🦋 This week we had a little chat with Amber Akilla. Amber is a Chinese-Australian multi-disciplinary creative. She is best known as a DJ and has done work as a creative producer and consultant working with brands like Nike, Adidas, and more. In 2018, she co-founded NVSHU, Chinese for "Women's Skill". The project began as women and LGBTQ+-focused DJ workshop and evolved into connecting creatives across different disciplines. Through her personal project and podcast, Friend Crush, she shares the evolution in her understanding and perspectives on human connection, creativity, and authenticity as a way to encourage others to embrace the journey of self-understanding and empowerment.
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Or read our interview with Amber here ⬇️
Amber, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, what are your roots & what do you identify with?
My family is from Fujian Province, but I grew up in Perth, Australia, and have lived there growing up. I moved to Shanghai after graduation and am now temporarily back in Australia due to COVID.
I don’t identify with a specific nationality. My nationality is Australian because I was born here. I think identities are just helpful for other people to understand where you might fit in, but in terms of myself, I'm a product of all my different experiences and the places that I've lived in.
Do you think your upbringing influenced how you view intimacy, sex, and relationships?
The first thing that I ever wanted to be was to be a fashion designer, I wanted to go to design school. I was obsessed with Alexander McQueen and designers from Antwerp. I wanted to go to Central St Martin’s.
I'm not very good at conceptualising my abilities in comparison to other people, I didn't even know if I would do well in my high school exams. My school counselor told me to law down as an option and then I got in. My mom wanted me to go. I pretty much hated it from the second that I started.
So, did you finish your law degree?
Yes, I did, for my mom. Growing up I tend to quit things when they became boring: I have started but also quit many instrument classes. I went to a Chinese school, but didn’t see it being useful at that time, and quit (I regret that right now). My mom isn't a typical Chinese Tiger mom, she didn’t force me to do anything when growing up. But when I got in for my law degree she begged me to get it.
I was very blessed to grow up with material privilege, even though I was raised by a single mother. The least I could do is to honor the sacrifices she made for me and complete this degree for her. So I somehow managed to graduate.
Now to the spicy topics: What was the first awkward sexual moment that you can tell us about?
Probably my first kiss. I'm a late bloomer when it comes to a lot of things. I just remember being at a house party doing my own thing, and this guy starts getting closer and closer. I just thought we were dancing together, but when I turned around to check up on my friends he was suddenly very close to my face. I was like “Well, I guess this is happening”. And that was that. In comparison to all the other cases that I've had, it didn't fare too badly so I think it was a relatively good first experience.
If that “wasn’t that bad”, what was?
I can't think of specific experiences but in general, it's when you're taken off guard. Or when it’s somebody that you mentally had built up in your head, and then when it happens, you’re like “WTF”.
Would you continue dating after that first bad kiss?
By now that I’m older, it's like “If you can't do that right, what can you do?!?!”. When you're younger it's different, everybody's learning. But if some I'm dating or a guy I hook up with who is my age or older and he isn't a good kiss, it’d be concerning feedback.
How did you learn and now keep updated about sexual wellness and intimacy?
When I was younger, I think it was maybe like the sealed section of teen magazines. We had health class at school which was relatively informative in terms of the biology of things.
Would you talk to your friends about sex?
Yes after high school we did. In high school, it was very “hush-hush”. I grew up in a very white suburban environment, I think I was more coming to terms with my racial identity than exploring my sexuality. I've never really felt the need to define my sexuality, it's just like something to be explored not something that I need to stress too much about.
I did a lot of googling when I started being sexually active just to make sure that everything was going the way that it was supposed to go. And, now, I read The Oh Collective posts on WeChat! I've also been on Tik Tok a lot for the last few months have come across useful pieces of information and opinions of experts.
What’s the most interesting you have learned on sexual wellness?
How your body can automatically respond creating wetness or discharge to the idea of it being a sexual thing, but it doesn't equate to you being intellectually aroused. So it’s important to distinguish between just your body's automatic reaction and whether you are aroused or turned on.
We are different from a gender perspective as well. I went to an all-girls school, and there was an assumption that men are just always thinking about sex, or all they want is sex. There was also this assumption that men can always perform, but there are so many things that go into their ability to do so.
How did going to an all-girls school impact your view on sexuality?
It affected how we perceived sexuality and gender in general. There was a lot of homophobia, even though it didn't affect my views. Being separated from boys during puberty had a very intense impact on girls: I saw a lot of girls like go boy crazy in school.
It has affected me how I perceive femininity and gender: we were taught that you were able to do anything like a girl. You could be competitive in sports, music, arts and we were never questioned about our ability. There was no reason because I was always surrounded by girls who were good at what they did.
It was only until I went to university and after I started working in male-dominated spaces where I started to question myself, my identity, and my ability to do things as a woman. I was being questioned by men all the time, or not taken seriously.
I had to return to my high school brain to reclaim my ability and my confidence in myself. To know that whatever you want to do, you can do and there's no reason why being a girl should stop you. I think that was an interesting journey for me.
You went from law student to DJ and creative consultant. What did your mom think about this?
I had a deal with my mom. It was to finish my law degree but I didn't have to be a lawyer. She was happy for me to take a year off and do whatever I wanted. I've been very lucky that my mom was supportive. She hates the DJ’ing because I’m up till late and she thinks it’ll give me bad skin. I changed to becoming a brand DJ after 6 years of club DJ - with more flexible timings and better partnerships, which she approves of (no more late nights).
What is your biggest sexual wellness takeaway?
As you get older it's really important to learn to connect with yourself and what you want out of life and to learn what your boundaries are. Because it affects every part of your life: your friendships, your relationships with your family your romantic relationships, your work, and also the way that you have your sexual experiences as well.
When you're younger, there are a lot of ways you can be coerced into certain situations and be pressured into certain things.
I'm starting to realize and reflect on the times when I wasn't able to fully understand what my boundaries were and I was put into situations where I wasn't ultimately comfortable with what was happening. I think those experiences can be very subtle and insidious; you don't consciously realize what is happening at the time because you're caught up in the moment or your insecurity gets the better of you and you desire to please or impress somebody. You might not even reflect on those experiences and start to normalize being taken advantage of. I think it’s really important because I've spoken to so many women that have been put in situations where they doubted their intuition or weren’t able to assert their boundaries, and they eventually regretted it.
You need to practice returning to yourself and asking yourself what you want and what you’re comfortable with. This can change as well; my boundaries when I was younger, might be different from what they are now, what they might be in the future, what they are each connection or situation. It can change and nobody can tell you what you are.
When women are able to know when they need to assert themselves, that's when change happens. If you're waiting for society to permit you or to empower you, without you knowing that you need to be empowered or what it takes to be empowered, then we just end up going around in circles.
You’re very strong on the empowerment and feminism point. What would you recommend reading/listening to?
The “Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf, even though the author has lost her marbles a little bit, there are still good points made. Another book is “All about love” by Bell Hooks, they talk about romantic relationships and the power dynamics in heterosexual relationships.
I'm now more looking at books that talk about personal empowerment because I think regardless of your gender in the society that we live in now, everyone's kind of having a shitty time. Having a shitty life is hard for everybody regardless of gender, and I think that the first few waves of feminism focused very much on the ways that women were being oppressed and how can women get to the same level as men, but I think that it has a lot more to do with, how individuals regardless of gender can empower themselves and develop a sense of self that exists. I've moved from men versus women to how can we all connect can support each other, together. I don't want women to just be getting ahead, and then men are left behind. Real feminism encompasses all genders.
So, how does one empower him/herself?
Being able to recognize that it's normal to make mistakes and that what is important is that you learn from them. There is no magic silver bullet that is going to change your life overnight, it takes consistent practice and work.
It’s an ongoing practice of being able to develop an awareness of your triggers, your patterns of behavior, and how you can choose better for your future self. In modern society, there's this idea that you can solve your problems by buying things or doing things once. E.g. going to the gym for three hours. But it’s a practice, you've got to do it regularly then the benefits start to compound.
So I think the main takeaway for me has been to have patience and be consistent. Small steps and small progression is more valuable, more meaningful, than one overnight awakening. Even with an overnight awakening, you will need to take that moment of awakening and apply it every single day if you want to make a difference.
What are the differences between China and Australia when it comes to sex and relationships?
People are a lot more open in China in general - it’s so easy to add each other on WeChat. Whereas in Australia you would need to meet someone 7 times before adding them, in Shanghai you’d add them from the get-go. Communication is just much easier.
Gowing up in Perth there was no media representation of Asian girls at all, I felt almost asexual. I didn't feel desired by boys. Even if years later they’d admit they had a huge crush on me. I was just not aware of my sexuality at all.
Going to clubs in Shanghai and seeing Chinese girls embracing their sexuality openly, was such a culture shock. I always had comments made about me because of my race connected to my sexuality in Perth, but I think it's so different when you're in China and everybody is Chinese. There’s no separation.
Did you ever feel fetishized?
Definity, it’s hard. It would have been hard for me not to. I was the only Chinese girl in the environment that I grew up in. Even though I don't walk around thinking about how I'm Asian, I was always being reminded that I was seen as different from people, whether it was explicitly or covertly. I think that mentally isolated me a bit, I just didn’t want to deal with anyone for a long time. But then as I got older and I met certain people that didn't create that feeling or that environment and I have felt safe with them.
What would you tell all girls and women out there to know and never forget?
- It’s ok to make mistakes, that's part of life, as long as you learn from your mistakes.
- Figure out how to stay true to yourself, because there are always going to be barriers, obstacles, and expectations. So don't forget who you are who you want to be.
- Don’t take life too seriously. You are not born to be ugly or have a bad time.
- Follow your interests as well and maintain a connection to those things, because that’s what makes you unique. Your unique perspective on the world is so valuable because being like other people is not interesting to anybody, not to you, not to other people either. Even if you got made fun of for being different. It's also more profitable to be different.
This interview was fire!!! Where can people find (more of) you?
I have my podcast called Friend Crush: it’s about my journey around self-discovery and self-empowerment. It’s not the standard “self-help” you come across from self-help gurus on the internet, it’s just part of life, learning how to manage and learn from experiences and mistakes, about being able to understand how you connect with yourself, connect with other people, making friends, dating and whatever I feel like talking about.
About the Oh Collective
The Oh Collective wants to inspire all women to be confident and happy with their intimate selves by recognizing their physical needs and their own definition of "pleasure." We believe you don't need to be ashamed or shy to explore your body. We are here to provide our sisters with safe and reliable products, a trusted community and content that offers 100% good vibes only!
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