Hello! As the owner of R.R. Memorandum, I've wanted to make clear my feelings towards advocacy for people of colour, and even more specifically people of colour within the J-fashion community clear for a good while! Unfortunately I've still a lot to learn, as a white person growing up in a community so homogenous I'd been ignorant to the struggles of PoC for so long, and as an autistic person who struggles to articulate my thoughts oftentimes. So, while I take the time necessary to educate myself and listen to PoC and educate myself, Rose Nocturnalia has very graciously written a piece for us! Thank you so much! Please enjoy, and remember that R.R. Memorandum, and lolita fashion as a whole, is for everyone- no matter whether you fit the image of a 'typical' lolita or not. Radical visibility is all about making what counts visible for the world to see.
What drew me to lolita fashion back in 2005?
The early lolita subculture really embodied the punk ethos, far beyond the handmade clothing, tartan, and Vivienne Westwood shoes. Lolita fashion was an unapologetic, self-indulgent rejection of the intensely limiting cultural restrictions on young Japanese women. And while they may not have started wearing lolita fashion for that specific reason, by choosing to defy cultural expectations and instead choosing to do what made them happiest in a very visible way, they were pretty punk. Even though they didn't wear lolita purely to make a statement, lolita fashion itself makes a statement: "I'm doing this for myself, regardless of what you think."
It's a cute, frilly, and ultimately small form of rebellion against the establishment - safety pinned jackets, handmade band patches aren't exactly staples of lolita fashion, and you won't find lolitas meeting up in seedy punk bars these days. But it's still rebellion nonetheless. Lolitas willingly made themselves into outsiders, and were treated as such - and had their own value system to match. Lolitas weren't concerned about following mainstream beauty trends and lifestyles, so they created their own.
Of course, as an outsider myself, who was a weeby teen who discovered lolita when the community outside of Japan was still very new and very small, and who couldn't wear the fashion until much later, maybe I'm romanticizing things a little bit. I'm sure that a lot of lolitas also wore it simply because it was cute, or because their friends wore it, or even because they were just going through a phase. And all of these are perfectly valid reasons to wear lolita, too.
But I think that there's something to be said for the people who are trying to recapture that rebellious feeling. The recent old-school lolita revival, spearheaded mainly by younger lolitas who admire the carefree, creative spirit of the proto-lolitas of the 1990s and early 2000s, has turned into a much wider trend. Fashion is cyclical, so what is old becomes new again, and it's far back enough in the past now that it's become charming and retro to people who would have dismissed it as outdated and ugly only a few years ago. But when something becomes a trend that's divorced from its roots and its original context (which, to be fair, is happening to lolita fashion as a whole), the original spirit of the movement is lost. And sadly, some lolitas are all too quick to uphold and enforce some of the restrictive mainstream ideals that drove people towards alternative subcultures like lolita in the first place.
I've seen many of these very same lolitas describe themselves in...to put it bluntly, pretty self-aggrandizing terms like "revolutionary" and "punk" for wearing lolita fashion. And I don't think lolita fashion really has that rebellious punk edge anymore. I'm honestly not sure if the lolita community outside of Japan ever had much of that energy at all, to be honest. Lolita fashion is rooted in feminine rebellion, and many lolitas outside of Japan feel like lolita is a feminist fashion...or at least, they used to. I'm not sure if anyone else feels that way anymore. Maybe it really is just clothes, and there's no underlying attitude to go along with it. And maybe there never really was. I guess I have a very idealistic view, right?
Now that we're experiencing a global pandemic, economic downturn, and massive social unrest all at once, many of these self-proclaimed punks and rebels are oddly silent. And I'm not saying that lolitas need to go out and protest en masse, or burn down Angelic Pretty, or chain themselves to trees as demonstrators, or devote the entirety of their social media to championing a social cause. At the same time, it's very telling when self-styled punks spend more time posing for their Instagram followers than talking about some of the very real problems within the lolita community and in the wider world around them. I think we can do better, too. We can't save the whole world, but maybe we can tackle some of the problems in our own community, especially because many of these larger global problems are reflected in the lolita community as well.
Even though lolitas are outsiders, we're not so far removed from mainstream culture that we completely reject the value system that comes with it. Racism, colourism, size discrimination, ageism, transphobia, classism, and a whole lot of other "-isms" are definitely a lot more frowned-upon than they used to be, especially because society as a whole is much more tolerant than it used to be,. Things that were completely normal to say as recently as ten years ago are no longer socially acceptable. But they're not exactly absent, either. And in my opinion, this all runs counter to the original rebellious spirit of lolita fashion. How can you claim labels like "feminist" and "punk" while ignoring the problems in your own backyard?
While the lolita community has become more understanding and sensitive towards differences, the lolita fashion community hasn't always been receptive to Black people, and other people of colour with dark skin. People in our community like to pat themselves on the back for being members of an inclusive and diverse community while glossing over the very real problems that we face. Hell, we had to boot a girl from my local comm for tossing out racial slurs at an employee of a venue we were visiting - a diverse comm in Toronto, literally the most racially diverse city on the planet. I can't speak for the lolita community in Asia, where the vast majority of lolitas will of course be Asian. But my own experiences in the international, English-speaking lolita community haven't always been positive, especially online.
What does posting online mean for Black lolitas? In my experience, it means getting well-intentioned comments about what colours to wear that won't clash with a brown skintone. Getting less well-intentioned comments about how dark skin is not elegant or cute enough for lolita. It's being disparaged for having curly hair or braids. It's being dismissed as "hysterical" or "militant" when you try to bring up colourism or racism in a lolita space. Sometimes it even means seeing racial slurs and insults.
It's also never being seen as good enough. People are less likely to interact with your posts. It's being criticized harshly for flaws that other people get away with unnoticed. Some lolita brands never use Black models in their overseas fashion shows, so I don't waste my time applying anymore. I'm truly grateful to the brands, big and small, who make an effort to make their overseas shows more inclusive. But the message has been made perfectly clear: you are not good enough for us. And believe me, we heard it. Over and over again.
If you asked anyone to envision the ideal lolita, she would probably be pale and straight-haired with delicate Caucasian features. I'm unambiguously Black (I'm also 1/4 Arab), but I'm also thin, light-skinned, and my hair isn't very kinky. Because of that, I already know that I have an easier time of it than other Black lolitas. What I'm describing is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what other people go through. I'm not writing this to whine about how hard it is. I'm trying to show people that this problem actually exists. How can people say that this isn't an issue?
I've been asked so many times by non-Black lolitas to host a panel about my experiences with racism and colourism in lolita. And while I'm not against the idea in theory, I've never been asked to host a panel on, say, Moi-même-Moitié, or visual kei, or or any of the other dozens of subjects I could talk about that don't have anything to do with my race. I'm sure they meant well and wanted to highlight some of the problems in the lolita community, and I respect that, but hearing the question so many times really does make me wonder why I'm regularly being asked to parade around my painful experiences on a stage to "educate" people. Do people ask male lolitas to deliver speeches on sexism in the lolita community? It just makes me feel like a token.
As outsiders in a community of outsiders, Black lolitas formed our own safe communities where we could share our outfits, our experiences, and just...exist peacefully without having to read comments about how Black skin, Black hair, and Black bodies don't suit the lolita aesthetic, and without worrying about being seen as a spokesperson or a representative for all Black lolitas. We can just be lolitas.
I'm proud of being Black, but I'm getting tired of being viewed as a Black lolita when I could just be a lolita. Is my race the only thing that people see when they look at me? I don't want people to suck up to me so that I can be the token Black in their friends list now that #BLM is trending. I don't want people to follow me on social media so that they can say they support Black people. I certainly don't want their pity. I just want understanding. When the protests die down and people will no longer give you extra props for caring about Black people, I don't want things to go just back to normal. Normal wasn't working for us.
I don't talk about these issues often not because I don't care, but because I'm just so tired of feeling like I need to advocate for myself. My whole community is tired of advocating for ourselves. It shouldn't take mass protests to make people take notice, but I'm happy that it has, because it's time for someone else to have these hard conversations and discuss these topics. I've seen more than a few people speaking up, which was honestly more than I could have hoped for. I don't expect every single lolita to become a crusader for justice, leading a revolution in our community. But if you feel like wearing lolita makes you feminist or punk or a rebel, it's time to stand up and prove it.