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Glitter Lady: a voice that rises from the arts and diversity to fight against microplastics

Sustainability in the arts is leading communities into groundbreaking fields. People need to be aware of the dangers of climate change and to embrace sustainable development through powerful messages about how communities can reverse the environmental harms. In my opinion, it is essential to work towards a sustainable lifestyle as well as pushing for public policies to mitigate the changes in the environment in order to gain environmental justice.

Paving the road of proximity to the centers of power has been one of the great achievements of Professor Tom Hansell’s Sustainability and the Arts in Appalachia class, which offers graduate students the opportunity to explore the theory and practice of sustainable methods outside the classroom. In this class I developed a voice supporting sustainability through the arts.

When discussing what is Sustainable Development, I realized once more how valuable my BA degree in Sustainable Development and my Media Minor at the College of Education at Appalachian State University have been for my formal education here in the United States. Water is at the very core of Sustainable Development and when I came to live in North Carolina fifteen years ago, I realized that my home in the south of the state, Wilmington, did not have the best water quality. Things were fixable for us with a reverse osmosis system, which purifies the water to a certain degree. But after Hurricane Florence I understood the importance of water quality, to clean and protect our waterways, and to restore the land through which they run are priorities for communities. Unfortunately, what is in the water can't be retrieved.

Here I am in Boone, at the top of the mountain and close to the headwaters, where I think I am safer. But to preserve waters from pollution is a real challenge everywhere. I remember that in my last year at the Sustainable Development program I learned from professor Laura England that there were microplastics in these mountains, even in well water. I finalized my BA and tried to go further in my environmental studies. Then, I discovered the Appalachian Studies master’s degree program, and I did not need to go far; it was located in the same building as the Sustainable Development Department!

In this program I’ve learned a lot, including the dark side of Appalachia. I have the most amazing professors and classes. When I started the second semester of Appalachian Studies in fall of 2022, I was happy to see that with this class I was going to be able to support the Watauga Riverkeeper with its mission of keeping local waterways clean. Microplastics were the center of our research, and here is when I came up with the idea of Glitter Lady. The general public has become increasingly more reluctant to trust in the findings of science, which increases the need to discover other avenues for bringing about social and cultural awareness and change. There is relatively little concern about issues like the rising of sea levels, the increasing strength of hurricanes, the abnormal heat of recent summers, and the prevalence of water and air pollution. It is only when communities suffer the impact of the most common climate-related catastrophes that they begin to think the world is changing for the worse.

My Contribution as the Glitter Lady

We are all artists in our own way, and frankly I did not realize it until I created Glitter Lady character. I thought about all these factors before examining plastic fibers in the microscope, or collecting plastic and Styrofoam in the waterways. As an older, non-traditional student at Appalachian State University, I do not blend in, and I am not trying neither. I do not feel uncomfortable hearing behind my back over and over: “Who is this woman?”

In response to the fact that my presence often unsettles those around me, I decided to take on the negative aesthetics approach, which is explained in the reading “Aesthetics of the Everyday” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, assigned by professor Hansell. I’m an expert at challenging people with my look and my accent, and because I do not mind challenging others, this Glitter Lady persona started developing in my mind.

The art-centered aesthetics’s discourse itself could be challenged by this femme fatale, undesirable woman and her lyrics:

I’m the glitter lady. I’m the glitter lady. I don’t care who dies. I’m the glitter lady. I’m the glitter lady. I just want to shine. I’m a microplastic that they call P E T that doesn’t break down in the rivers or the sea My beautiful specks are so dangerous indeed: Once lose in the water, they can’t be retrieved. I’m the glitter lady... I swim through the rivers and into the sea, loving Climate Change when all drink of me. Although I am small, I do not disappear. A bright microplastic, the one most to fear. I’m the glitter lady... Brook trout, white suckers, and fish of many kinds are drawn to my colors and to my bright smile. Beautiful but deadly I’m a femme fatale I add to pollution, a danger to all. I’m the glitter lady…

As a Venezuelan native, the character of Glitter Lady was a project that I could develop because I look different, I’m used to being seen as an outsider and I can take criticism. Inspired by negative aesthetics, and by taking advantage of being so different from the rest of the local population, I knew I would be able to impress when performing.

My character needed to be made of aluminum and a plastic called PET, of billions of soft glitter particles, the same ones that migrate to the rivers and the crystal-clear waters that we drink. The dangerous villain Glitter Lady, who wants everyone, especially children, to buy glitter in every color and form so that it ends up in the rivers and waterways of Appalachia, started taking form in my head.

Her sparkles of every color, which never break down, started taking the form of a lyric, which went along with the music of one of my favorite songs of a Venezuelan punk-rock band, La Seguridad Nacional, whose members I interviewed many times on my radio show and covered in Venezuela. Those guys were (supposedly) bad dudes, but this Glitter Lady is much worse.

Not really worrying about what people would think of me, I tried –and will continue to try– to create a “vindictive and abusive persona” who follows a sort of protocol, a specific behavior and approach. I’m captivated with the project because it could take off and go from local to broader audiences. Through Glitter Lady I can inform people about the harm done by microplastics, which have been detected in seafood sold for human consumption, in our waterways, and almost everywhere. I gave myself permission to do things that can seem dumb or crazy. Because of Glitter Lady’s uniqueness and originality, I created a poster with the song lyrics. I’ve just recorded the song and I’m working on a project for a professional music video. I believe that the music and lyrics could have a positive impact on all audiences.

My goal is that youngsters, undergraduate students, children, and society at large get aware of this undesirable character that treats or waterways. I’m open to talk about her and even to sing and dance for audiences that will be drawn to her infectious persona.

Glitter Lady in action during King Street Market at Boone:

Related post (in Spanish):


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