From a fiercely independent spirit that separated her from the top of the social food chain throughout her life, to an early diagnosis of bipolar disorder, AJ Mendez Brooks’ ability to embrace her uniqueness and stay true to herself has made her a hero and a social media sensation. Paste chatted with the former WWE Women’s Champion about being open with her fans, her book, Crazy is My Superpower, and embracing her geek side.
Your social media following is huge and rabid, despite the fact that you haven’t been on TV regularly in some time. What’s your secret?
AJ Mendez Brooks: I think the fans that have been there from the very beginning connected to me before I was even on TV, supported me throughout, have come along for my journey after and ultimately just spread the word. I can only guess it’s grown exponentially because people connect to my authenticity and enjoy my ridiculous sense of humor. If I could formulate an exact reason, I would bottle whatever it is and sell it to aspiring YouTube stars.
Have you been big into social media throughout your life as a public figure?
Brooks: I’m a fiercely private person, so all of the social media accounts I have were originally created as simple extensions of the work I’m doing. But from a young age I desperately tried to find like-minded people to gush about Dragonball Z or Final Fantasy or whatever I was obsessed with, and it was always a struggle. I’ve come to find the fun and value in social media is that it’s easy to find the warm embrace of a fandom. I’m not great at sharing selfies or my gym schedule, but I can tweet about the teaser for the new Red Dead game making me cry and instantly feel understood. I also try not to take the platform I have for granted. Come for the jokes about spooning my mini-NES, stay for the public policy reform.
Are you good at embracing the positivity that comes from fans through social media without also taking the inevitable bad feedback and trolling to heart?
Brooks: If you read and believe the good things you must also read and believe the bad. So I tend to stay out of those particular murky waters. You don’t have to go looking for positivity, it has a way of finding you.
This book feels like a major turning point for you, as it seems like you’ve transitioned from someone teens can identify with to someone they can also learn from. Do you feel like you’ve evolved into sort of a mentor for your fans?
Brooks: I think it’s important to be a responsible role model in this day and age, and to do that you have to be honest about the mistakes you’ve made. I’m really lucky to have formed these bonds and connections over our shared interests of videogames, comic books, and comfortable clothing, because now there is a trust involved when I get serious about animal welfare, misogyny, or mental health. I hope they’ll trust the ride my upcoming book takes them on, learn from my mistakes and experiences, and most importantly feel less alone because of it.
You talked at length in your book about your own stunted view of relationships, dating, etc. due to the opinions of your mom. Do you think that kids growing up with social media benefit from having such easy access to a less biased point of view, or is so much info just making them more confused?
Brooks: I think social media can be a gift and a curse. There are celebrities and public figures that perpetuate bad behavior while impressionable minds are watching. It might be hard for a kid to listen to a parent preaching “be kind to others” and “be grateful for what you have” while their favorite celebrity is getting press and attention for a feud they’re having on Twitter, and posting non-stop pics of their cars and clothes. I think social media can make parenting and instilling a particular value system a whole lot harder. But on the other hand, the great thing about social media is that it can connect younger people looking for commonality and camaraderie to a world that is more open-minded and forward thinking than their own might be. We’re better off with more information and resources at hand, we just have to be careful how we use it and who we listen to.
You’ve worked with the ASPCA over the last few years as a social media ambassador. How effective do you think these social media campaigns have been at spreading information and changing minds?
Brooks: A previous campaign I was proud to be the face of, “Get Tough On Dog Fighting,” was created to help raise the minimum sentencing for animal fighting related crimes. When the issue had its day in court, it garnered the largest public response the United States Sentencing Committee had ever seen. There’s no doubt in my mind that kind of passionate public plea helped influence their decision to raise the minimum sentencing recommendation by 250%. Those petitions wouldn’t have been signed and those voices wouldn’t have been heard without the ASPCA’s strong social media presence. A lot of celebrities support the ASPCA and it makes my heart soar to see them use their platforms and influence for causes that are worthwhile.
Ahead of the release of your book, you also publicly revealed that you’ve struggled with bipolar disorder. Especially when talking about such a sensitive subject, were you worried about the ensuing conversation becoming offensive, insulting, etc. to yourself or others whom might face similar challenges?
Brooks: I titled the book Crazy is My Superpower specifically because I believe when you proudly own what others might perceive as a flaw, you give yourself all of the power. There is no way for a word to be used pejoratively; there is no way for it to be a weapon against you, when you wear it as a badge of honor. For me that just happens to be a hereditary mental illness, but it’s also been my loud unfiltered mouth, my size, my looks, my attitude. “Crazy” can really be substituted for anything that anyone has felt the world try to make their source of shame, but have learned to embrace as their source of strength.
That’s why I’ve started the #MySuperpower campaign on social media. Being quiet about sensitive subjects is what gives insults control. The response has been nothing but positive and supportive, and has started so many important conversations even within my own circle of friends and family. It’s been really moving to see a simple website post affect so many. I hope after reading the actual book, with its raw and gritty details, and my most vulnerable confessions, that even more people will be convinced to seek help, to bravely share their stories, and to be proud of who they are.
What is one form of media, social or otherwise, that you’d make disappear if you could?
Brooks: Evolution is necessary, so I wouldn’t change a thing. But I also hope people will evolve to become more responsible with how they use them. I may personally disappear from social media from time to time, but that’s only because I’m enjoying the real world or I’m completely submerged in the fictional world of a videogame or book.
AJ’s new book, Crazy is My Superpower, is now available in all major book retailers.