In Her Own Words

Illustration for article titled In Her Own Words

"Lolita culture in the US is most definitely feminist." That's part of an e-mail we received from Ellie, the 20-year-old woman pictured at left, who was featured in the New York Times story about Gothic Lolitas. She read the comments you guys wrote about her style (including ones like, "If Lolitas means looking fugly like those girls above, I'm good," which she found offensive) and she crafted an extraordinarily thoughtful response. Click the image at left if you care to hear what she has to say.

Hey Dodai, I'm the girl on the left of the picture. Your post was very thoughtful and well-written. Thanks for that; very few intelligent pieces on Lolita fashion exist, and as such, I felt the need to respond to the question you posed, and to the commentors below. Lolita culture in the US is most definitely feminist. I would not be part of it if it were regressive. Lolita is incredibly female-positive in that it takes these traditionally female signifiers like lace and bows and makes them ultra-visible in a deliberately subversive way. Simply daring to be visible and loud while female is rebellious in and of itself, but daring to be visible in a way that celebrates femalehood (in a non-Pussycat Dolls way) is very feminist. I've noticed a trend of denigration of traditionally female things—pink is for idiot girls like Paris Hilton, fashion is for stupid girls, etc. Lolita celebrates these things with dresses titled "Poodle Parade," "Magical Etoile," & "Dreaming Macaron" and brands called Metamorphose Temps de Fille (the transforming time of the girl), Angelic Pretty, and BABY, the Stars Shine Bright. There are so many food and sweets-based prints in Lolita, and in a pro-ana world it's personally pretty refreshing to see people celebrate foods that are not celery and Diet Coke. We certainly do not do this for the attention of men. In fact, the fashion frequently alienates them. Frequently, female sexuality is portrayed in a way that is palatable and accessible to men, and anything outside of that is intimidating. Something so unabashedly female is ultimately kind of scary—in fact, I consider it to be pretty confrontational. Dressing this way takes a certain kind of ownership of one's own sexuality that wearing expected or regular things just does not. It doesn't take a lot of moxie to put on a pencil skirt and flats. It's not, as some commentors have suggested, some sort of appeal to men's expectation that women should be childlike, or an attempt to pander to pedophiles. Pedophiles like little girls. They don't like grown women who happen to like dresses with cakes on them. I've never been hit on by a pedophile while in Lolita. We don't get into it because it is some sort of misplaced pedo complex or anything, and the objective isn't simply to emulate little girls, despite the name Lolita. "Lolita," I'm guessing, is another example of Japanized English—as in, "picking English words without regard to their connotation and putting them in insane contexts"—since the little girl of the novel was really a tomboy. Either way, to have the fetishes of an incredibly small portion of men dictate what I wear is ridiculous! To do so is to misunderstand the objective of Lolita, which is really a harmless subculture that does not infringe on anyone else, or infantilize women in general. It is not a symptom of any cultural ill just because its aesthetic inspiration comes from a period when women were subordinate to men. Why should I be worried about sending the 'wrong messages' to men? Why is that my personal responsibility? Isn't that like saying "she was asking for it"? Is the state of feminism that precarious that my wearing a bow on my head is threatening and regressive? Where is the philosophical debate about men who wear short-shorts or sandals and how they make their gender look bad? Lolitas are usually into the fashion because they are into fashion in general: if I have a sewing or fabric question, I ask a Lolita, because she knows raschel from cluny and broadcloth from poplin from ten yards away. More than half of my loli-friends go to fashion school. We appreciate the clothing on a very technical level. The brand names do not exploit workers. The people who sew the clothing are usually lolitas. Japanese brands do not outsource the sewing work to China, which is part of why it is so expensive. If you look at a dress closely, the craftsmanship is immaculate. The nytimes article, while it did justice to the clothing itself, didn't have the space to really represent what the Lolita 'culture' is like. It is about female community! Lolitas dress up mostly for one another—for other women. The girls group together, go out on meetups, and have close bonds. Some of my closest friendships have been formed through the fashion; last weekend I spent more than eighteen hours helping with another girl's fashion show, and housed other girls who were helping out too. We are a very diverse group. No one is excluded on the basis of race or size or even gender (there are boys who dress in lolita: "brolitas"). It is refreshing to be part of a fashion that connects and unites rather than divides. We do, however, tend to shun those who insist on being 'ladylike,' because clothing should not change who you are or how you act—besides, if you're going to dress this ridiculous, it's pretty necessary to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Really, if you want to know where to 'place' Lolita in the continuum of progressive or regressive, my answer is—Why does it need to be placed at all? Sorry that this is so wordy! I had a lot on my mind. -Ellie

Illustration for article titled In Her Own Words



I'm sure plenty of people who dress this way haven't given it as much thought as Ellie, but I think characterizing it as "infantilization" is too far. Dressing in diapers is infantile, this is something else.

While I personally don't dress this way exactly, I do borrow a lot of its Victorian, girly, aesthetic. Just in the more Gothic way. And it's not all dresses, either. A lot of it is VERY gender bending. The Gothic and Lolita Bible out of Japan shows a vast array of choices and styles within this. Characterizing it as one thing isn't really looking at the scope.

Because a lot of the culture is built up around making your own clothes, it's highly creative and specialized. A lot of people share their ideas and techniques...and that's a positive thing.

One of the reasons I think Goth fashion embraced it is because of the Victorian influence and the "doll-like" quality. Which I think can be subversive, depending on what you're going for.

There's also the reality that, you know, plenty of women don't look good in what we consider to be "grown up" clothes. I look awful in pant suits and pretty much anything you can buy at The Gap or JCrew. And, conversely, I'm not interested in shaving my head or wearing straps or vinyl. That doesn't express who I am at all. But a hand-sew skirt with lace, or a Victorian styled blouse? Yes, that's much more me. And I'm about as raging a liberal feminist as you're likely to get.

I don't see anything in this fashion aesthetic that's somehow worse than what you'd fine on a Bratz doll, or half the clothing that's actually for little girls...with bare midriffs and low cut tops. Do I think some of it goes a bit far? Sure. But then some people think wearing all black and dyeing your hair funny colors is "wrong".