Marlies Dekkers/Guerrilla Geisha/et al Still Don’t Get It: yellowface is not a trend.

By now, I’m sure that many of you are aware of this article written by Cora Harrington of The Lingerie Addict. In a nutshell, white girls are being paraded around in yellowface to sell underwear. And in typical kneejerk reaction, as short-sighted and as white as white can be, Marlies Dekkers blocked Cora from their social media, and Guerrilla Geisha decided to leave a “thought-provoking comment.”

Yeah, this is going to go really well.

Patrizia Grilli designer of Guerilla Geisha, left this comment as of today.


My skin is white, and I have been the subject of racist laughter for my Italian accent or looks, yet somehow I feel that this debate is leaning towards the “people of colour” exercise. We are one species, one woman shall I dare say.

First off, I don’t need a privileged white person who claims to experience first hand racism (just lol) condescendingly telling me, a women of color and someone who *IS* Asian who has to deal with a ton of bullshit and stereotypes about Asian women, how I should feel. Until you’ve been treated by men as an ~experience~, objectified by men as a sex object due to disgusting perpetuated stereotypes, have been constantly undermined at work because you are a women of color, have been sexually harassed by men not only in public but also repeatedly in the workplace, deal with bullshit comments how “you don’t talk with an accent, where are you from?! (and it happened AGAIN a few days ago),” and have been told to repeatedly be quiet, seriously, fuck off. Please take your “people of colour exercise” comment, and shove it up your asshole.

BONUS: this Dutch show was apparently really popular where a Dutch woman portrayed a Japanese woman named Ushi Hirosaki. This is 100% yellowface. I can’t even watch it.

I think it’s quite important to remember the true origins of Geisha; that the word Geisha literally translates as “artist” or “person of the arts”, and that they were in fact originally men.

Is Ms. Grilli trying to pay homage to taikomachi? What’s the relevancy of this? This statement literally feels like it was googled in order to come off as somewhat educated about the issue at hand. This collection has nothing to do with taikomachi, and I would eat my shoe if Guerrilla Geisha went into this

1. Doing actual history about Japanese (or Asian culture)
2. With the intention to sell product to transvestites or transgendered or men who like to wear women’s clothing/makeup/etc.

I actually do have my undergrad degree in East Asian History (yeah, totally worthless EXCEPT FOR NOW) that focused on academic writing for both the histories of Japan and China, so yeah. Please stop. Either make an effort to educate yourself, but don’t spit out the first result of google in order to school people.

However, it doesn’t mean that if designers take inspiration from Oriental aesthetics and use it in a tasteful and respectful way, that they are on the racist bandwagon or are out in force to ridicule, sexualize and stereotype Asian women.

I actually have no issue with designers taking inspiration from Asian culture whatsoever. I don’t find the Bordelle imagery to be particularly offensive, but just lay off the chopsticks in hair, mmmk? I know that some people are very sensitive when they see someone who isn’t of that ethnicity in ethnic dress, but for me, especially when it comes to qipao, yukata, etc., they were all “regular” dress before Westernized clothing became popular. If someone who isn’t Asian wants to wear Asian dress, I have no problem with it. I think qipao is gorgeous, and if someone wants to wear it, go right on ahead. (Please avoid those gross cheap polyester satin monstrosities.)

Tang Wei in Lust, Caution. Don't even get me started about the dress in this movie.  *hearts in eyes*

Tang Wei in Lust, Caution. The dress in this movie was beyond gorgeous. *hearts in eyes*

Here's another one. :)  You're welcome!

Here’s another one. :) You’re welcome!

Things get tricky, however, when non-ethnic brands tend to capitalize on ethnic culture, which in this scenario, includes dress. Personally, I’m not against it if a fashion power house wanted to create a line of qipao, but that said, inherently, I would prefer a Chinese brand and company to have similar recognition. The economics and circumstances come into play where this may or may not be possible. I’m not saying how things should play out or what should happen in these scenarios, but brands, people, etc. need to be cognizant and sensitive of the situation.

So the problem here is that some people feel it is somehow racist, or even sexist, to use said stereotypes if you don’t belong to that “culture”, in this case the Orient. Personally I see cultures, not nationalities, and I want to embrace them all, I want to love what every culture has to offer.

If we’re going to play this game, I’m an Asian women, and I hate this campaign. Yellowface is NOT OKAY. Do you seriously need someone of that ethnicity to tell you that it isn’t acceptable? I don’t need to be black in order to know that throwing a plantation party is racist, gauche, and riddled with huge amounts of WTF. While we’re at it, let’s get real: people who say that they don’t see color are delusional. When you have people of color getting paid significantly less than their white counterparts, judged for not integrating better into society, and/or getting killed or having harsh sentences imposed on them, are you for real saying that you don’t see color? People need to act and behave in a manner where color isn’t an issue, but to say that you don’t ever see it, you’re part of the problem.

One thing I can’t help asking myself is: had I used an Asian model, wouldn’t that reinforce the stereotype even more?

As I’ve mentioned before, I would encourage the use of an Asian model instead of a white person in yellowface. (And let me be clear here, yellowface isn’t just about a non-ethnic person wearing Asian dress.) Asian people have long struggled for work in the fashion and media industry, and it’s still a problem today. That said, I don’t see why it would be so difficult or terrible to consult with a local Japanese chapter about what would be appropriate. My personal rule of thumb: if you want to be controversial, fine, but don’t try to present it to me like I should be grateful that you’re doing my ethnicity a service.

Further more, the Japanese brand Bradelis who also trades in USA, has a huge emphasis on boobs; if their images of “blond bombshell” does not reinforce the western stereotype I’m not sure what does!

I honestly don’t have time to get into this, but there is a huge problem that has existed in Asian societies where “being white” is treasured. In my personal experiences when I lived overseas and from experiences shared by my Asian friends and family, there is a desire to look white and be accepted by white people. Skincare products are sold with whitening properties (and despite articles saying that it’s “brightening,” I’ll wait for someone to tell me that dark skin is perceived the same as whiter/light skin), Asian women get plastic surgery to have a European nose/eyes, blue eyes and blonde hair are “prized.” If you want to look a certain way, I support your right to look however you want, but it breaks my heart and makes me angry that so many Asian people find themselves ugly or don’t have white characteristics or traits that makes them attractive. I myself have struggled with self-loathing about my identity in regards to my ethnicity, and to be frank, there were many moments where I wanted to be white because I’d be perceived as “better.” Perhaps “equal” would be the better word…

It’s bad when brands are so obtuse that they don’t even know that they’re sexualizing or stereotyping Asian women and act like we should be grateful because we’re just too dumb to realize how they’re being “tasteful” and “respectful” by allowing white women to wear yellowface. Also, it just shows how much you can’t argue or even carry on an intelligent discussion especially when the so-called enlightened keep referring to Asian cultures – in this day and age – as the Orient, and Asian people, as Orientals*. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(*I don’t find Oriental/Orient to be racist, but just ignorant, out of touch, and outdated. But YMMV will vary depending on the Asian people you ask.)

Edit – I’ve updated this post for clarification. I got confused with the Guerrilla Geisha/Marlies Dekkers brand, because let’s face it, they’re all the same.

PS – Happy America Day! I am proud to be an American. :)

  1. Remyda said:

    YES! SO YES!

    Everything that you said is so amazingly spot on, there’s absolutely nothing else that I can add.

    It won’t change their minds (probably), but I really appreciate the time you took to write this post. As a woman of color myself, I know that it can be uncomfortable at best and absolutely heartbreaking at work to see people who capitalize on evoking stereotypes of your race, and then when confronted, refuse to acknowledge they’ve done anything wrong.

    • Hello! Thank you so much for commenting. :) I think these kind of experiences can be isolating, especially since so many don’t believe that sexism and racism are alive and well. My brain is fried from a truly hellish week at work, but I honestly and truly do appreciate your words so, so much!

  2. Just yesterday I got an email from Bordelle that said “release your inner geisha” and I was like.. WTF after reading both your and Lingerie Addict’s articles. I like the way you take apart her comment in your reply.

  3. alix clair said:

    Yes, SO MUCH YES. I had a conversation with a few lingerie people online about the Marlies Dekkers debacle, and while everyone was trying, it was weird and uncomfortable because I was the only POC involved (and I don’t even know if everyone was aware of that.) Someone also mentioned Dita von Teese’s “Opium Den” routine, which I looked up and facepalmed so hard my nose hurt.

    It did occur to me – I would have loved the Marlies Dekkers show if it had been the brainchild of a subversive Japanese designer, for a Japanese brand. It would have been amazing as commentary.

    • I understand why people want to remain anonymous, but this is a large part about why I show my face online. It is extremely important for me to let people know that I AM a WoC, full stop. To be frank, I’m just exhausted of thin white girl ‘gram girl narrative, and I’m going to do everything within my power to smash it. :P

      A lot of people sigh or shrug and brush off glaringly awful racist acts. It’s an unfair double standard. :(

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