Though most of us spend Halloween pondering over what to wear, how to make animal costumes look sexy and then eating copious amounts of candy, it seems to be a difficult time for some brands.
Almost every year, one clothing company or another is accused of cultural appropriation and they seem to never learn.
Fashion Nova is the latest line criticised by consumers who have complained about their geisha Halloween costume which they feel appropriates Japanese culture and makes a mockery out of an ancient civilisation.
The costume includes hair sticks, a kimono, a skirt, and an obi (a belt-like sash worn across the stomach to tie the robe together), and to add insult to injury, Fashion Nova had initially misspelled geisha, instead writing geshia, which was later changed.
Some publications have also reported that it was described as a sexy geisha outfit but it no longer appears as such on the website.
Fashion Novas $49.99 (£38.10) outfit is considered problematic for many people as they are making a profit from an ancient tradition without crediting it nor using it in its cultural context, which are all hallmarks of appropriation.
Students Teaching about Racism in Society (STARS), who have spoken out against using geisha outfits, broke down why.
Cultural appropriation is best thought of when members of a dominant culture in a society adopt certain elements from a minority cultures heritage without understanding what those elements mean to the minorities, a spokesperson told Metro.co.uk.
In our society white people are the dominant group and Asians (specifically Japanese in this case) are a minority.
What makes Fashion Novas costume so racially insensitive is that it feeds into a stereotype of Asian women being sexual objects and temptresses for mens (almost always white men) desires. We know this because the costume is explicitly marketed as “sexy”.
What is particularly alarming is that geishas were never prostitutes, they provided other forms of entertainment such as singing, dancing, poetry, or light conversation. But due to ignorance and lack of willingness to learn, this has been translated over to America and the rest of the Western world as “prostitution”.
These stereotypes may have even been used during the Second World War to justify the sexual violence carried out against Asian women by Americans soldiers, where unfortunately prostitution did flourish near military bases.
now that its a spooky season that still doesnt give you the right to dress up as a sexy native american or a sexy geisha or anything like that ,happy halloween!
— tisha (@tishshres) October 1, 2018
It is harmful to create costumes based off of racial stereotypes because those costumes then reinforce harmful ideas and power dynamics. Stereotypes are symbols used to categorise other cultures into into one-dimensional ideas that often have little basis in reality.
If somebody grows up in an area where there are few if any Asians living nearby then representations such as this may be all they have to learn about people of Asian descent, because it is stereotypes of the Asian temptress that not only show up in Halloween costumes, but also television, film, and other forms of media.
If some people argue that costumes like this are cultural appreciation instead of appropriation, I would say there is nothing wrong with appreciating other cultures. Appreciation can come in many forms such as enjoying music, cuisine, and literature.
Since its time to start thinking of Halloween costumes here are a few things NOT to be:
– a Mexican or Day of the Dead
– a TRANSGENDER
And many more!! Be cautious & mindful !!!
— krista. (@kristanichelle) September 20, 2018
But the key difference between appreciation and appropriation is ignorance. Is the person aware of the culture enough to understand the historical and social significance of their music, art, clothing, etc.?
If so, then I would argue that is appreciation. If not, then that is appropriation because then the person is treating another somebody elses heritage as a “trend” that comes and goes. This is why the geisha costume is such a perfect example of cultural appropriation because somebody is not of Asian descent can simply put on the costume and take it off as they please, while an Asian person has to live with the racism that it represents for the rest of their lives.
We have contacted Fashion Nova for comment and will update the article accordingly.