Unmasked: An Aspie Coming Out Story

Hi! I know this seems awkward, but let me introduce the REAL me. For years, I always wanted you to perceive me as “normal”. I always yearned to be seen, heard and have my blog be a space for you to validate my existence. I invited you to my world, where I openly expressed my interests in all things fashion, beauty, health, travel and pop culture, plus stuff I’ve learned in life. I looked like any other girl, I wrote like your everyday girl, yet I never shared a side of myself where I could have a space to share who I really am behind the keyboard on this blog.

Nine years ago, I started blogging in high school. I tried to be the fashion blogger you craved to see, but I was shy to share about myself. Though I had what it took to dress, my style was in its early formative years and I was trying to find what worked for me. I thought I could be like any other fashion blogger in the day, but I was not as quirky nor was I edgy enough to win fans. Given that I changed my style when I moved to LA for college, I had to put blogging on a rest as I ran out of ideas on how to present myself.

Embarrassed at my lack of expertise, I started blogging again. This time, I was ready to launch myself as *the* blogger my teen self wanted to be in NYC. Fashion, beauty and lifestyle were the things that attracted me and I felt that it was about time that I shared my interests. It was so great to meet other girls who were just as stylish and confident, but there was something that held me back: I was hiding a BIG secret.

That big secret was my Asperger’s, a condition under the autism spectrum I’ve been diagnosed with when I was a baby. From delayed speech to having to build my social skills from ground zero, it was an extremely challenging time for me throughout my childhood and adolescence. I never told anyone that I had it despite being listed in my class roster for my teachers, who saw it written in black and white under my photo every year. I desperately longed to be normal, but it was hard for me to express myself verbally. Since fashion magazines were within a shelf’s reach at the library, I had to hide myself through fashion. Looking at photos of celebrity style and editorials from Teen Vogue and Seventeen saved me. My hardcover copy of Style A to Zoe, plus reading Who What Wear and Rookie helped me feel less alone when searching for style inspiration. Playing virtual dress up on Polyvore helped me to create an alter ego and hide behind the screen. Fashion helped me find a voice so no one could talk badly about me; however, I had been bullied for dressing on-trend until high school, where I was named best dressed for the yearbook. Yet, no one knew that I had Asperger’s.

In college, it was the same story. Being around new people and a new environment was strange and depressing. Being away from the people I knew sucked. Having to make new friends from scratch scared the shit outta me. I had to see a therapist by my side to help me adjust. Although I did have an Aspie roommate in freshman year, I still felt alone in my struggle to make friends on campus as I was shy. I built a wall through a persona to mask my insecurity with who I was. I outed my condition to the student newspaper just to get myself to be more at peace with this condition, but I still was not at peace with accepting it as I thought that I’d merely outgrow it as a child. Going into my early 20s was a complicated time for me as there were a lot of things I had to outgrow, readjust and adapt. I almost considered dropping out of college because I was unhappy with myself. Thankfully, being a radio host on campus brought me to meet a new community of young creatives that inspired me to come out of my shell slowly and push me out of my comfort zone. But, I still never really told anyone face-to-face about my deep dark secret despite landing internships and networking my way through the music scene. Like Princess Fiona, I didn’t want anyone to find out that I carried a secret “curse” (a.k.a. Asperger’s).

If there was one thing that I felt improved my condition, it was a blood and allergy test done by a doctor who specialized in autism. By revealing that I had a gluten, egg and dairy allergy, I realized that I wasn’t eating right for my body as it can’t process the proteins from those allergens (this link doesn’t say eggs as an allergen for autistics FYI). By going allergen-free, it’s been greatly beneficial with less brain fog and higher levels of energy in order to concentrate at school as how I ate related to my ability to process learning new info in class. Given that I had my tests done in LA, having access to GF and DF menus at restaurants and on campus was something that helped me to have less food anxiety. When I didn’t get those things, I got terrible anxiety over the fear of passing out as I literally crashed and/or got stomach upsets and bloating after eating high doses of gluten and dairy, then blame myself for eating the “wrong foods”. On top of that, I did IV cleanses and pushed myself to go vegan and GF to improve my health. Luckily, I was able to go vegan and GF on most days. But if I had no choice and there were no substitutes, I had to counteract the allergens with a probiotic to eat beforehand so I could digest my food. Thankfully, having a diversity of alternatives in the States helped me to survive eating out. However, coming back to Asia was a hurdle as some restaurants were inflexible to accommodate my dietary needs and/or didn’t offer alternatives. In Asia, allergens aren’t seen as life or death situation whereas in America, it’s taken more seriously. It was hard for me to unwrap the LA mentality of going GF/DF as I had to disclose my food sensitivities to friends anytime we ate out. I’m thankful that I have friends who understood my dietary needs, but it brought me into a hiccup while traveling abroad as there were a few who mistook my dietary needs/restrictions as complaints. It brought me to realize that I’ve let my Asperger’s fully unfold in action as Aspies like myself like to express their particular needs and demand to have them. I had zero intention to upset anyone, yet it was a rude awakening that not everyone could tolerate me for choosing myself over pleasing them and/or understand my needs as I never shared the motives behind my dietary discomforts. The same issue popped up on dates as I purposely picked restaurants that had GF/DF options as I wanted to eat food that could accommodate my condition. Then, I asked the guys if there were any food allergens as I didn’t want them to feel pressured into eating things that they weren’t comfortable with as it happened to me before (not in date settings though). I could’ve told everyone about my Asperger’s and how that was linked to my diet, but again, I felt embarrassed.

As a result of being raised in a people-pleasing society that emphasizes likability and politeness, I fit into neither categories as I don’t aspire to be liked and I prefer to be honest about myself even if that might unintentionally upset people. Asking to be liked is an exhausting task I’m currently outgrowing. Having to bend myself backwards and sugarcoating my discomforts just to go along with everyone cost me the chance to be honest with myself to others. Being more confident with speaking up about my discomforts is something I’m currently working on as I realized that I don’t have to please people by staying silent or be afraid of being perceived as “difficult” for speaking up. Though the fear of “troubling” people is still in me, I’m currently working on unlearning this mindset as owning my truth and asserting myself isn’t a trouble to others. Having to mask my truth just to appear “normal” is costing me my peace and that’s something I feel guilty of as I have always valued authenticity and it’s something I’ve been preaching to you. It might seem “selfish”, but being honest with who I am is the most selfless thing I’ve ever done. My outlook has cost quantity “friends”, but what I receive in return are quality friends whom God greatly blesses me with. You, my dear reader, have been a blessing as you’ve seen me grow throughout the years and I am grateful for the fact that you’re here to allow me to share my struggles about Asperger’s. 😀

Sharing my story on my first podcast interview with Something Private is an opportunity that I am honored to have and appearing on a podcast is something that’s been on my bucket list! Although I did talk about Asperger’s in Elle Singapore, Galore, and Vice Asia, I have never been able to share more intimate parts of my life with you. It has truly helped me to come to terms with accepting it after years of not being at peace with my own identity as an Aspie. Being open with my truth in such a public way to you is the best thing I’ve ever done as I hope to offer you comfort, love and a reminder that you aren’t alone in your struggles as we are all humans. I hope that my choice to live and own my truth confidently will inspire you to live your life, too. ❤



P.S. I hope you enjoy the podcast as much as I do!

Unlearning Toxic Femininity

Being stuck at home sounds like the worst thing to ever happen to anyone who’s been living in the developed world and the thought of going stir crazy is always just a minute away. However, the silver lining of being in quarantine – whether you’re alone or with family members – is being able to have some alone time and reflect when when you truly need to disconnect from your phone, laptop and TV.

Though staying connected is an important aspect for me, I’ve been chipping out my time to binge watch dating reality TV shows on Netflix, namely Love Is Blind and Too Hot To Handle. As someone who is all about wellness, compassion, speaking up and creating a new space for us (via this blog) to share about having to battle gendered issues, I realized that there is SO much about myself I needed to unlearn.

Since young, I was conditioned (via movies and TV shows) to subscribe to this image of a girl who needs to change herself for a man. On top of movies and TV shows, the fashion magazines that I admired growing up always told me to dress for a guy. Not only was I conditioned to change my personality and dress sense for a guy, I was being advised to act too hard to get if I had to date a crush. From peers to adults, that was the most useless advice I was ever given because trying to play that part ultimately failed me in landing proper dates outside of the Bumble, Hinge and Tinder convo.

However, the flip side was actually trying to control the guy. In this case, it meant either playing with his feelings (either if you’re dating or played hard to get to pretend to be interested in him) or trying to change him. Thankfully, I am not like that as I believe in honesty and value one’s right to exercise their freedom; however, I saw this get revealed in Too Hot To Handle when one of the girls admitted to being called “controlling” all because she wanted to change the guy. Sadly, this behavior was and still is all too common, especially when I’ve heard it from male friends who told me that the girls they dealt with were like this.

Though the trend of ending toxic masculinity has been spreading like wildfire on social media (which I am very happy for), I feel that toxic femininity has been underrepresented on social media. Inspired by David Birtwistle’s TikTok video on “How To Get The Girl”, I decided to play my own spin on “How To Get The Guy”.

Looking at this now, I’m nearly approaching my Saturn Return, which makes me become more reflective into taking account of what I can do to change myself and unlearn dangerous patterns of toxic femininity before I can date again. Since this is still a process of discovery for me, I have not yet fully figured out what I can do to unlearn as approaching 27 in a month still sounds scary. Relearning healthier dating habits are things I have yet to fully acquire, but I hope that this 15 second video and post can be an inspiration for you to learn how you can be better humans once you return to the post-corona dating world.

My Style Evolution Part 2: 2016 to 2019

Settling into your early 20s is a long and embarrassing journey. I cannot tell you how many times I had to hide my clothes from my parents or how much I sat down in the middle of my closet, contemplating why the hell I bought clothes I wouldn’t wear today in the first place. The worst part is having to confront yourself and ask why you wasted so much money during your college years on poorly made fast fashion clothing that ain’t gonna last more than a year or let alone a trend cycle.

I had to admit that while I loved being my rebellious, expressive self, a rude awakening jolted my system when a mullet hemline tee I bought on Nasty Gal couldn’t match half the the things I had in my closet. From there, that sparked the need for me to let go of it. Ditto with my brown round John Lennon Cobrashop sunglasses, which I’ve had to let go as I realized that the product felt cheap over time. Though I liked stinging on myself when it came to the trendier products like Pixie Market’s faux suede thigh high boots, I had to sell it on Depop as it made me sprain my right ankle. (I blame lack of solid construction!) Upon realizing that cheaply made products weren’t the solution to my short term needs, the only way I could invest my money on better made products was a return to something I once ran away from: designer items.

The full circle to loving designer fashion was a therapeutic form of healing. Before I radically transformed my style, I was simply just a clean cut girl who proudly wore ballet flats, skinny jeans and designer bags. With a handful of reinventions mentioned in part one, I realized that I couldn’t run away from the glamour puss inside me, which came from my designer bag-toting mama and designer jean-loving papa. Before I rebelled, I clearly didn’t understand why my parents bought expensive clothes and accessories or why I gravitated towards them when I was a teen. Despite my liking for these items, my mom had to bar me from wearing pieces from her collection or buying anything too expensive as she felt that no child under 18 should wear them as she felt that it was reserved for adults. Thankfully, a sense of maturity walked into me when I was a couple months shy of being 23 and graduating college.

So, what really got me into going after designer stuff? Well, I remembered that I had a Chanel bag with faux pearl and leather chain strap handles that my dad gave me for my 20th birthday, which I barely wore out much. It was so beautiful and I was sad that it didn’t get much wear out of it. Even though it was my birthday gift, it was something that was waiting for me to wear it. I recalled that I wore it a handful of times, which I paired it with vintage dresses to my Miista velvet high high boots! From there, that sparked a journey to lust after designer goodies again as I realized that branded bags are forever timeless regardless of design. With the fact that there was a higher resale value for older Chanel bags, I guess that was what finally brought me to appreciate designer goods once and for all.

One night, I was surfing through The Real Real, where people sold secondhand Chanel goodies from the ’90s to ’00s. (Say what you want about its latest scandals, but it was great to me during 2015. I no longer shop there today.) At that time, I was consigning a handful of clothes there as I wanted to have enough money for myself. Since it was relatively cheaper than an upscale vintage boutique, I managed to walk out with fun new goodies! One of my earliest purchases there was a Chanel ankle purse, which came from their S/S 2008 show. It was so tiny, but an iconic novelty as it was inspired by Lindsay Lohan’s ankle monitoring bracelet. (Ha! Beat ya, Kendall! I bought it three years before she wore it!)

THIS was the ankle bag that Kendall Jenner bought years after me! Photo: Hallie Geller

Then, I slowly started to collect more vintage Chanel, which ranged from a pair of suede leather pants with oversized gold buttons from S/S 1993 to a turquoise patent leather vanity purse from its S/S 1995 collection, which was sported by Naomi Campbell. Because I grew up to seeing my mom all dolled up in Chanel, it was a way for me to embrace my full circle moment and a teenage fantasy to wear the most cherished luxury brand. Being 22 at that time, it was perfectly appropriate.

From there, I started to hunt for more vintage designer goodies whether it be a Dior bow choker, Versace safety pin adorned bag or Claude Montana shorts. If I wanted something more recent like 2010, I would spend countless hours finding runway pieces like Miu Miu’s satin cat print Mary-Janes or flower printed clogs. I’d find those goodies from vintage dealers (online or at markets), Poshmark or at bazaar sales, which were hosted by my mom and her friends. Such items were material things, but emerging into that phase served a bigger chapter into my life: NYC me.

Continue reading “My Style Evolution Part 2: 2016 to 2019”

My Style Evolution Part 1: 2010 – 2015

Is it hard to believe that 2020 is coming soon? Well, I am just as shocked as you are because truth is, I felt like I really came of age at the start of this decade. In all honesty, I had to say that my style changed just as our society has changed. On top of that, I also felt like the style phases I went through from high school to now had one contributor: social media.

At the start of the 2010s, I was active on Tumblr, where I fished for style inspiration. My style icon at that time was Courtney Love, whose vintage babydoll dresses, Mary-Jane shoes and tights were my jam. I wanted to imitate the grunge look so badly, but I always had to play it safe. Also, I was constantly on Polyvore, a site where aspiring stylists like myself created outfit collages on what we wanted to wear in real life. Though I kept my online life a major secret and favored my anonymity at 17, I guess that being behind a screen helped me become more confident online as I was a shy kid in high school. Heck, I was even a FAILED fashion blogger with such a super basic name: The Fashionphiliac. (cue eye roll)

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Creative Direction 101: How To Be Your Own Creative Director

Being a creative director is the dream job of the 21st century. As the closest thing to a CEO, a creative director has a lot on her plate. For the past one and a half years since I launched Soeng Signature, I never thought that I’ll be writing this guide and be a creative director of my own brand.

With Instagram as a virtual moodboard, it feels so easy to sit there and copy whatever’s available because sadly, that is how the fashion industry operates. Even though it’s totally OK to be inspired by what you see, what exactly is the point of being a creative director if you really can’t create at all?!

If you are a young creative director and you’re trying to navigate the waters of this role, I got you covered. 😉

Continue reading “Creative Direction 101: How To Be Your Own Creative Director”

A Letter From Your Girl

Dear Varinaders,

Happy New Year! I can’t believe that it has been two years since I launched Lapis and Layers. While the whole purpose of my blog is to discuss about fashion and beauty, I realize that I can’t sit there and distract you with so many stories about myself because as an influencer, how can I influence you if every single product or fashion tip only works for people who are like myself?

Apart from it, I’ve been beginning to realize that a lot of us are attuned to social media. Since I know that so many of us are Intsa-savvy, we are voyeurs who enjoy catching up with our favorite people whether it’s a model, celebrity, athlete, musician, photographer, influencer, makeup artist or friend. Not to forget, while there are a LOT of Insta-famous people I adore, I realize that not many of them are being covered unless they’re associated with a Kardashian, Jenner, Hadid, Jonas or anyone with a high-profile last name.

Although I love reading about celebrities and following them on Instagram, I feel that what’s missing these days is stories of real people who are using social media to build their career and/or platform to unite communities through a common interest. Since their hobbies/passions have always left us feeling curious, I feel that it’s about time that they share their story with me. No matter how big or small the following is, I aim to strip away the zeros, the glamour behind each shot and build up the story behind each personality whether it’s a model, influencer, designer, photographer, etc.

Not only am I keen to interview super inspirational people, I also realize that we, as humans, have a LOT to discuss about as our generation has gone through so many social and cultural shifts for nearly a decade. Rather than letting myself comment on these things (e.g. dressing up for the ‘gram), I have to invite more than one voice as it’s more fun to read roundtable discussion-style articles (like Real Men Talk) as it’s more engaging!

As I am still experimenting with creating content for you, I am shocked that so many of you really love reading my interviews and roundtable-style stories. Seeing your support means the world to me as I had thoughts where I almost wanted to quit journalism.

All of you made me more aware that at 25, I have the power to use my platform to educate ourselves and raise awareness about the effect on how social media plays with our perception of image, choice of career and the way we live our life.

Another thing that I’m adding to Lapis and Layers is a brand new column called Man Crush Monday, where I feature a new man every other Monday per month. Instead of a simple write up, I interview men about their career, hobbies and most importantly, dating tips. However, the main aspect of my MCM column is that it’s rooted by the effect of #MeToo as I read interviews of male celebrities who openly admit to being scared of flirting with women or worse, say tone deaf things about being challenged by it. Also, I admit that it’s partly inspired by my own personal experiences of using dating apps and living a commitment-free single life! As someone who supports #MeToo and using dating apps, I aim to use my blog as a safe and positive space for men to talk freely without fear, take down taboos surrounding dating/sexuality, share their stories about what motivates them and ask them fun questions that women normally get asked about (e.g. beauty, fitness routines, diet, fashion). Given that this will be an eye-opening experience and a new territory I’m willing to explore, I hope that you will learn something from each man.

Cheers to a new chapter, a beautiful month and unwavering support!



Same Ol’ Person, New Name

You knew my name, but I felt like I didn’t know myself until today. Previously, I settled on branding myself around my own name. While “Michelle Varinata” sounded unique, it wasn’t easy to spell out my last name nor was it distinct enough from anyone else who wants to use their name as their form of branding themselves. On top of that, I felt like my own name for a blog didn’t have much of a personality.

Finding a name was not an easy journey. Initially, I wanted to rename it after two of my favorite fabrics: velvet and suede. Then, I thought of using my own hashtag #LivinLaVariNaDah, but that kinda made my blog sound juvenile or some Sophia Amoruso wannabe had I settled with that one. All of a sudden, a random thought slipped in.

When I was a kid, I always ate a slice of cake for dessert. It was fragrant and sweet, but not sugary. As I squinted my eyes, I saw thin yellow and brown stripes. “What is this?” I asked. My mom said, “This is kueh lapis.” I pried my fork into the cake, then realized that it was layered. This kind of cake was something that I couldn’t find anywhere else outside of Indonesia. It was a traditional dessert that my dad had to bring from Jakarta to Singapore.

Although I  ain’t a foodie, just thinking about that cake made me want to embrace my roots. Long before I moved to Singapore, I was actually born in Jakarta. I only spent the first five years of my life there. Honestly, I could barely remember what those early years were like. As I grew up, the disconnect from my Indonesian heritage and my identity was greater. Anytime I mentioned that I was originally from Indonesia, people would just say that we’re too materialistic, dishonest, narrow-minded, lazy and unoriginal. Hearing those things felt mosquito bites that stung. I had to say that I was from Singapore since it generally had a better reputation than Indonesia. Even though I spent the majority of my life on the island, it was complicated being a third culture kid as I felt torn about choosing between two countries as my national label.

Looking back into the memories of eating kueh lapis, I began to see myself in a new light. Rather than hiding my Indonesian heritage, I finally look at myself as a child of the archipelago. Laying a claim to a cultural identity is one thing, but actually having the ownership of it is another thing: it’s empowering!

Today,  it will be called Lapis and Layers.



New Year, New Me!

Hey, Varinaders! Happy New Year!! It’s been four years since I last blogged (crazy, right?!) and I’ve put my blogging career on the backburner since I was still trying to find my angle/voice. Also, I was extremely busy with trying to graduate college and develop my journalism career. Now that I’m ready to relaunch myself, I seriously can’t thank you all enough for standing by!

Unlike my old self, who was a bit more camera-shy, I’m ready to hit it out with a review column called Forever the Freshest, channel my inner Martha Stewart (minus the food) with #LivinLaVariNaDah and expect me to hear my thoughts on celebrity fashion. For those of you who wanna cop my outfits, I’ll treat you to an #ootd so you can more or less get the exact look. While I’m super stoked to share more of myself, feel free to catch some of my work for The 405, Galore and hopefully, many more!

Are you ready to get this party started?! Stay tuned!!