valkyrie_chan (valkyrie_chan) wrote in egl,

The State of Lolita: On the Bound of East and West

Some of you all know I spent last semester in Nagoya, Japan. While I was there, I had a lot of wonderful experiences dressing lolita with friends and meeting Japanese lolitas who were very open with me about how important lolita is in their lives. I don't claim to be an expert in anything, but it gave me a lot of time to think about the direction the lolita subculture is moving in the West, and I'm in the somewhat unique position of being a person who has lived in Japan long enough to see what it's about while still being able to identify with the Western lolita scene. I wrote this for my blog, and a couple people suggested I post it here for discussion.

Dressing lolita has it’s problems at times: people staring, men leering at you and trying to touch you, people who think it’s weird, and those who confuse lolita with cosplay and maid styles. There’s bitchiness from girls who don’t even know you, acceptance from people purely based on fashion, and sometimes even problems like body issues. Anyone from egl has seen these topics come up again and again, but they were also problems for me when I went to Japan. Some misconceptions were different than what I had been used to, but for the most part, lolitas in the east and west share similar experiences.

So I’m sure you get my point by now: Japan isn’t some lolita paradise where Mana comes down from heaven and passes out burando to anyone who strives to be lolita. It’s not days and days of Kera photoshoots and Angelic Pretty tea parties. Just like in the international lolita scene, there are people who will be rude to you or may not like you.

But I’ll argue that what Japanese lolitas do or don’t do doesn’t even matter. Being an international lolita may not becoming less expensive, but as brands start shipping overseas and the Gothic Lolita Bible is currently being translated and distributed by a major company, it is becoming much more accessible.

I’m not going to pretend that this accessibility is without benefits, but part of me hates the fact that there are now lolita experts and celebrities within our little community. I feel as if this fashion movement, that was once so counterculture and DIY, will be taken over and redefined by businesses that have no interest in us. We need to stop picking each other apart and define Lolita more clearly for ourselves. We need to help fellow members of the community and contribute ourselves. We need to think and write about what Lolita means for us and why it’s significant in our culture, rather than glancing abroad for Japanese lolitas to define it for us.

If you have the first American Bible, take a look at the section where both Japanese and international lolitas answer the question, “What does lolita mean to you?” Almost all of the Japanese lolitas respond with, “It’s cute” or “I don’t know,” while the international lolitas on egl, other online forums, or even in the Bible itself have talked about ideas such as feminism, interest in anachronism, or even the simple notion of feeling beautiful. While I know many Japanese lolitas do have a deep, personal connection to lolita fashion, why do we need their opinion at all? Simply being Japanese should not make them an authority.

One of the things I find most disturbing are the rules non-Japanese (who often have no knowledge of lolita in Japan) make up about lolita fashion. I am not discussing the “rules” such as “no cat ears” or “wear a petticoat.” These are very good guidelines, but I believe a skilled lolita can always break the rules. Frankly, I feel the snark community (of which I consider myself a part) has over-enforced these guidelines to the point where it has become an internet pissing contest between more well known snark comm members and newbies (some of which have never posted pictures or have posted pictures of questionable quality) and beginning lifestyle lolitas (often underage and prone to taking criticism too harshly).

However, members of snark communities are not the only ones who create rules that don’t exist. Many of the more hardcore lifestyle lolitas have expressed that one cannot truly be lolita unless they incorporate what they deem “the lolita lifestyle” into their lives. This usually consists of traditionally feminine practices and behaviors, such as etiquette, tea ceremonies, or arts practiced in the Victorian or Rococo periods.

Between the snark comm members and the lifestyle lolitas seems to be a strict line. I have seen some very vocal lifestyle lolitas state on their friends page, “If you are joined to any wank community, I will not add you to my friends list.” Some snark comm members have been equally dismissive towards lifestyle lolitas’ opinions.

Unfortunately, there are not enough people pointing out that there are very few people who are bitchy, out of control snark comm members or backwards, prissy lifestyle lolitas. Almost all of us lies somewhere between, with some love for the traditionally feminine (even if that love stops at lolita clothes) and with the desire to keep lolita fashion in the international community from mutating into something that isn’t really lolita at all.

I’ve seen a lot of girls on egl become more mellow and balanced within this community, but it’s sad to see new members take their place and old members who can’t seem to get past these differences. What I find hilariously ironic is that many beginning lolitas seem to go either one way or another, towards wank or lifestyle. And for most of them, I think there is a desire to be more on par with whatever way they think is more “Japanese.” But while there are a lot of opportunities for Japanese lolitas to do “lolita lifestyle”-esque things, most of the Japanese lolitas I’ve met consider clothes and proper coordination to be the defining mark of a lolita. Furthermore, while Japanese lolitas are also territorial about what lolita (they definitely don’t want it labeled cosplay or maid-fashion), if a Japanese lolita decked out in AP sees an ita-loli, she probably won't make it her job to criticize the other girl (although some are just as unkind as girls from any other country).

Basically, we’re fighting about things that don’t exist and don’t even matter!

Some international lolitas’ conceptions of what it takes to be a good lolita in Japan are so horribly off-base. You don’t have to be super-thin or super-pale. You don’t have to buy all brand. You don’t have to be born pretty. And you certainly don’t need to become Japanese.

All you have to do is study the fashion, come up with interesting coordinates that stick to a lolita silhouette, and spend time on your appearance. Do the hair and the makeup. Don’t whiten your skin. Don’t go on a crash diet. Don’t lament that you weren’t born Japanese. Don’t copy exactly what you see in the Bibles. Take some fashion risks when you’re comfortable, but don’t change who you are.

While we’ve been busy looking at Japan, we haven’t really been noticing that they are looking at us. I went out with a Japanese lolita and I confessed to her that many of us are afraid of what Japanese lolitas think of foreign lolitas. You’ve all heard it, “It only looks on skinny Asian girls.” Right? Well, she laughed and told me that many Japanese lolitas think that Western girls in lolita are very cute, and that many Japanese see it as “more natural looking.” In fact, when we went out together, I received more compliments than she, even though we were dressed at a similar level of exuberance.

I’m not so blind as to think we all can like each other, but we need to hold each other accountable for being respectful and keeping the lines of communication open amongst lolitas. If this is going to stay the fashion we love, we need to be able to engage in a dialog that does not rely on what some people in Japan reportedly think. Creating more divides is not going to do it.

Well, that's what I think, but I really want to open this up for discussion. Do you see a problem with the direction the international lolita scene is taking, and what is it? So you think there should be more unity? More dialog? Or should we just let it be a fashion? Do you think lolita in the West will go a different route than in Japan, and what would you think about it if it did? Should we be concerned about the way businesses and media outlets portray us?

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