Imagination Connoisseur, Willow Yang, takes a break from her reviews to share a personal story of growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia as part of the Chinese community there.

Dear Rob,

I would like to thank Mr. Mao last week for sending in his letters detailing his personal experiences growing up. It has gotten me reflecting on my own struggles as a young adult with appealing to the opposite sex. I’ve had a very different experience from Mr. Mao. As I’ve stated in my past letters, I live in Vancouver, where an enormous proportion of the population are of Chinese descent. Many of the kids in my schools were into gaming, manga, anime, and other forms of genre entertainment. I’ve never felt ostracized because of my ethnicity or my interests. However, I did suffer from other issues.

I’ve been plagued with social anxiety and low self-esteem throughout my entire life. When I was in elementary school, I was probably the only kid in class who dreaded gym. Whenever we formed teams, I was always the last person to get picked; whenever we needed to get into pairs and there was an odd number of students, I’d always be the one left without a partner. I’ve hated the way that I looked since I was 9 or 10. I’m not beautiful. I’m overweight, my face is too round, my nose too large, one of my eyes is bigger than the other, I had pimples for most of my adolescence. After the 9th grade, when all the late stragglers have hit their growth spurts, I became the shortest person in class. I was 12 the first time I tried to diet; I suffered from repeated cycles of eating disorders throughout my late teens and early 20’s. The thinnest I’ve ever been was during my first year of college. I weighed 78 pounds; my hair was falling out, I was freezing all the time, and I barely had the energy to get to my classes. It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life, and I have no desire to relive it again.

My parents held quite traditional views when it came to relationships and dating. They didn’t believe that kids should be hooking up until after they’ve gotten into college. They viewed dating as a waste of time, a dangerous distraction that could be detrimental to my grades and my future career (and premarital sex was just simply out of the question). But I couldn’t go against my biological drives. I liked boys, and I had numerous crushes. Traditional gender roles however, dictate that it is the male that has to initiate, that I must wait for a boy to take notice of me. I used to daydream about being asked out to a dance or being sent a candygram on Valentine’s Day. But that never happened. While I did have a few male friends, no boy has ever regarded me as a potential love interest. My romantic life can perfectly be encapsulated by the Janis Ian song, At Seventeen. As the first verse goes: “I learned the truth at seventeen/That love was meant for beauty queens”. The only difference is that I probably learned the truth closer to 14. I’ve never once had anyone ask me out on a date.

Movies, anime, manga, novels, and games have always served as a means for me to escape from my own insecurities. In my imagination, I could be whoever I wanted to be. Like Captain Pike in The Menagerie, I was unfettered from the flaws and limitations of my physical body. I fantasized myself being tall and athletic, being the greatest martial artist and swordsman to have ever lived. I imagined myself being the most beautiful and revered empress on the planet, with an endless line of lovers at my beck and call. It was also through manga and anime that I was able to interact with members of the opposite sex; my peers, both male and female, could all come together and get into long debates and speculations over the latest chapter of Naruto or Bleach. And I don’t resent any of the boys for never taking a romantic interest in me; I still value the friendship that we’ve had. I remember fondly of one time when a group of us were over at a male classmate’s home. We were supposed to be working on a science project, but being the procrastinators that we were, we ended up spending the majority of the time watching videos online. At one point, I was typing the word “anime” into the search engine, when some very lewd, not-safe-for-work search history terms popped up. The boy whose house we were at was mortified by my discovery, and tried to blame it on his much younger brother. Of course, this would have never happened at my house because I had the sense to erase my browser history. It is memories like these that I now possess, that I cherish in lieu of memories of valentines and first kisses.

Even though I do feel quite fulfilled and content with my current life, I still struggle with insecurities. I’d see photos and videos of female geeks at conventions, posing in their elaborate outfits, and these women are always stunning and beautiful. I certainly don’t have the confidence to cosplay. Female heroines like Princess Leia, Xena, and Wonder Woman have a certain body type, and I would just look ludicrous wearing one of those costumes. Of course, I do realise that 99.9% of men don’t look like Chris Hemsworth or Henry Cavill either. However, I do wonder what geek boys look for in girls. Do they want just the beautiful ones, the ones that they are used to seeing on the pages of comics or on screen, the ones who would actually look good in gold bikinis? That is just not what I, or many of my female friends who were into anime and manga, have to offer. And I don’t blame them if they do feel this way. As much as we might be loath to admit it, we are all shallow, and I do believe that physical attraction is a crucial factor in relationships. I just want men to realise that there are many women who are in the same boat as them, who are also awkward and unpopular, who are also unhappy about themselves, who are also feeling ignored and rejected by the opposite sex.

I guess the main message I’m trying to convey with this letter is that I don’t believe life is easy for anyone. Men have their problems and insecurities, and women have theirs. I used to envy the popular girls at my school, the pretty ones who were being sought after by the boys, who were being asked out to dances and being given bouquets of roses on Valentine’s Day. I used to try to tell myself that I was intellectually superior, that I would get top grades and into a prestigious university while they wasted their lives worrying about makeup and clothes. But I realise now that they must have their own struggles too. We are all just humans who want to be loved and accepted by our peers, who are trying to find our own way through life. Let us all just respect and have some compassion and kindness towards each other in the short time that we have together on this planet.

Your sincerely,
– Willow Y.