Katy Perry’s “Kimono”: Cultural Appropriation and Myths about Japan in the West

Unless you manage to avoid all celebrity gossip on the Internet, you have probably heard by now about Katy Perry’s kimono/geisha “inspired” ensemble that she performed in at the American Music Awards. You probably heard about it because it raised a lot of controversy, with some people going so far as to describe the act as racist. Is it racist? Not really; I wouldn’t go that far. Is it problematic? Yes. As a kimono enthusiast, a long-time lover of geisha culture, and someone who has a few licks of common sense in my head, I would like to take the time to address Katy Perry’s costume and America’s problem with cultural appropriation.

katyperry cultural appropriation

1.)  First off, just let me say that the boob-and-leg baring kimono is boring. It’s been done lots of times on every bad “geisha” Halloween costume and culturally unaware white female entertainer out there. It lacks any kind of real creativity. What it says, though, is that the kimono being worn properly and traditionally cannot possibly be sexy; therefore, we must change it to suit the tastes of our breast-obsessed western culture. There is nothing wrong with kimono being worn the way it is supposed to be worn. But attitudes surrounding kimono are different. In western culture, our clothes are supposed to flatter us. Show off or enhance our figures. Make us individual. With kimono, it’s not really about the wearer. It’s about the garment. Each kimono is a special piece of art. A part of tradition dating back hundreds of years. Yes, a modern kimono worn correctly will create a tube-like shape, not the coveted hourglass, but that’s because your breasts and bum are not the point when you wear a kimono. Breasts and defined waists distract from what kimono fashion is supposed to be, and great care is taken to minimize these assets when wearing a kimono.

The truth is, the Japanese have a very different aesthetic than Westerners do. The kimono highlights parts of the body that westerners don’t appreciate; the neck and the forearm. If Katy Perry, a self-proclaimed Japanophile, really knew her stuff, and really wanted to honor Japanese tradition, she wouldn’t have tried to change the kimono into something that it’s not. If showing off her bust is so important to her, then she should have worn something more western.

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Funny how this maiko, Kotoha, manages to be perfectly sexy while showing nothing more than an expanse of skin at the base of her neck. The kimono creates mystery about the wearer’s body with little hints of skin at the neck and wrist, instead of showing it all off. Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23314901@N06/3085687843/

2.) Now, take a look at these images:   Read the rest of this entry

Letter to a Concerned Mother

I wrote this in response to Kimberly Hall’s viral blog post, FYI (If You’re a Teenage Girl). It has caused quite a bit of controversy, and has forced us to take a look at sexual responsibility in teens, as well as what is “slut shaming” and what isn’t.  I actually left this as a response on her original blog post, but I am reposting it here with some editing and expansion done to it.. You can read the original post here: http://givenbreath.com/2013/09/03/fyi-if-youre-a-teenage-girl/

Dear Ms. Hall,
My first response that I wrote for this yesterday was angry, a little rude, and a rant. But I actually ended up spending the whole day thinking about this yesterday.I thought about why this rustled me up so much? I certainly wasn’t one of these girls (I’ll get to that in this post.) Maybe you will see this, and give me a second chance here. I actually agree with you 100% about girls needing to be extremely cautious about what they post online. To be clear, I am not a mother. I do not have sons or daughters. But I do remember what it’s like to be a teenage girl. I’m a college-educated 20-something who grew up in the church, and who finds myself trying to navigate in a world that is, all around, hostile to women.

This is something you do not address in your post, but it is a big reason why girls do the things they do. Read the rest of this entry

New Kimono Addition: Rabbit Houmongi

As promised, more kimono related programming!

Admission time: I have a husband who spoils me.

Ok, so MAYBE I was being a little bratty because he just got a lift kit and tires on the Jeep and I’ve been going through a fiasco with my own car situation and was a little jealous. MAYBE the words “why can’t I have the things I want” and “I deserve nice things” MIGHT have come out of my mouth. (For which I was sincerely humbled for later and I was given a little lesson in counting my blessings!) MAYBE I shed a few tears of self-pity. So maybe he was just trying to stop my whining, or maybe he was genuinely being nice. In any case, he bought me something I really wanted.

This beautiful rabbit houmongi kimono.

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Up-close of the rabbits.

Rabbits have a bit of a special meaning for me. For one thing, they are cute and fuzzy, and I adore all things cute and fuzzy. For another thing, I had always thought that I was born in The Year of The Dragon. Technically, I was, if you go by the Western calendar. But the Chinese New Year was AFTER my birthday that year, which means I was really born in the Year of the Rabbit. I’ve never put much stock in the zodiac, but I’ve always thought the Rabbit suited me better. Dragons are confident, good leaders, and not  easily discouraged. I am not really any of those things. Rabbits, however, are sensitive, creative, non-confrontational, and a little unsure of new opportunities, which actually fits me perfectly. I have embraced my Rabbit-hood fully.  (I don’t believe that it impacts my future, but it is fun!) I already own a few rabbit-themed accessories (mostly tabi socks and a fan), so when I saw this kimono, I had to have it. It was a little bit of a hefty price tag and not what I normally spend on kimono, but pieces like this are very few and far between. Rabbits are very lucky and rabbit themed pieces usually get snatched up quick! It is a very special treasure to have in my collection!

Rabbits also hold a special place in Japanese mythology. They are considered very lucky and are also associated with the moon. (According to legend, the moon goddess kept a rabbit as a pet.) If you look up at a full moon, you can see the Rabbit pounding rice flour to make cakes (or wine) for the goddess. He’s much easier to spot than the Man in the Moon, at least to me.

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Happy little bunnies on the kimono’s inner lining.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait to wear it. This piece is lined and our summer heat and humidity has come back with a vengeance (it was cool last week)! If I wear it out right now, I’m looking at heat stroke. I will have to wait for some autumn-like weather, but that’s ok because the black and white will contrast nicely once we get some fall color. But even though I can’t wear it now, that hasn’t stopped me from coming up with possible coordinations. Which do you like best?

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Most informal pairing – yellow hakata obi and pink accessories.

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Semi-formal pairing – silver nagoya obi with mandarin ducks and purple accessories. 

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Most formal pairing – pale gold kiku (chrysanthemum) fukuro obi with pink accessories. Could pair with purple or white accessories, too.

Now if only I could get a rabbit obi brooch! I might have to make one…

Off Road Adventures and What it Means to Really Live

There will be some kimono-related programming coming at you soon. My hiatus is coming to an end and I will be wearing kimono again within the week. Expect some pretty Japanese textiles to be coming at you soon!

We recently got back from a vacation to Michigan’s west coast and upper peninsula. Let me tell you a little something about Michigan: it’s not just Detroit. When people think “Michigan”, they think about the fact that the state has two of the top three most violent cities in America, both within 100 miles of each other. (Flint and Detroit).  But Michigan is a big state. Those cities that are always making the news occupy just the southeast corner.  There is a lot more to Michigan than government corruption, gun violence, and run-down urban areas. Actually, the rest of the state is very pretty.

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Me hanging out on Lake Michigan’s beach. Look at how beautiful the water is!

We went to western and then northern Michigan for an off roading adventure. You see, my husband is a Jeeper. He owns a Wrangler, and he is determined that his vehicle will not just be a mall crawler. He wants to get it muddy and climb rocks with it and and beat it up a little. He put a lift kit and bigger tires on it. And it just so happens that Michigan has excellent off roading opportunities. In the west, Silver Lake Sand Dunes. In the north, Drummond Island.  Both are extremely beautiful locations and I recommend visiting even if you aren’t into off-roading.

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The view from Marblehead Point on Drummond Island. Blue water for miles.

Here is the other thing about Michigan. Once you get out of the south east corner of the state, the cell coverage stinks, and good luck getting your 4G to come through on your smart phone. We pretty much spent the week with no text messages, no Facebook, no social media at all. Let me be honest here: I am a facebook junkie at home.  And I almost always have my phone on me. But a strange thing happens when I go to places like the upper Peninsula and I no longer have connection: I don’t miss it. And I find that I am a happier, healthier person for it.

Read the rest of this entry

The Love/Hate Relationship With Bras

I’m a member of the small bust community. As in, I cannot just waltz into any old department store and buy a bra that wasn’t made for a 10-year old. As in, all my bras need to be special ordered. And it’s getting close to that time where I need to order some new bras.

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A vintage bra ad promising a larger bustline.

I currently own five bras. Two are a size too big. Two fit properly, but are covered in lace and do not sit well under the t-shirts and tank tops that make up the bulk of my summer wardrobe. One fits in the cups but is too small in the band, resulting in an uncomfortable fit.

Read the rest of this entry

The Problem with Fitspiration

What is Fitspiration? Fitpiration is a movement that is intended to inspire people to work out. Only rather than focusing on health, the focus tends to be on “perfecting” one’s body, villainizing certain food groups, and even encourages “pushing past limits” and suffering for the sake of a “fit ideal”. Fitspiration contributes to bad body image and an unhealthy, obsessive relationship with exercise. 

“Nothing tastes as good as thin feels”. That phrase popped up on my facebook newsfeed when I was catching up after a long weekend up north and Internet-free. I contemplated the phrase for a second, looked at the source, and wanted to scream. The person who posted it runs the facebook page for the martial arts group that I’m part of. A group that should be focusing on health above looks. A group that should (and use to) be promoting the importance of self-defense for all people, women in particular. Instead, they are posting “fitspiration” images that tell me I should aspire to look a certain way.

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Your biggest worry shouldn’t be whether or not you can defend yourself  if needed; it should be making sure that your rear end is perfect!

Unacceptable.

Why do I find this phrase unacceptable? A few reasons, really. The first, like I said, is the source. Exercise should never be about getting skinny. Ever. If you are exercising just to get skinny, then you need to stop and re-evaluate your motives. Working out should always be about health over appearances.  Of course, if you are overweight and starting to work out, wanting to drop extra pounds is a goal you likely have. But this is not the same as just working out to get thin. If you are only working out to get skinny, then you are less likely to work out smart, which means you’ll be more likely to overexert yourself or even harm your muscles. DO NOT WORK OUT TO LOOK A CERTAIN WAY. PERIOD.

Read the rest of this entry

Star Trek: Into Darkness and Women in SciFi, Fantasy, and Comics

*MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*

Firstly, let me just say that I loved the new Star Trek movie. It’s only been out for a week, but I have already seen it twice. I thought it was extremely well cast, well written, and brilliantly executed. The CGI was gorgeous and believable, the makeup for the alien extras was perfect, and lense flares weren’t even distracting. Pure awesomeness. I’m sure I’ll see it another time before it leaves theaters!

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I only have one problem with Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Yesterday, JJ Abrams released the  John Harrison shower scene that was cut from the theatrical version of the movie. This scene took place between Kirk, Spock, and Uhura capturing John Harrison on the Klingon home world of Kronos, and  Harrison’s subsequent imprisonment on the Enterprise. Now, Harrison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) has already blown up a few things on Earth, teleports himself to an unfriendly planet, has been living in a deserted city, proceeds to take out an entire unit on Klingons practically by himself, and then gets punched in the face a few times by Captain Kirk. Dude is a little dirty and sweaty by this point. So they let him take a shower on board the Enterprise. The Tumblr-dubbed “angry shower scene” ended up being cut.

I’m not upset about the scene being cut. The scene was cut due to it being “gratuitous” and for not doing anything to further the plot. I totally understand their point. If it’s an unnecessary scene, then why keep it?

It is for this reason why I can’t understand why Carol Marcus’s (Alice Eve) underwear scene is still in the movie.

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She strips down in front of Kirk and then gets annoyed when he oggles her. What?

Read the rest of this entry

Different directions for a time

I’m considering the possibility of making this a “general blog” as I have very little kimono stuff to post about right now. Things have been very slow with the kimono club, I have not been making any new kimono acquisitions, and there are lots of things I’d like to blog about. I feel particularly strongly about issues like body image and positivity, for instance. I hope that those of you who follow me for the kimono stuff will stick around, as I will still post kimono and Japan related posts when applicable. (I wanted to start a new blog but all the names I wanted were taken.) Thanks for the support and I hope I’ll stay interesting!
-Red Bird

Cheeseburgers

I try not to bring things from my personal life that are non-kimono related here too much. This blog was started as a blog about kimono and Japanese culture, and I intend to keep it that way. But I feel that this is an important topic to discuss, and I see no need to start yet another blog in order to talk about it. I promise that after this blog entry, we will be back to our regularly scheduled kimono blogging. (I am hosting a kimono brunch for the NWO Kimono Society tomorrow!) Anyway, here it goes.

Two days ago, a random stranger on Facebook told me to eat a cheeseburger after looking at my profile picture. He said I was obviously one of those model types that shuns food and eats facial tissues in order to “stay skinny”. He then proceeded to blame people like me for furthering the war on “real women” by pushing thinness as an ideal.

For the record, this is my profile picture on Facebook:

profile pic

I do not think that I look like a “model type” here. I also do not think I look that skinny. You can’t see my ribs (which are slightly visible when I wear a bathing suit; the horror!) and neither are my collarbones sticking out. My arms look fairly toned. I think I look like a normal, healthy girl enjoying a nice vacation.

This guy’s comment did not offend me. I actually found it hilarious. I especially cannot take an insult as such when it is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. To let oneself be insulted by such pure, unadulterated stupidity would be, well, stupid. But I feel this comment does point to some issues that need to be addressed. These issues are becoming commonplace on the Internet and even in real life. Not just for my sake, but society’s, let’s look at those points, shall we?

Read the rest of this entry

Worry

I have consistent back pain. The cause comes from curvature of the spine in my low back, which causes the joint in my hip to line up incorrectly. This causes the bones to grind on each other. I’ve had this pain since I was a teenager, but it has really gotten worse in the past six months. It is not a bad pain. It’s not a pain that prevents me from walking, running, sitting, or standing for long periods of time. It’s not a pain that affects my every-day life. It’s just an annoying pain; it’s just a feeling of pressure. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like a joint that needs to be popped, but I can’t pop it. I have seen a chiropractor for it, but the adjustments tend to leave my back tender and sore for days. The pain I end up having after a chiropractic visit is usually a lot worse than the pain that I deal with otherwise, so I’ve kind of given up on going. It’s really not that bad.

It’s something I have learned to live with.

But I do worry that it will affect my ability to wear kimono, at least for long periods of time. Last month I went to an anime convention and was in kimono and geta for nine hours. The combination of a constricting obi and unsupportive wooden shoes worn over the course of an entire day caused a week of discomfort. And there was a cherry blossom festival this past weekend; I didn’t go because my back was acting up and I knew kimono wouldn’t be comfortable. To me, that’s frustrating.

I don’t want to be afraid to wear kimono for fear of causing more than the expected discomfort (because let’s be honest, wearing kimono is not the same as wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt). I also don’t want to be limited to wearing only haori over jeans, yukata, or only wearing kimono for two hours. For something  that otherwise isn’t that bad.

I have learned to live with it. I will have to learn to not let it dictate what I enjoy.

 

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