SELF-HATE SELF-LOVE –
Disclaimer: This story will tackle heavy topics like depression, self-harm, suicide and more. Please stop reading if any of these themes can potentially trigger you.
Do you love yourself?
On the surface, this may seem like a simple yes or no question. However, digging a little deeper – asking yourself why – can often reveal an individual’s very heart. For 27-year-old Fukuoka-born designer Juri Billy, self-love represents her journey from the dark void of depression to a beacon of psychedelic expressionism. Drawing inspiration from psychobilly culture and Bettie Page, Billy’s entry into the creative world was through pin-up modeling. She has now ventured into fashion design and photography, while immersing herself in the most particular sides of Japan. From being suspended in bondage to shaving his eyebrows, being reserved is not what Billy is.
Usually rocking some type of floral print, fringe or a mish-mash of textures and colors, you’d think Billy jumped straight from a Delorean with Doc Brown. With long black hair that goes down to her waist, it’s an understatement to say she stands out among the Tokyo crowd. “Honestly, I didn’t grow up knowing what normal is. I wish, at some point, I behaved and dressed like normal,” says Billy. Maybe I can recognize normality, but I don’t know how to embrace it.
As a child, I just did what I liked without thinking too much about it. At the time, I didn’t just think I was a boy; I was a boy in my head. From clothes to hair to sports, I was still stronger than many boys. It wasn’t until college that I started to change. I was forced to wear a girl’s uniform and started having crushes on boys. Like many others who grew up outside the big cities of Japan, Billy’s upbringing was typical Inaka (rural) life; everyone knows everyone else, opportunities are limited, and time is usually spent in your own world. “My middle school only had two classes for my age group,” Billy said, tucking his hair in his lap and petting him like he was a cat. “Back then, I loved getting to know everyone and being close to my friends, but looking back now, school really sucked. everyone was influenced by what was on TV or what popular kids liked. There was no chance to be or speak.
For most Japanese, middle school is often seen as the golden age or turning point in life. People often refer to it as the time when you “become truly Japanese.” As his older sister was accepted into one of the best schools in Fukuoka thanks to her academic and extracurricular achievements, the time when Billy decided to step in quickly approached. “I was super focused. I was studying hard and playing tennis after school,” says Billy. I thought trying my best to be perfect was the only way to do that, because that was the only thing I saw. It was the only world I knew.” sophomore year, I woke up and physically couldn’t get out of bed. Since it was flu season, my family and I thought I was sick, but it continued day after day.
According to Billy, she didn’t initially understand what was causing this feeling, but eventually she realized that skipping school was a way for her to avoid what she didn’t like: teachers. incompetent and constantly being bullied. “My family was so worried. At first they tried to encourage me, but it didn’t work. My dad even made me dress for school one day, but I kept saying no.
Eventually, they gave up pushing me to go. “For about a year I was a complete hikikomori (social recluse),” she says. Hikikomori is a condition in which individuals do not leave their accommodation and isolate themselves from society and family for an extended period. A 2015 survey by Japan’s Cabinet Office estimated that more than 541,000 hikikomori between the ages of 15 and 39 exist in Japan. “It was still weird. I felt like I had found my life. I liked not going to school every day. I was waking up, hopping on the internet, and browsing WeHeartIt all day, which led me to discover psychobilly.
“Throughout Japan at the time, but especially in the countryside, depression as a medical condition was not really recognized. My family was confused and it was hard on them – they thought the best thing to do was to be hard on me until I was done with it, and at some point they didn’t want it all just don’t talk to me anymore. “I remember thinking no one needed me; they would be happier if I did not exist; I should just die. It wasn’t until I finished high school and got the idea of traveling abroad that things started to get better.
I wanted to learn English, so I planned everything out and joined a study abroad program in Australia. “In Japan, I couldn’t talk to my family or my friends about what I was going through. I never thought I could make so many friends and open up about sensitive things about myself as I do in Australia. This is also where I got into modeling.
After a close friend asked Billy to model with another girl in a revealing latex dress, requests from pinup and boudoir photographers snowballed. said. “Of course at first I was shy and sometimes awkward, but I loved how much creativity and artistry was involved. Not many people know that, but I usually do all the styling for my shoots. Billy may have found her calling in Australia, but other aspects of life didn’t go as well as expected, and she again found herself struggling with her mental health.
“Due to poor relationships, language barriers and the inability to find accommodation, I struggled,” says Billy. “At times I remember thinking it couldn’t get much worse than this. To this day, I haven’t learned to accept it and realize that I don’t have to blame myself. I think I went through times as difficult as in Australia, but I can say that it all made me stronger.
“It wasn’t until I got back to Japan that I realized I had become friendlier and more comfortable with my body. I would say that I am happier with myself now than ever. The modeling certainly helped. Having people compliment you on your looks and appreciating something you consider a flaw makes you feel good. So I’m grateful for what I have. I am also more aware of myself and my thoughts now. According to Billy, one of the most important factors that helped her on a daily basis was to consciously avoid self-hating comments. “Once in a while I catch myself doing it, but it was every day, all day; I’m ugly, I’m stupid, why is my life like this? When bad things happen, it can be pointless trying to find meaning in why it happened. It gets you stuck.
Just as his now fiery personality reflects his positive mental outlook, Billy actively chooses to dress in striking styles and colors, striving to position his appearance and mind for emotional stability. “Even if I go back to that dark place, I think I’ll handle it better,” Billy says. “Sometimes, even now, I still have my dark moments, but I’ve learned to use them as inspiration to keep moving forward. “I now know what it’s like to have the worst emotions a person can feel, and because of this marker in my life, I know that I am now happy. That’s the beauty of self-love. It might be nice to have someone who loves you more than yourself, but I think it’s far more valuable to love yourself more than anyone else in the world. I’m still working on that part, though.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency in Japan, please call 119 for immediate assistance. TELL Lifeline is a free, anonymous English counseling service available on 03-5774-0992.