Sunday, November 25, 2012

Self-Exoticizing or Empowering?

Sharon Lin
Blog #4

What does it mean to exoticize oneself? When I think of self-exoticization, I think of people of minorities in work that utilizes or sells one's body, for example, models. I never would have imagined that national dress could be mixed into self-exoticizing.
            In Ann Marie Leshkowich’s article, “The Ao Dai Goes Global: How International Influences and Female Entrepreneurs Have Shaped Vietnam’s National Costume,” she writes about the process that often must occur for national costume to be accepted and popularized in Third World countries. She take the example of the ao dai and its re-popularization after it won the prize for “Best National Costume” in the Miss International Pageant. Leshkowich argues that oftentimes, national costume is another place of Western influence and Western imperialism. The perception of a national costume is where “a domestic context in which national identity, images of traditional femininity, the lure of international power, and the simultaneous desire for “local” authenticity and modern cosmopolitanism mingle” (Niessen, Leshkowich, Jones 86). In the case of the ao dai, it became popular after the Miss International Pageant because “young, urben Vietnamese women and the media [saw] and newly [appreciated] the ao dai as outsiders might” (Niessen, Leshkowich, Jones 86). The process of seeing the national costume through an outsider’s eyes and deeming it worthy because of an outsider’s approval is the process of “self-exocitization.”
            I argue, however, that self-exocitization does not only happen in the Third World. When we look around at the fashion and consumer culture in America, there have been many times in the past where Asian national costumes were popularized by the West and then accepted not only in the West, but also all around the world. The national costume most popularly exoticized in the West is the kimono. In a recent controversy with Victoria’s Secret’s “Go East” lingerie collection, it is evident that the national costumes of Asia are still exoticized. One blogger, Nina Jacinto notes, “When a company takes it one step further by developing a story about how the clothes can offer a sort of escape using explicit sexualized and exploitive language, it takes the whole thing to another level. It’s a troubling attempt to sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a culture and opt instead for racialized fetishizing against Asian women.” In Japan, the kimono is worn with pride. After an interview with an Asian American designer for my paper, I was forced to question whether or not this pride comes from within the Japanese culture and valuing the beauty of the kimono and whether or not the Western acceptance of the kimono has any influence on the pride that is in wearing a kimono. Victoria's Secret was not the first to use the kimono in modern fashion and it most certainly will not be the last. 
One question that I feel is neglected in Leshkowich and Jacinto’s arguments, however, is whether or not donning our national costumes is truly “self-exoticizing” or can merely be empowering? When Asian Americans wear a kimono, to them, it may not symbolize exoticization, but rather, grace, elegance and beauty that is embedded in the Japanese culture. Who can say what the person wearing a kimono feels and where from their feelings are derived?

Inside source: Niessen, S. A., Ann Marie. Leshkowich, and Carla Jones. "The Ao Dai Goes Global: How International Influences and Female Entrepreneurs Have Shaped Vietnam’s National Costume." Re-orienting Fashion: The Globalization of Asian Dress. Oxford: Berg, 2003. N. pag. Print.
Outside Source: Jacinto, Nina. "Victoria’s Secret Does It Again: When Racism Meets Fashion." Web log post. Racialicious. Latoya Peterson, 6 Sept. 2012. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.

Be Green Challenge Update
This past weekend was the biggest challenge. I was determined to beat the challenge and not buy anything this Black Friday. I thought it would be easier than it was, and in the end, I unfortunately caved to the temptation of sales. In my defense, however, I only bought things that were on sale and at the, I only bought 2 items that were solely for myself. 
My downfall was gradual. Every year my friends and I go Black Friday shopping together. We go the morning of to salvage whatever is left of Black Friday because, well, we simply just value our sleep during break too much to go any earlier. This year, my friend asked me to accompany her because our other friend was busy. I gave her the disclaimer that I could not purchase anything for myself, but that I would go with her. I was fully committed to upholding the challenge. When I got home, however, I discovered that my sister, in her procrastination had not yet finished her college applications and would not be able to go Black Friday shopping this year. She asked me to shop for her while I was with my friend. My resolve began to crumble. The opportunity was simply to good to turn down. Since my sister is about the same size as I am, I knew I could buy clothes that I would like but just have her have it until November was over. I had found the loophole! It would be like shopping for myself except I would not actually be buying anything for myself. As one can imagine, this loophole was merely a slippery slope into buying things for solely for myself. 
The day of Black Friday, I started off determined. I bought only things I thought my sister would like. Then we hit H&M and I bought things I thought my mother would enjoy. It was at Forever 21 that things took a turn for the worse. (That darn Forever 21!!) The regular sale did not much tempt me. 30% off sweaters was a nice discount...but not nice enough for me to really consider it. What hit me the hardest was the additional 50% off sale items. Some pieces were only 2 or 3 dollars! I couldn't resist. (I know, I sound like a ridiculous shopaholic…) At the end of the day I came away with two pieces solely for myself. 
I am fairly disappointed that I wasn't able to last the entirety of November without purchasing something. I like to think, however, that had it been any other month, I would have cruised through the challenge. Maybe I'll try the challenge on my own sometime (in a month other than November and/or December) and see how well I fare. I think I could succeed if it were any other month. 

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