I started wearing lolita back in 2006, and the narrative of lolita as some form of feminist principle put into practice has been around since at least that time. I can very clearly remember discussing with friends and community members how Lolita fashion was one way of expressing feminist ideals – specifically because many girls chose to wear the frilly garments as a way to protect themselves from sexualization. The idea that we wore the fashion for ourselves (and not for men) was a common truth, and was often linked back to the fact that Lolita began as a nonconformist fashion movement for young women in Japan.
These ideas are still very prevelant in the western lolita community – so much so that it isn’t uncommon to see “Feminism & Lolita” panels at conventions around the country. We are very good at telling ourselves that lolita is “our form of protest” against sexualization, but we are exceptionally bad at dealing with other feminist issues within our own group – including bullying and the normalization of eurocentric standards of beauty within the western community. The narrative that we have is a third wave one, built specifically around the idea that all choices made by a woman – even ones that perpetuate a misogynist status quo – are somehow ideals to be cherished and applauded. We do ourselves and our sisters a disservice when we make these claims. Personal opinion should not trump facts with regards to institutionalized racism, sexism, and LGBTQ+ rights, and we owe it to the lolitas who are inspired by us to leave the community a better place than we found it.
If we want our community to be a safe place for people of all races, genders, abilities and sizes, then we need to stop pretending that somehow putting on a frilly dress solves anything more than a personal problem. Can getting dressed up and pampering yourself help with issues of self confidence and depression? Sure. But our community problems are larger than that. Why is it that so many newbies are afraid to attend local meetups? Why is it that so many girls are afraid to post their outfit shots online? We have the ability to create a welcoming and supportive place for lolitas of all backgrounds, but somehow we let petty bickering, jealousy and stereotypes define our reputation.
We need to stop lying to ourselves about how our community is already feminist, and instead we need to talk about how to put our feminist ideals into practice. We need to support each other when we see bullying happening, and listen to the lived experiences of those who are different from us. It is important to understand, based on our own privledges, when it is appropriate to speak up, and when we should be listening.