It’s just a dress, you can appropriate it

Who gets to wear my cheongsam?

When you’re 17 years old and choosing your prom dress, the last thing you might think is that a picture of you in a modest high necked, full length dress could go viral and ignite a frenzied, febrile war of words on cultural theft, racism and the colonialism. You probably just think that the silky Chinese cheongsam will make you stand out from those predictable gowns that all the other white girls will be wearing. But may this be a lesson to you, young lady, to do your cultural studies research and may you never, ever again, dare to wear an item of clothing that does not belong to you. And by ‘you’, I mean ‘your race’, ‘your culture’, ‘your heritage’. For a précis of the insanity I’m referring to, read about poor Keziah Daum in this news article.

When doing research for this article I came to realise that the topic of cultural appropriation is wide and deep; a topic that has been interrogated ad nauseum by academics and cultural historians in the fields of art, music, food, fashion, ideas, and just about everything else. I cannot offer no more than some circular musings from my own narrow experience, but I do feel the need to speak up and say: A WHITE WOMAN WEARING A CHINESE DRESS IS NOT OFFENSIVE TO CHINESE PEOPLE.

Of course, there are nuances and qualifications. These days, our discourse does not allow for such things. Extreme outrage is the only currency on social media. The flames are fanned by clickbaiters and Twitter is the accelerant. Such is our society where the wise, funny, imaginative, educational and clever perspectives are tainted by wilful stupidity and angry, shouty people. But hopefully there are still some people who want to engage in thoughtful dialogue and a rounded debate.

I am of Singaporean Chinese heritage. My home country, Singapore, was a jewel in the crown of the British Empire during the time of my great-grandparents and grandparents. I’ve been to many a fancy-dress party where we dressed up as Native Americans. I’ve worn saris to work parties. I’ve worn kimonos in photo shoots. I’ve painted my face as a Dia de los Muertos sugar skull. Until last year, I had never worn a cheongsam or qipao, the supposedly traditional dress of a Chinese woman. This is partly because I am drawn to contradictions, and for a Chinese woman to wear a cheongsam, to me, seems lazy and unimaginative. I feel it also promotes the stereotype of the demure and exotic Asian woman (see my earlier post on The Asian Woman Fetish). You could say that I’m a ‘bad Chinese’, a banana – yellow on the outside…. I’m the one who has to ask other people when Chinese New year is. Don’t ask me the origin of Chinese customs. I can count to 10 in Mandarin but not much more. I can’t eat spicy food, can’t cook any “oriental cuisine” except a stir-fry and my favourite food as a child was a sandwich. This is not just deficient. It’s almost a visceral and deliberate rejection of my roots. When I came to England as a teenager, I embraced Western and European culture. Literature, movies, philosophy. fashion, music. I know many Indian and Asian friends who have done the same. Isn’t it funny how my race gives me a free pass to wear a traditional Chinese garment even though I’m the biggest banana in the fruit bowl? Continue reading “It’s just a dress, you can appropriate it”

Sexy muthas

Have you seen the “sexy mum” at the school gate? You know the one who wears the clingy low-cut top and a red lip at 8.30 am? Or the one with the languidly dishevelled rock ‘n roll hair and bootylicious jeans, who looks like she’s having an affair with an indie guitarist? There is one at my kids’ school who works a golden glittery block heel most mornings. Another one who always has sunglasses in a colour to match her many cute bodycon outfits. How do we feel about these women?

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Lingerie advice for sexy times

Like most lingerie bloggers on Instagram I get some weird direct messages. The other day a lady contacted me and asked me whether the set I was wearing was good for sex. I was a little taken aback and wondered if I was being cat-fished by a sleazy guy trying to start a creepy conversation. But it was actually a genuine and very frank enquiry from a woman who said she was going to have a M/M/M/M/F – that’s 4 guys and a girl, in case you’re wondering – and wanted to wear some lingerie that would be sizzling hot and … ‘functional’ for the occasion.

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No darling, you can’t stay over

Being single forever and ever, and never again sharing my life with another is a prospect that I am quite happy with. I put that down to my unwillingness to be responsible for another person and also my low tolerance for other people’s personal detritus encroaching on my space. As well as that, I have a bit of a phobia of the smell of other people. I don’t want to rub up against another person’s scent for longer than I have to. A few hours is OK, one night is too much, so a lifetime of living with the “pong of man” is simply unthinkable. Continue reading “No darling, you can’t stay over”

Bespoke Lingerie: my early birthday treat

 

Bespoke. Personalised. Made to measure.

I just love everything about those words. It conjures up images of unparalleled luxury, of couture gowns, Savile Row tailors, tape measures, fabric swatches. Until relatively recently in history, all clothes were pretty much made-to-measure and tailored for the wearer. Then came mass production and then fast fashion. Now you buy something from a shop where the thing comes in different standard sizes so it fits you around the hips, but less so around the bust. You have no idea who designed it or made it but it was probably a person in a developing country who gets paid $5 a day and may or may not be a child. I prefer to take things slow – to know exactly who makes my clothes and to be sure that they are people being paid a decent wage. Also, to bring it back to hard practicalities, I have such small boobs that most lingerie brands don’t do the styles I like in small enough sizes!

For my upcoming 45th birthday, I decided that I had no need to celebrate it in grand style with an alcoholic bash and where I don’t get to have proper conversations with my friends. Instead, I wanted to experience the bespoke luxury lingerie treatment. I canvassed a few people who would be in the know – my lovely lingerie friends on Instagram – and decided to take my business to Nichole de Carle. Continue reading “Bespoke Lingerie: my early birthday treat”

I dress, therefore I am

When I take pictures that show how much I care about image and clothing and post them on Instagram, I am in no doubt that I invite people to think me vain and shallow. I don’t feel any need to justify what I do, and in fact, if more people (especially men) took some time to present a good version of themselves as opposed to not caring what they look like, then I’m all for vanity. In fact, I would posit that creating an image, a persona, an avatar, an alter ego (such as one does on social media) is an act of existentialism. The clothing we wear is significant in how we choose to exist and move through the world.

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Benefits with friends

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Card found on a train, shoved between the seats.

It’s that hoary old question: Can you be still be friends after sleeping together? A stupid question. Of course you can and should be friends.

In my world, sleeping with someone is the quickest way to make a friend with a particularly deep level of intimacy.  I don’t call it ‘Friends with Benefits’. The benefit IS the friendship. Let’s just call it what it is: ‘Sex with Friends’. And some of the best friendships I have are with people I’ve slept with.
Sex is an excellent way of making friends; and friendship is an excellent reason for sex. 
I have lots of close female friends and a few close gay male friends, but until a few years ago, when I exited a very long marriage, I didn’t have any deep friendships with straight men. I now have a precious handful of these and these are all men I have slept with. They add a dimension to my life that I didn’t know I was missing. They bring a different perspective to my questions and musings. There is an honesty and frankness in how we interact but any erotic tension that there might have been has been dealt with and diffused. Maybe it works for me because I don’t do “no-strings sex”. I don’t want a LTR necessarily, but the “strings” I want are shared values, companionship for a few hours, sparkling conversation and emotional maturity.
The latest research is that loneliness can shorten your life by as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We make new friends when we are young, with our circle of friends peaking at around age 25. This circle shrinks as the years go by, when opportunities to make new, deep friendships are fewer, and our old friendships drop away. How do you make new bosom buddies of the sort you made at university and school?

Continue reading “Benefits with friends”