I didn’t have the best childhood. My parents got divorced and I moved around a lot as a kid so it was hard to make friends.
One girl in Texas, her name was Anna I think, showed me Sailor Moon and Rurouni Kenshin. Everyday we’d talk about it and share where we were in the series, it was the closest thing I had to a school friend when I was young. I had to move soon but Anna had me hooked on anime and I loved it. I watched for a few years and saved up money so I could buy a few Naruto and Skip Beat! mangas that I always packed at the top of my suitcase when I moved so I could read them in the apartment before we had finished unpacking everything. Reading those mangas became a ritual to feel like I was home, even if I was somewhere totally new.
Anime and manga became the only constant in my life. And it inspired me with it’s deeper themes of kids who were outsiders and faced tough situations but who found courage, strength, and people they could rely on! That’s what I wanted – to be strong and have friends. So I tried harder at school to find friends but it was too hard to let my guard down fully since I knew it would hurt when I moved town.
One day I realized that there was an entire online community of anime fans. I became a forum addict! There were so many people who felt similar to me and I could talk about real things while also talking about the latest show that came out. These online friends were always there and it was like we all had an instant bond since our love of anime seemed to make all of us outsiders.
I was in early high school and my Dad finally decided I should stay in one place for awhile. So we lived in in Los Angeles. And I started to like a boy a lot. He was in choir and had blonde hair like Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. We got closer and every time we talked I got so nervous it literally hurt in the pit of my stomach.
It was few weeks into our flirtation and Big-boobs Carly, a girl who never made it on the cheerleading team but still acted like she did, starts calling me a whore and a slut and all sorts of other things. People at school start focusing on me and calling me mean things. I just ignored it.
So I’m talking with they guy I liked and he asks: “Do you like anime?”
I always tried to keep my anime life and real life separate since I knew people judged. So I didn’t know what to say.
He says: “Um okay, well don’t like anime cause that’s weird. We’re not in grade school. Pokemon is over.”
So I stopped. But the rumors got worse and he started avoiding me. I was called all sorts of things and people found pictures of me in cosplay at an anime convention. I tried to get them to stop sharing it on facebook and one day, some girls printed copies of it and put it all over my desk in science class. People called me weird and somehow they suddenly didn’t care when people made fun of me, excluded me, or would spill drinks on me “accidently”. Even teachers seemed to not care.
I couldn’t take it. I went to live with my Mom. And I stopped liking anime. I watched American TV, I went to football games, and I joined cheerleading when my new “cool” friends said I should.
Later they said I should sleep with someone in the group, because it’d be cool. They said I should try drugs. They said I should “borrow” money from my Mom’s wallet to buy beer. They said I should eat less because I was getting fat. All of this I didn’t want to do but because I had already chosen that other people’s opinions were more important than my own when I gave up anime, I did them anyway.
Thus began my anorexia. I wasn’t fat to start with, I was still in cheer and so had two hours of exercise every weekday. But they said I was getting fat, publicly too so everyone would laugh and one of the cool girls could feel good for five minutes.
Long story short, I ended up in a hospital around 88 pounds with my Mom begging me to eat.
Years of therapy later, my therapist asked me “Does what other people say about you or think about you mean more than your own opinion?” I said yes.
“You can’t please everyone because everyone has different opinions and what’s right for them isn’t right for you. You are important and whatever you like or want to do is okay.”
I didn’t know what to feel since I had felt dead inside for a long time now. A few weeks later, I got online and found the digital versions of the Naruto and Skip Beat manga I always read when I was younger. I cried for the first time in a long time and felt like I was home.
Anime and manga is an artform. Yes, it’s not from the culture I live in. Yes, I might be weird for liking something that wasn’t made in my country. But it doesn’t matter. The only reason I went so far, got so sick, and even almost died was because I tried to deny what I loved so other people would feel I was “normal.”
I’d rather be alive and enjoying the things I love instead of being normal. And that’s perfectly okay. We all only have a little time so let’s enjoy it doing what we love.
I didn’t write this to be a sob story, I think my past empowers me actually. I hope it empowers you to feel like it’s okay to love whatever weird thing you do. I love you all for letting me write for you.