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London Comic Con: Cosplay, Creativity and Healing

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What is in a costume? Apparently, your inner self. Social Work Helper spent time at Comic Con 2017 asking people about their character costumes (“cosplay”), and what it means to them.

The first interviewee was a homemade character called Puppet. “By hiding myself, I can be more of myself”, she explained, gesturing to her bright and fur-clad head mask. “I’ve wanted a fur suit since I can remember.. In real life, I’m quite shy”. The flamboyant and impressive costume was this person’s way of making herself known and expressing her true self. Her friend played the Pokemon Sylveon, because “I’ve loved Pokemon since I was a child – it’s cute!”.

Finally, there was the woman who had created her own character (or “OC”) based on a girl with special powers from the Black Plague era. Like her creator, this character was misunderstood by others and sometimes dealt with her difficulties through self-injury. This character, this cosplay, was a way by which a young woman creatively dealt with their own demons.

Finally, there was the woman who had created her own character (or “OC”) based on a girl with special powers from the Black Plague era. Like her creator, this character was misunderstood by others and sometimes dealt with her difficulties through self-injury. This character, this cosplay, was a way by which a young woman creatively dealt with their own demons.

A trio of Star Trek crew also had a deeper meaning to their costumes. They spoke of the Star Trek universe being “hopeful”, and a representation of a utopian society towards which humanity can strive. Some modern technology has, arguably, been inspired by the show (such as mobile phones), and given the Star Trek crew’s habituation to technology, “The mundane can be fantastic!”. They argued that Star Trek also teaches us that although difficulties and challenges are inevitable, we can get through them.

The trio spoke of the show being inclusive of gender and race, and trailblazing with its inclusion of Nichelle Nicholls – a black woman as a crew member who reportedly inspired the likes of Whoopi Goldberg. Indeed, Nichelle later went on to support diverse recruiting for NASA. A woman dressed as a Vulcan (an alien race which cannot understand emotions) went on to say that she has a diagnosis of autism. From Star Trek, she learned from half-Vulcan Spock that “just because I’m different, doesn’t mean I’m not important too. Everyone is different, everyone is unique”.

From Star Trek to Star Wars, the man who played Rey from the new Star Wars franchise had some insightful comments about his choice of female character. He suggested that cosplayers are respected if they play with gender and that he had received a lot of positivity – “It makes people happy! With gender play, the only limit is your imagination”. He also spoke of his pleasure that there is “Finally a lead female” in the Star Wars franchise, a character who is “confident, humorous and strong” (although Princess Leia has a solid presence in the Star Wars film, she was not the leading character).

There was a range of other cross-gendering characters, from the woman who created a home-made version of Marvel’s Dr. Strange – which had taken six months to hand-stamp and create – to the slow-moving and frankly chilling female Pyramid Head (a horror video game character).

Let us not forget the animals of ComicCon, for example, Catz of the eponymous musical. Most of the weekend, they were found lounging on the floor (or on each other). As we talked, occasionally one would lazy stalk around before curling back up at the foot of another.

Their sun-bright makeup and costumes were painstakingly home-made, the former taking several hours and the latter taking months. “We get lost in their world, acting it out”, they told me, “We wanted something different”. They met online and at conventions, and one said “I’ve been a fan of Catz since I was little” They talked about how it was a “confidence boost”, particularly with a number of passers-by (understandably) taking pictures and admiring their presentation.

Their sun-bright makeup and costumes were painstakingly home-made, the former taking several hours and the latter taking months. “We get lost in their world, acting it out”, they told me, “We wanted something different”. They met online and at conventions, and one said “I’ve been a fan of Catz since I was little” They talked about how it was a “confidence boost”, particularly with a number of passers-by (understandably) taking pictures and admiring their presentation.

This small cross-section of interviews was only a hint of what the weekend had to offer. ComicCon hosted anime characters such as Naruto “He’s goofbally and prideful, he likes to help people – I relate to him”, and his sensei Kakashi “We’re similar – he has a dark past and changed as a person over the series”, Merrida of Disney’s Brave “Doesn’t need a prince, is fierce and independent”, the Dark Souls Elite Knight who had hand-forged his armour (“He’s a cool guy, something different to Snake [from video game Metal Gear Solid] and people keep coming up to me”). The cast of The Hunger Games spoke about the importance of a group costume, particularly in gaining people’s interest, and Lego Batman seemed to enjoy bringing smiles and laughter wherever he waddled.

What can we make of this? Clearly cosplay, for many people, is an important part of self-expression. A chance for people to be creative, confident and expressive; a chance for people to connect with their childhood; a chance to “be yourself” through not being yourself. It was a place where people could socialise in weird and wonderful ways, and actively invite the attention of strangers. For some, the experience of creating and becoming different characters was actually a way of dealing with their own stories – and everybody had a story to tell.

Indeed, if there’s any take-home message from our cosplayers this weekend, it’s that we all wear our masks. We all have our inner selves, the parts of us we don’t express. ComicCon simply gives us the opportunity to celebrate them.

Chey is a mental health worker from the north of England. She currently works with adults with learning disabilities. Her interests include gender, sexual and racial equality, human rights, social inclusion, older citizens, mental health and wellbeing, poverty and disability rights. She has participated in a range of charity and/or fundraising projects over the years, and looks forward to your ideas for the next one!

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Disability

Colin Kaepernick and How Self Care Must Go Pro

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For years, permanently injured players have been left to figure out how they will financially support their families and how they will carry on with their lives after committing years to football. Currently, the NFL is settling numerous lawsuits from former players who claim that their disabilities resulted from injuries on the field. But that’s not the only controversy stirring in the NFL.

In Fall of 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem. At the time, many believed the media would quickly move on to another more trendy story. Afterall, he wasn’t chanting or picketing. He was simply kneeling. But as weeks passed, white anger slowly unveiled itself, and patriotism took the main stage. Critics saw Kaepernick’s quiet gesture as a radical protest. Yet, he still knelt game after game.

Kaepernick proved his physical ability early in his professional career by leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. At that time the public didn’t know that Kaepernick had a metal rod placed in his left leg prior to his rookie year. Still, he attended and did well in practices. But in 2015, he injured his left shoulder and would later report injuries to his thumb and knee.

Working with such disabilities would prove challenging to most people, particularly for professional athletes who are required to demonstrate physical grit day after day. When Kaepernick’s scoring record took a hit, questions arose as to whether he was worth his contract. But Kaepernick saw himself as more than just damaged goods. He had something else to offer: a perspective on the value of black lives in America.

By kneeling, Kaepernick demonstrated ownership of his body, a black body that has been endangered for a time that is too long to measure. That is a radical act of self-care. The concept of self-care, for a long time, was viewed as a luxury accessible to an elite few. And, self-care is publicly declaring that your life matters beyond what your performance on the football field.

In a recent interview, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy said he thinks that Kaepernick was released because he’s not a great player, not because he didn’t stand for the anthem. He added that from the perspective of a team owner, Kaepernick isn’t worth the distraction if he can’t play well. However, star quarterbacks Aaron Rogers and Cam Newton came out in support of Kaepernick. Both stated he should be starting in the NFL, but he isn’t due to his protest of the national anthem.

I’d argue that even when athletes play well, there is a general discomfort with them expressing resistance to racism. They usually are told to stick to the game, proving once again that a working, non-resistant black body is most favorable (and profitable) in this society.

The NFL has a longstanding history of utilizing bodies for financial gain, in particular, black bodies. It is a marketplace for bodies. Bodies that can be negotiated and sold and traded in the name of increasing revenue. I hear sports fans say often that certain teams don’t win because the owners ‘don’t want to spend the money’. However, Kaepernick was recently released from his contract, something for which he seemed prepared.

According to the New York Times, NFL players are becoming permanently disabled after suffering head traumas. Those injuries have caused concussions, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Now, some players’ wives have created at least one space, in the form of a private Facebook group, where they share their experiences and gain strength from each other as they become caregivers and advocates for men who once were larger than life. I believe that this generation of athletes will begin to demand more than money for play. They will demand the right to safety and self-care, and they will begin to plan for their legacies and quality of life off the field.

Athletes are human and imperfect. For many, they are heroes which must be a compliment, but it must also be a lot of pressure. This next generation of athletes will need to employ a high degree of self-care if they want to have a productive career and higher quality life after retirement.

Athletes inspire us because of their consistency and their unmatched desire to win. I’ve never met an athlete who thought second place was good enough. They want to be the best. Their drive is a metaphor for how many of us want to live our best lives.

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Culture

New Study Reveals ‘Marrying Up’ Is Now Easier for Men, Improves Their Economic Well-Being

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As the number of highly educated women has increased in recent decades, the chances of “marrying up” have increased significantly for men and decreased for women, according to a new study led by a University of Kansas sociologist.

“The pattern of marriage and its economic consequences have changed over time,” said lead author ChangHwan Kim, associate professor of sociology. “Now women are more likely to get married to a less-educated man. What is the consequence of this?”

Kim’s co-authored the study with Arthur Sakamoto of Texas A&M University, and the journal Demography recently published their findings. They examined gender-specific changes in the total financial return to education among people of prime working ages, 35 to 44 years old, using U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2000 and the 2009-2011 American Community Survey.

The researchers investigated the return to education not only in labor markets but also in the marriage market.

“Previously, women received more total financial return to education than men, because their return in the marriage market was high. However, this female advantage has deteriorated over time despite women’s substantial progress in education and labor-market performance,” Kim said.

The researchers found the overall net advantage of being female in terms of family-standard-of-living decreased approximately 13 percent between 1990 and 2009-2011. Women’s personal earnings have grown faster than men’s earnings during this time as women have increased their education and experienced a greater return on education.

However, the number of highly educated women exceeds the number of highly educated men in the marriage market, the researchers found. Women are more likely to be married to a less-educated man. Because of the combined facts that husbands are less educated than their wives than before, and the return on earnings for men has stagnated, a husband’s contribution to family income has decreased. On the other hand, wives’ contribution to family income has substantially increased.

This has led to a faster improvement of the family standard of living for men than for equally educated women themselves, Kim said, and helped converge the gap in equivalised income between wives and husbands.

“This could explain why it seems men don’t complain a lot about this,” Kim said. “Our answer is that’s true because look at the actual quality of life, which is determined more likely by family income rather than by personal earnings. It seems fine for men because their wife is now bringing more income to the household. One implication of these findings is that the importance of marriage market has increased for men’s total economic well-being.”

These developments could also result in gender convergence in the family standard of living associated with this shift in the norm of marriage, away from previous eras.

“Marriage is now becoming more egalitarian and becoming equal,” Kim said. “If you look at gender dynamics or from a marriage-equality standpoint, that is a really good sign.”

However, the study’s results also have implications for examining potential effects of marriage and economic inequality.

“For less-educated women, the contribution of their husbands has been substantially reduced so that their standard of living has diminished, even though their personal earnings have grown,” the researchers said.

This could aggravate a wealth gap among less-educated or low-income families, the researchers said. Kim said potential future research could monitor how family demography still shapes and directly underlies inequality, even as family relations continue to evolve.

“When we consider family dynamics,” Kim said, “men are getting the benefit from women’s progress.”

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Entertainment

Have You Heard the “Suicide Prevention Anthem 1-800-273-8255”

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MTV – VMAs

National Suicide Prevention Month begins on September 1st, and MTV officially kicked off the awareness month with a performance of “1-800-273-8255” by Logic along with Khalid and Alessia Cara at the VMAs. The song’s title just happens to be the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and the performance also included a group of suicide attempt survivors who came on stage wearing shirts with the number to the suicide helpline.

The song begins from the perspective of someone who wants to die and feels there is no one there to care about what happens to them. The opening hook for the song states, “I don’t want to be alive, I just want to die today, I just want to die.” Some may take an issue with the beginning of the song, but it can not be understated the importance of identifying those feelings in order to seek help.

A recent study which included 32 children’s hospital across the United States revealed an alarming increase in self-harm and suicidality in children and teens ranges from ages 5 to 17 over the past decade. Also, the School of Social Work and Social Care at the University of Birmingham released a recent study stating, “Children and young people under-25 who become victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to enact self-harm and attempt suicide than non-victims.”

The second hook starts with “I want you to be alive, You don’t gotta die today, You don’t gotta die.” The song moves from a place of darkness to a place of support. When someone expresses suicidal thoughts, it is critical to not dismiss their feelings or minimize the weight of the issues preventing them from wanting to live. The Center for Disease control list death by suicide as the number 1 cause of death in the 15-19 age group. According to the National Data on Campus Suicides, “1 in 12 college students have written down a suicide plan as a result of stresses related to school, work, relationships, social life, and still developing as a young adult.”

John Draper, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, in an interview talked about the impact the song is already having. Draper said: “The impact has been pretty extraordinary. On the day the song was released, we had the second-highest call volume in the history of our service. Overall, calls to the hotline are up roughly 33% from this time last year.” via CNN

“I finally want to be alive, I don’t want to die today, I don’t want to die” are the lyrics and the tone in which the songs end. Then, it leads into an incredibly woke statement by Logic, and here is a sample:

“I am here to fight for your equality because I believe that we are all born equal, but we are not treated equally at that is why we must fight!” – Logic VMAs

The trend for suicide deaths is on an upward climb. A 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control state there were twice as many suicides than homicides in the United States. It’s time we end the stigma and myths surrounding suicide attempt survivors “doing it for the attention.” Suicidal thoughts may be an ongoing struggle instead of a one-off event to prevent. In this case, we need to arm loved ones and at risk individuals with information as well as tools and resource to manage their mental health status.

Suicide Warning Signs

Another useful resource is the Crisis Text Line in which users can send a text to a trained counselor and typically receive a response within 5 minutes. Texters can begin by texting “START to 741741” to get connected.

Mental Health providers and practitioners are always looking for ways to connect and reach those most at risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviors, and pop culture often has a direct connection to those who are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, a recent study identified a link between 13 Reasons Why and suicidal thoughts in which it found “queries about suicide and how to commit suicide spiked in the show’s wake.”

However, unlike Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why“, this song is already showing that it will have the opposite effect by increasing queries and online searches about the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you have not seen this powerful VMA performance, I urge you to check it out.

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