There has never been more trade and travel around the world than now, but is access to other countries and their cultural traditions a good thing?
You might have read on the news about the Kardashians and their box braids or Katie Price and her fake tan but is it not just black culture that’s at risk of appropriation.
Other big names have started to be called out for ‘Asian fishing’. Such people include Ariana grande whose recently lightened skin and eye makeup have caused controversy.
Many people were unaware of ‘Asian fishing’ until recent scandals, Audrey Chow, an Asian woman herself was one of such people.
She said: “The first time I’ve heard of it is Ariana Grande being accused of Asian fishing. To be honest, I wasn’t so certain why there was a problem and didn’t understand why at first, but doing more research, I realized that people that are Asian fishing, are profiting off without understanding the trauma behind it — many Asian women are fetishized and seen as submissive just because of their facial features and this has to stop.”
But it is not just Asian physical features that are incorporated into people’s aesthetics, it also appears to be traditional clothing. Items such as imperial robes and Shanghai-style qipao dresses are universally regarded as beautiful but whether everyone should wear such items is a different matter.
Its clear Asian designs and aesthetics have increasingly gained popularity and influence as the East Asian market and economy expanded. However, with the increase in popularity, there has become a distortion of the true meaning and style of Chinese designs and cultural symbols.
With this distortion, the issue of appropriation comes into the picture.
Asian fashion and traditional styles are a significant inspiration to the fashion industry of the western world. With events such as the 2015 Met gala which had a theme of ‘China: Through the looking glass’ focusing on such styles. However, this event didn’t come without its own issues with many celebrities being accused of mocking Chinese culture in an event designed to celebrate it.
The traditional qipao originated in the 20s and was often worn by wealthy women in Shanghai. Nowadays, the qipao is normally only worn at more traditional Chinese weddings. And yet in the Met Gala the dresses were sexualized, with low busts and high slights.
There seems to be a common exasperation among the Asian community of the hypersexualization of women from countries such as China and Vietnam.
It’s a feeling that Shani Lim knows all too well: “I get very frustrated when I see East Asian clothing being overly sexualised because it feels like the history and culture behind the clothes is being erased and it feels like it’s being treated like a Halloween costume if that makes sense?
I also get frustrated over the sexualization of traditional clothing because people don’t seem to be interested in the traditional dress if it’s not sexy (For example: we see a lot of white people wearing a Qipao, which is more form-fitting and can be made to be more revealing, but it’s less often that we see Westerners interested in Hanfu.)
Difference between the traditional clothing Hanfu and the 20-century’s Qipao
And that creates a sort of stereotype for what East Asian clothing should be like.
This fetishisation, explains End the Virus of Racism, an advocacy group for East and Southeast Asian people in the UK, can be traced back to centuries of colonialism and imperial conquest.
Military activity in East and Southeast Asia, including the Philippine-American War, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War, led to soldiers patronising local sex workers and fostering a narrative of Asian women existing to serve white men a stereotype that flourished in Hollywood films like Miss Saigon.
Athenea Lim, added how she “disagrees with non-Asians wearing exaggerated costumes or overly-sexualised versions of our traditional clothes. For example, ‘sexy’ Geishas or Chinese Qipao. I think it just feeds into Orientalism and perpetuates the hyper-sexualised stereotype of Asian women.
“I do find it problematic. For instance, I’ve seen people on TikTok adopting submissive, ‘kawaii’ anime girl mannerisms or wearing Japanese schoolgirl outfits, which feeds into the hyper-sexualised stereotype of Asian girls (specifically underaged ones), and has tangible negative effects.”
Some believe there is now an over sensitisation in this ‘snow flake’ generation and that issues such as cultural appropriation are just new ways for people to moan. However, what may seem like ‘just a dress’ or ‘just a pattern’ holds so much greater significance to others.
Cultural pride, for many, is the epicenter of values and identity. It’s important for some that pride in the customs and traditions that their families and community have been holding onto for hundreds of years is preserved to maintain the essence of their culture.
When asked, How do you feel when you wear or use traditional East Asian clothing or objects?
Audrey Chow sais: “This may sound cliche but I feel proud and walk with pride”.
Rui Li furthered this point, said, “When I was living in China, I would sometimes see non-Chinese people in the streets wearing traditional Chinese clothing – Hanfu, Tang clothing, or cheongsam, and some men in Zhongshan suits, and to be honest, I was very happy to see this and I didn’t think there was anything strange about these clothes on a non-Chinese person.
“I think it’s probably to do with the emphasis on ‘inclusiveness’ in traditional Chinese culture, and I’m very happy to see pure, unadulterated intercultural behavior. Since I came to study in the UK, I have hardly ever seen non-Chinese people in traditional Chinese dress on the streets, maybe a few bloggers on social media, but all in all, I am happy with the phenomenon.”
There’s such a spectrum of Asian culture and designs and how it can or can’t be used and celebrated would be difficult. When something is beautiful, it is obvious people will want to see and use it, but it doesn’t always mean you should.
It appears there is yet to be a clear answer on what is appreciation vs what is appropriation so perhaps it is simply intention and execution that distinguish the two. If the intent is ugly the beauty of the item then is corrupted.