: thanks to Pinterest are now seasonably fashionable. Cooking, sewing, baking were for many Southern women just tools for survival. We had to learn to do those things, even now in the age of take out and misandry we maintain the old traditions that many saw as little more than patriarchal suffering as an art. I never saw cooking, baking or any household art as punishment: the beauty of feminism is that as long as I want to do it, it’s more than allowed and I love a world where I can bake a cake from scratch and still maintain my degree.

The dark skin that I have such a complex relationship with happens to be either fetishized or just seen as a marked departure from the common hegemony of classical depiction. When I traveled overseas, I remember being the center of catcalling and comments because of my looks. Not just that I was an American but an African-American with a “full” frame. I didn’t mind them: even in the US I’m seen as “exotic”: I scarcely like admitting how many times I’ve heard “I’ve never dated a black girl before.” as if somehow outside of more melanin that I was somehow different from another girl.

I started cutting my hair short when I was 12. In a Mulan-esque rebellion against a father who kept my hair long, I started cutting my hair shorter and shorter. At its shortest, I could have passed for male but I keep it now just past my ears and I start to get anxious when my hair begins to touch my neck. In the past, short hair was needed: it kept lice away and that’s what wigs are for if you wish to continue to luxuriate in the lushes of long hair. I resist make up for the most part and you can read more about that here but I tend not to wear a lot of make up. In any other era, such a move would be the hallmark of feminine modesty and chastity.

Being petite for many cultures has been the standard of feminine beauty. Being heavy was once a sign of wealth. One could afford enough food to put on weight. Beauty standards for years emphasized and put praise to women who were full in figure. We did not start to savor a thin waist until fairly recently in the history of humanity.

I could list sources forever but I rather tell you a personal story about a chance meeting a very beautiful lady. I was in the Vienna Museum of Natural History. Among the dodos, Tasmanian tigers and the jaw of a very impressive prehistoric creature there was a cloak and dagger-like room. In it was a tiny figurine. She is old but doesn’t look a day over 1000 and she is lovely: the Venus of Willendorf. She’s a small, plump figure dating back centuries. She’s said to be a fertility goddess to a long-gone culture and I got to see her and in her I got to see a body that, well, looked more like mine. Her size was meant to show abundance. She was meant to be carried around and despite her small stature, she’s a real looker if you ever happen to be in Vienna, Austria. But if you were to see a woman now that looked like her, that looked like me, how many people would turn their noses up to her looks?

So let’s tie all of this together, but to do that, I’ll have to tell you all another story. When I was in high school and in all of my Japanese culture-loving wisdom, a few friends of mine and I decided to fill out omiai. These marriage applications were very common in Japan and forced people to, with the help of a matchmaker, list out all of their possible traits and flaws. I “updated” mine again in college and here are selections from my personal application.

Petite, very intelligent. University educated. Comes from a good family. Speaks multiple languages. Has debt, but good debt. At risk for some health issues but overall sturdy American girl.

In the right eyes, my somewhat stoic nature when presented with something interesting in a book or in an audio format. The fact that I can sew. The fact that I can cook. To the right person, are marked signs of favor or tacky throwbacks to a bygone era. Even by old Southern standards: I’d be quite the novelty. A small woman who is a domestic goddess but also of immense intellect that could be the pride of any household of the treasured pearl to any husband’s crown.

Now, by now, you may be asking:

Now, that was lovely, Amanda. What in the hell do you mean to gain by saying all of this?

What I hope to gain in this exploration of the fragile standards of beauty is simply this: understanding.

Think of how many times just in American history that standards of beauty changed from loving pale skin to adoring a beach tan. From staunch and strict segregation to the romantization of interracial relationships. And think of how culture’s influences changed how we see ambitious women as either harlots or literally demonic in the case of the story of Lilith (which if you’ve never read, seriously do that. I’ll wait.) The woman who would be pharaoh was so hated in her death that her successor defaced her monuments to deny her an afterlife. And literature and other pop culture revels in the mythical fall from grace for female characters. Think of the women whose ambition simultaneously is attractive and lethal. And even me as a woman who has been called “passionate” and “knowledgeable” by some can also be “intimidating” and “loud” to others that rather judge me on the first glance.

Women, men, people: we’re all lovely in our own special ways and we’re all still human in the most mortal ways. Our traits, habits, likes and dislikes can in one culture be understood and respected and in another exotic and wild.

So own your looks and know that despite your culture and the ire of others: you’re spectacular in your own special way. Standards of beauty change but individualism still matters most of all.

Notes for further consideration on the topic:

 

You Are What You’re Allergic To

 

-The American public is not aware that there might be potential allergenic and toxic reactions. With regular food, at least people know which foods they have an allergy to.-I have food allergies. I have also allergies to almost everything.  When I was a kid, my allergist’s best advice to my family on what to do with a daughter who was allergic to nearly everything was to simply leave the state of Texas for drier climes. It’s easier basically to list what I am not allergic to than to list what I am but we’re here to talk about food allergies. As far as food allergies go here are mine: I’m allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. As far as other allergies: I’m allergic to most forms of pollen, animal dander, and molds. I’m highly sensitive to ant venom and I have a sensitivity to Aspirin, nickel and latex (let’s not ask about the latex allergy 🙂 ). These are personal, sort of, but that’s why I want to talk about food allergies and continuing to live a healthy, sheltered life.

I found out I was allergic to peanuts when I was 6. I took a bite of a peanut butter cookie and immediately had a reaction. This was back in the 90s so of course my parents were doting, supportive and caring to their daughter who would be removed from the world of peanut butter. Further testing found that I was also allergic to tree nuts, which is apparently rare to be allergic to both. Back then, food allergies were serious. They are serious. I got special lunches from school. I often ate in the kitchen in primary school and I made great friends with kitchen staff. It made birthday parties interesting: my parents had to always ask and peanut snacks and cakes were removed from the school to keep me alive. Having a food allergy was alienating but being special was always welcomed as a school kid.

Through my junior high and teen years having a food allergy was a quiet companion. I only had a few close scares but for the most part it was easy to cope with. I stopped carrying around an Epi-Pen because I am for the most part old enough to avoid my allergies but I do plan on carrying one around again in the near future (DON’T NORMALLY STOP CARRYING AN EPI-PEN) and if anything it was a punchline to me and my friends. I have my foods that I’m willing to ignore being allergic to still enjoy like Nutella. My favorite creamer is Hazelnut. (Fun fact: there’s an allergic scale and hazelnuts are very low on the scale so it’s not that bad and hazelnut flavoring is basically just double vanilla and some vague other flavors.) I accepted that there’s plenty of places to not eat: Thai is almost out of the question, of course, and plenty of other foods. I don’t miss peanut butter cups or anything like that. Peanut oils are used in a lot of Asian cooking: Goodbye, some Chinese restaurants. (This is actually because many Chinese restaurants fry in peanut oil but in most cases peanut oil has no allergens in it UNLESS you make it the way some older Chinese restaurants do by frying peanuts in vegetable oil which is FULL of allergens.) Cross-contamination is also a big deal which is why many places will flat out say “If you have a nut allergy, just don’t come here.”.

Let’s actually talk about that.

I was a P.F. Chang’s recently and one of the first questions asked was “Hi, do you have any food allergies or sensitivities?” before the waitress even told me her name. I said “Yes” and that I had a nut allergy and she circled a space on my ticket immediately. I felt a little alienated. I never gave my allergy much thought and I have had issues with P.F. Chang’s before because of their damn lettuce wraps (so delicious, so deadly). When my dish arrived it was on a special plate I was pretty surprised. I couldn’t imagine what that looks like to the kitchen. Does the chef has to leave the main kitchen? Go to a special sequestered space? Does he have to rinse off and then down with bleach and chemicals? Why do I need a special plate? I’m not a child. I’d like a normal plate, please. I am an adult. I pay bills. I want a non-special plate, dammit.

But what I hate especially is the judgement that comes to answering the question of “do you have any food sensitivity?” Because I have to answer the question “yes”.  But that immediately lumps me in with a gaggle of people who simply like avoiding certain things because of their waistlines. And that doesn’t mean I don’t ‘believe’ in celiac disease or gluten sensitivity: I have friends that suffer from the condition and others like lactose intolerance.  But what people don’t seem to understand is that for me eating peanuts or tree nuts is a matter of life or death not worrying over how I look in a bikini. I will die if I eat peanuts. Or at least have a quick and painful anaphylactic reaction. And for my friends that suffer from celiac or lactose intolerance it’s a matter of intense discomfort and not insecurity over a dress silhouette.

What’s even more interesting is that I think my friends are more worried about my allergies than I am. Many are more curious about what I can and can’t eat. Dinner plans have been changed and moved around. Entire cuisines have been axed because of my allergies. My friends will speak up for me when I order dessert and are appalled when I’ll taste something not sure if it’s Nutella or chocolate syrup. Or when I’ll take a bite out of a cookie not sure if the firm substance is a pecan or an odd chocolate chip. I actually wasn’t even sure I wanted to write about this topic but another friend encouraged me to. He was actually very supportive of P.F. Chang’s giving me a special plate and the forthcomingness asking about food allergies. And not just P.F. Chang’s.

Having food allergies makes you adapt. You learn to ask about menu items that are questionable or just play a very fun and possibly deadly game of “Guess what’s inside this dish?”. You learn to make subtractions and additions to recipes: you accept that macarons are never going to be a thing. You embrace that friends may not understand and you always have a dish you can bring to a party. You embrace having to go out to eat after dinner parties. You commiserate with other food allergic and food sensitive friends after you both eat something that was likely not the best choice. (Please feel free to ask about the time Amber and I both ate foods we regretted at a local Italian joint. So much cheese. So many hazelnuts. ) You learn to eat around what you’re allergic to. To avoid open candy dishes. Ask before digging into anything from office cake to office cookies and sharing food is an absolute no. You ask significant others if they have had your allergen before kissing them (because YES you can have a reaction from kissing or touching someone who was in contact with your allergen). You question why every restau

Plenty of places now are more aware of what it means to cross-contaminate or put people at risk but having an allergy for so long…I’ll admit I tend to ignore those. If that was the case and I listened to everything single allergy worry then that removes almost no processed foods, no mall food, no eating out really. If I had to exclude all of the items that had ‘traces’ or ‘came in contact with’ peanuts or tree nuts well then, I’d lose a lot of weight quick. But it’s been an interesting evolution to see food allergies go from an annoying inconvenience that made a kid that one child who ruined peanut butter cups and school parties to being a serious American problem that people are more conscious of it than they ever were when I was a kid. I remember vividly flat out being told to leave certain places because the risk of cross-contamination is too great. I’ve had places that just refused to serve me because they were afraid of my not always so calculated risk of how much I can play tree nut Russian roulette.

So this was a little ranty in places and I stand in solidarity for my fellow allergic brothers and sisters. From reading menus. To checking out if a place is safe. To calculated risk. To ignoring allergies for favorite foods. To avoiding entire styles of food. To being happy when you can go to a restaurant and order something allergen-free. To being surprised and scared when you encounter an allergen even AFTER asking about it (Looking at you, Cheddar’s. I almost died that night over a cookie. Thank you, though, to Benadryl: You’re the real MVP.). Stay strong, stay hungry and keep reading those menu keys.

Lessons in Urbanization

-Th

At the very core of me is the fact that I am a suburban girl. Yes, the city was never far and I did visit often most of my time was spent in the shadow of Dallas right in the middle of Dallas and Ft. Worth. I moved to the San Antonio which is undoubtedly a city it’s incredibly different from my suburban paradise and even the proper city I call the proud part of my past. In my time in the city here are a few things I’ve learned.

  • I am now recently afraid of dogs after being nearly attacked by wild dogs waiting for buses and walking through poorly designed parking structures.
  • I don’t like happening upon people in various stupors on the stoops of businesses.
  • This city moves at a ridiculously slow place.
  • I find tourists even more obnoxious than ever before.
  • I am amazed with how antiquated at time this city is and what it means in the grander scheme of city planning. People still can find and still use payphones.
  • I am incredibly surprised how far I can get with without a car between the buses and my own two feet. And now that I have a car I’m surprised how many places I now can reach.
  • I am also incredibly surprised with all of this access some places are still tortuously inaccessible.
  • There are a few very nice buses here: my question is why there aren’t more of them?
  • There are more houses of predatory lending here than I have ever seen. These establishments prey on those who need financial help most and trap them in a spiral of debt. I see plenty on my ride home from work.
  • The food scene here is very rapidly changing. I’m happy to be in the middle of it while I tell tourists to visit plastic haunts, I savor the bounty of now being a local.
  • I’m amazed that San Antonio is a young and old city simultaneously and there seems to be no middle ground.
  • San Antonio on a whole seems to be a city of no middle ground: the housing issues here are interesting either apartments are very expensive or designated for low-income housing.
  • It seems like the new emergence of a middle class here has posed a few issues, I look forward to seeing them resolved.
  • Now that I’m driving, I do love that I can leave the city and visit plenty of other locations.
  • I’ve gotten use to a wide variety of noises.
  • I have no idea how to make friends as an adult in this city that doesn’t involve stomaching the bar scene or frolicking around other hipster locations that I normally frequent. Like how do we do that? Is there a Tinder for friends?
  • There is something to be said about a sensible flat shoe in the city.
  • First Friday is pretty magical.
  • I do love South Town.
  • Come to think of it, most of the arts districts are where I’ll likely be found.
  • But bigger city does mean more history and ARCHIVES. ARCHIVES.

This is a short one and maybe I’ll add to it as I learn more. But I will say whenever I leave Dallas, I am miserable leaving the skyline. When I return to Dallas, the skyline is what greets me: I love the glitter of artificial Suns and man’s desire to blanket the sky with its own burning effigies. I’m a suburban girl by nature, but a city girl at heart.

Character Over Corpus

-I am just a human being trying to make it in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human.-John Trudell.png

I follow a few Youtubers, well Vloggers, really. I can list them off for you since it is in fact so few: Hannah Hart on occasion, Mamrie Hart on occasion, Craig Benzine for sure, Hank and John Green (Or John would prefer: John and Hank Green) and the rest of my Youtube activity is split between Crash Course, The School of Life, Good Mythical Morning, It’s Okay to be Smart, PBS Idea Channel (Mike Rugnetta is like my spirit animal) and videos of cats. Cats wearing hats. Hats filled with cats and sloths oh and the occasional prehensile-tailed porcupine. Vlogging is a strange thing for me and I have very severe usual opinions on various Youtube ‘celebrities’. I don’t understand Tyler Oakley, Michelle Phan or PewDiePie (by all means feel free to ask about my rants on PewDiePie). I don’t understand how people can make literally millions doing something so innocuous as posting their daily rantings, ravings and nonsense but the few vloggers that I follow do remind me that it can and is a full time job and I’d love to thank Craig Benzine (WheezyWaiter) for showing me that being a personality is a lot of work.

But today we’re here to talk about people. Because there’s a strange cognitive dissonance between seeing an online celebrity and recognizing them as human. I know John Green not as an award-winning author but as the Nerdfighter behind French the Llama. This comes really from a very central thing: Hank Green recently announced that he and The Katherine were about to have a baby. I noticed in all of the videos where Hank mentions the new human child that’s about to enter his life that in my opinion he seemed terrified and miserable. I went to judge him as I would a comic book character before I realized this is a human being. This is a man who wakes up every day just like I do and is about to add to his family. Anxious, worried, scared, mortal: he was a human being and had every right to feel that way and I have no right to judge him.

Vlogging is in fact a rather voyeuristic thing. You do in fact open yourself up to be no longer a person but an object. When you put every single thing you say and do and start to monetize those things and build a community it does feel a bit like a forfeiture of your personal humanity. You are then not a person but a personality. Think of Oprah. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always resisted posting too many videos from convention or my panels or even of my costumes: those memories are personal, private and mine. I know what happened 2 AnimeFests ago. My friends do, too. The rest of the Internet? They don’t need to know the whole story. But the clips, vignettes, intimate glimpses are more than enough to share with the unwashed masses. As a blogger, writer and social media professional, I am keenly aware of what is appropriate to post and what is not and I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my personal and private lives in check but also managing my online footprint pretty decently. But because I panel and cosplay there is a little bit of Stage!me and Everyday!me: those two people are very different and wear vastly different amounts of make up.

It’s interesting coming from someone like me who is a writer, cosplayer and general nerd. My friends and I talk rather casually about comic book characters, anime characters, novel characters like they’re people: like they’re real people. If you ever get in the middle of a Harry Potter conversation between friends and I, you will hear us talk about Potter as if he was right there and we were still equally annoyed and displeased with him. And if you sit with us further to hear conversations of headcanons you’ll come to find that even characters have idealized versions of themselves.

What’s even more interesting is that glimpsing into these people’s lives can reveal plenty of curious things. For a brief moment I found a person annoying based on a Let’s Play video. Think of how very shallow that is. I was willing and able to pass judgement on another person based on a video that completely out of context showed nothing about this individual or their life. And if anything I find that I am more sympathetic to John and Hank Green and the choices they make of who to show in their videos. John’s wife is famously in known in Nerdfighteria as “The Yeti” because she is often spoken about and rarely seen. He kept his son, Henry, out of many videos because he wanted his child to have agency over what what kept of him in the digital archives. And when clips, and snippets and soundbites are taken out of context: well, doesn’t that change how we’re all viewed? If someone pieced together a simulacrum of me based merely upon old anime club meetings and things I said while I was in costume: then you’d scarcely know the me that’s witty, charming, bookish, entirely too smart for my own good and frightfully introverted.

And what’s more important is that we forget to in these moments see these people are mortal. We put them on pedestals. We assume the wealth they’ve amassed from advertising makes them monoliths. But they are human, just like the rest of us. John Green goes to bed every night with his wife and family and if anything his open discussion of his anxiety to me makes him even more human. He worries about his existential life. He openly discusses mental illness and admits to the struggles he has had with faith. He admits to being an insufferable teenager ( I was, too) and he admits to being normal. Well, aside from the awards and stuff. I think it can all be summed up very well by another quote: “Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.” said so wonderfully by Michel de Montaigne and illustrated beautifully in this video.
The moral of the story? Context is key. We’re all human and the internet is a scary place where we try to put our best foot forward only often to have our kindness used against us. So stay kind. Stay human. There’s a fine line between personality and persona.