The “Huge Nerd” in the Room

I have started to feel ashamed of my fellow anime fans in my school, and my affiliation with the subculture they belong to– And it’s a feeling I absolutely hate myself for having.

On the first day of Evaluating Contemporary TV class, everyone was told to stand up and state their name and class, followed by the kind of television they most enjoyed and most hated. I went first, and stated my genres of choice- Leaving out the fact that I prefer those genres to be animated and Japanese in origin. We went through the whole class, each person saying their piece, and I laughed along at the commentary about bad reality TV and the like. At the back of the classroom, however, a girl stood and stated her preferences. “I’m kind of a huge nerd,” she stated, continuing on to say she loved anime.

While watching the varied reactions to the statement on my classmates’ faces, I realized that while the majority remained neutral, there were several very obviously disgusted expressions in the room, including a girl who had said she hated “those weird Japanese cartoons”. This wasn’t very surprising to me, of course. I’ve been an anime fan long enough to be aware that it is in many cases a love-it-or-hate-it genre, based on misconceptions and stereotypes. The thing that bothered me most about this particular statement was the girl’s appearance, and the fact that it is a very common look for the “otaku” on my campus, in my state, and in most places I have been in the States.

This stereotypical “otaku” will have her hair cut off, leaving a spiky or extremely short mop that may be dyed outrageous colors. She often wears a dog collar, though other accessories such as sweatbands for the wrists are often present. She will wear an oversized anime t-shirt, worn and baggy pants, and combat boots and/or tennis shoes. Her bag will bear the emblem of some anime series, and she will have a keychain full of chibis on chains. The male “otaku” will not stray far from this style, making both genders occasionally difficult to differentiate.

Before we get into a tizzy about what a snob I am, I will just state that I am friends with many people like this. In fact, they are some of my best friends. I choose my friends based on character, not appearance; however, that is not how we are judged by the world at large. This began to become very clear to me several months ago during a lull in an activity at my sorority house. As we sat around the dining room table, I was flipping through my PiNKY Magazine, as I hadn’t had time to catch up on my monthly dose of fashion. The other girls at the table began to ask me about it, being quite interested in the “really cool” outfits and content of the magazine. They asked what got me interested in Japanese fashion, and I explained the history; what started as a small interest in anime had developed into a love of Japanese culture and history. When they heard that I like anime, the girls were absolutely flabbergasted. “I never would have guessed,” they said, looking me over with apparent surprise. “You don’t look like you would be into that kind of thing!”

It’s flattering to be told I’m “pretty” and “well-kept”, but this exchange left a nagging question in the back of my mind: Why are anime fans expected to look a certain way? Why can’t we have a passion for Japanese animation and culture, and still be presentable, well-groomed, attractive adults?

This feeling was refreshed during the school’s activity fair the following week. I was fully intending to join the campus anime club, make more friends, and enjoy my interest- But as I walked to the plaza, I discovered the anime club and fantasy club were set up side by side. Both booths were well-populated with poorly groomed and stereotypically “otaku” students, dressed in ridiculous attempts at steampunk and fantasy costume. I balked. I did not approach. And I did not join the anime club.

Maybe I’m shallow; however, I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. I have asked friends about it, and none seem to be able to come up with a reason why they dress and groom the way they do. “It’s easier,” I’ve heard, and that’s almost understandable. But what started this trend?

I am by no means (entirely) closeted about my passion for anime. I simply keep it to myself until someone has started to know me for my other interests and passions, specifically for Japanese culture and history. I am tired of seeing people shut down the moment I say, “I love anime and manga!” or “I really like Japanese comics”. I am a cosplayer, and a member of fandom, but that is not everything I am. I take pride in my appearance, and the fact that I stand out for my fashion choices and grooming- Not for my unkempt, wild hair, or my anime bags and shirts.

I would like to know a lot of things about our subculture, but most of all, I would like to change these stereotypes. I would like to see Japanese fashion instead of slovenly “nerd” attire. I may be the minority, but I feel it is something that needs to be discussed, rather than be left to stagnate.

What are your thoughts?

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephie
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 23:37:28

    What you’ve said is pretty much how I felt exactly while in college. The cool thing about working is no one cares what your hobbies are. They care that you are professional and in touch with reality. Just look at it this way, you have a better chance in the work world! Plus, you seem more in touch with reality.
    Anime can be an occasional escape, but living the life by dressing a certain way and acting immature for an eternity is denying the world around. 🙂 You’re perfectly normal!
    Awesome article. You are a great writer! ~ Stephie (fellow closet anime lover) XD

    Reply

  2. magicalnora
    Jul 09, 2010 @ 09:15:49

    Heh, i get the same reaction, but there arent many female anime fans in my country (kenya) its the boys who have the bad rep

    Reply

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