I was surfing the web the other day and I came across the strangest thing on one of my favourite fashion websites—a latex cheongsam. Black, with white trim. Very tight. Very high, over-exaggerated leg slits. Very shiny.
It was obvious that it was someone’s super fetishized image of what the cheongsam really was—even the fabric reinforced it. It made me feel gross and indignant—how dare someone take this dress, something I’d once been made fun of for wearing in sixth grade—and somehow transform it into something trendy and fashionable?
My friends and I have spoken about cultural appropriation offhandedly a few times before—it’s difficult sometimes because many of them are Caucasian, and they get defensive when the topic of cultural appropriation comes up because they feel as if I’m accusing them of committing a crime, or of disrespecting different ethnic practices. They feel like they’re racist assholes, and then the conversation topic has to switch because everyone feels “uncomfortable”.
But that’s exactly the problem. People need to talk about issues before they get better—I’m not horribly offended if, in an attempt to appreciate and genuinely understand and feel connected to Chinese culture, people of other ethnicities don cheongsams (as long as it’s not reduced to some kind of garish costume as opposed to a hugely important part of a country’s ancient history). But some people are. And in order to get a better understanding of all these boundaries—to spread the idea of what is and isn’t okay—people need to talk, as uncomfortable as the conversation may be.
Or, at the very least, stop making and marketing freaky bondage-y latex cheongsams.