I’m a cosplayer by trade. I often adapt and acquire clothes I wouldn’t normally wear from people that I am clearly not and masquerade in their skin for a brief time before I remove it and return to my own skin. Cosplay is in its purest form theater, pageantry and magic. It’s also in a weird way cultural appropriation. I’ve been on a recent kick about worrying over my status of stealing a culture that isn’t mine and I’ve been working through it and we’ll get to that but for now, humor me.
Cosplay as cultural appropriation? C’mon.
If you see a person with a Native American headdress at Coachella, do you not roll your eyes and groan? Find someone running around dressed like “A Celtic Priestess” at a Ren Faire? You probably don’t have many good things to say about them. Chubby black girl running around in a yukata?
When I go back over my cosplay history I’ve been a shrine maiden, a Buddhist monk and a priest, I’ve been a schoolgirl from at least 2 or 3 different schools and I have put on plenty of other various cultural costumes and pieces from kimonos to yukatas and had to wrap an obi around my waist so tight I could die. There’s been plenty of talk of cultural costumes as cultural appropriation: it pops up around Halloween when plenty of kids run around dressed as “geisha” in a way too sexy for their age costume in a way not appropriate for various reasons costumes.
By now you probably think I’m rambling: I clearly had no issue wearing these outfits in high school so why the damn fuss? I dislike and resist wearing them now. I won’t put on another shrine maiden costume. I won’t wear another kimono casually. I just think it’s disrespectful and that’s my opinion. I won’t judge anyone else. I just personally think that I am old enough to no longer wear cultural artifacts that are not mine in that way.
Another place this topic on inquiry comes up for me is tartans. Now, I am passionate about plaids: I’m a former Catholic schoolgirl after all. I adore the Royal Stewart the most but I know my fair share of popular tartans and color schemes. Is it right for me to knowingly wear a tartan of a clan I do not belong to? Well, that may be a bit excessive: just because I can place a tartan doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to me but it does mean I won’t be LARPing as William Wallace any time soon. These are of serious cultural significance and to diminish their honor and cultural importance would be disrespectful. But that basically won’t ever stop me from wearing plaid because I feel like it.
Let’s talk about military uniforms: a beloved favorite and a common cosplay item. Fullmetal Alchemist, Attack on Titan and many others feature an alternate universe’s uniform so no harm no foul. What about Axis Powers: Hetalia? If you dress up at Germany or Prussia or even Japan: whose costumes are all based off of national, imperial or historical military uniforms is that appropriation? Probably: hence why I won’t cosplay as any of them and for others reasons you can find out about here and the more important aspect of cosplaying especially Germany, Prussia or Japan is that you’re wearing a uniform based on something worn during the 1930s and 1940s and that is a time period that still echoes painfully through the ages.
I think I’ve already spent way more time talking about something I barely like other people mentioning and this is a good time to point out that my opinions are my own and you are more than welcome to disagree with me: hell, I disagree with me sometimes. I’ll leave you with something my friend said to me: she’s a historian and when I showed her my “cultural appropriation sins” she said something very profound: as long as your work comes from a place of respect, it’s okay. As long as it’s done with respect. That won’t stop me from appreciating great cosplay when it see it. Styling cosplay whenever I can and having a great time in costume: just not dressed as a shrine maiden anytime soon.
7 thoughts on “To Court the Cultural Muse”
The last time I wore a yukata was at a traditional Japanese inn. They provided them for us to sleep in and we all wore them even though we were a group of almost two dozen students from North America. From my perspective at least, this was not something to even worry about because we were being invited to wear the clothing.
On a small tangent from the topic of your post, I’d like to know your thoughts on praying at churches/shrines/temples when you are not of that faith. I saw this happen a lot while I was in Japan. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, though. Visiting to learn about the history and beliefs felt fine to me, but actually praying as a nonbeliever seemed to cross a line.
I think it’s absolutely fine as I mentioned that it’s done out of respect. I’ve been to many shrines and places that are not of my faith but that doesn’t detract from their beauty or aesthetic. Now I do take issue with taking like senseless selfies and disrespecting the holiness of the place. And, of course, if you are invited to wear a traditional garment as a learning tool it’s great! I’ve been in my fair share of outfits as a teaching tool and such and that’s fine. What I mean is more or less the folks who don’t know better…and those tasteless people ruin it all for everyone.
Most people are going to have different thresholds for what they consider to be in poor taste. I think a lot of online discussions forget that some people, particularly young people, are new to their appreciation of another culture and may for that reason not realize they have crossed a line. If we want to see this issue disappear we need to make sure the community educates rather than persecutes the people that are trying but failing to be respectful. It’s easy to say they just should have done their research, but I’m sure you know all about the astounding amount of misinformation about Japan and Japanese culture readily available on the first page of Google.
Of course, some people aren’t trying to be respectful and don’t care who they offend. I have no pity for them.
Yes, I completely agree with you. Hence rounding out the post with as long as it’s done in good taste I think it’s fine and that is very much personal and up to the individual. I’m just personally a little sensitive to it because I do worry that I’m sorta appropriating a culture but GoBoiano did a great piece of what Japanese people think of American otakus and their consensus was that they were just happy Americans were talking about them as a country.
I don’t see anything wrong with this post or views stated; my impression of emotion isn’t even heated, it sounds more like you miss how naive you were when younger. (You’re not a doorknob/This is Edibleshoes from DA)
I actually inwardly cringe when I see people dress up as a ‘Celtic princess’ or most cosplays but I think that has more to do with my own wish that at one point I had the bravado to behave that way publicly and the acceptance of their peers.