American teenager defends choice of Chinese prom attire after sparking cultural appropriation debate

Updated 2018-05-03 10:42:19 Xinhua

An American teenager on Tuesday defended her choice of a traditional Chinese dress for prom, after it had stirred a debate over what critics say is "cultural appropriation."

Keziah Daum, a high school senior living in Salt Lake City, Utah, told Xinhua that she chose wearing a traditional Chinese qipao, or cheongsam, to show her appreciation for "a culture who created a beautiful and modest dress" rather than appropriate others' culture.

The qipao that Daum talked about was a red form-fitting dress that she came across at a vintage clothing store in downtown Salt Lake City. She wore the dress to a prom last month and took pictures with her friends.

However, the pictures, which the 18-year-old school girl posted on Twitter on April 22, drew a sharp reaction from Jeremy Lam, who wrote a comment "My culture is NOT your...prom dress," which produced over 40,000 retweets and nearly 180,000 likes.

In other tweets, he said that qipao is "not only a piece of art but a symbol of activism," which embraced "femininity, confidence, and gender equality through its beautiful, eye-catching appearance."

"For it to simply be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience, is parallel to colonial ideology," Lam added.

Some Twitter users who shared Lam's opinion said they would not wear traditional dress of other cultures, citing history behind those clothes, while others went further accusing the teen of cultural appropriation.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, cultural appropriation is defined as an act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.

The debate over the fine line between appreciating and appropriating culture has been ongoing in the United States, as similar controversies over cultural appropriation have occurred in Hollywood, fashion and advertising industries, and across college campuses.

"To everyone causing so much negativity: I mean no disrespect to the Chinese cultural," Daum tweeted. "I'm not deleting my post because I've done nothing but show my love for the culture."

Critics also bashed Daum for one picture in which she and her friends can be seen holding their hands in prayer-like poses, while their male friends behind them made inverted V signs with their figures.

Daum's mother Melissa Dawes tweeted that the pose was inspired by a popular YouTube personality, h3h3Productions. Daum told The Washington Post that she had no idea it would be interpreted as culturally offensive.

While admitting that her knowledge about the Chinese culture at that time came from what she learned in history classes and materials that she saw online, Daum told Xinhua that she did some research to know more about qipao, including learning its Chinese pronunciation.

"I wore the dress for its beauty," Daum said. "I loved reading about its connection to the role of women in society. If the dress is really about female empowerment, it is a wonderful message for young women (at) my age to learn."

The tightly-fitting Qipao was created in Shanghai in the 1920s. The traditional dress has regained popularity and has become a symbol of the traditional Chinese culture.

Meanwhile, there was no shortage of support for Daum's Chinese prom attire, including some Twitter users who identify themselves as Chinese or Asian and said that they do not feel offended.

"As Chinese, we are proud and delighted to share our cultural fashions with anyone around the world," Stephanie Chan wrote. "I love how you wear the dress with confidence! You rock!"

Another user wrote, "I'd love to see folks in other countries celebrating my country's art & culture by wearing its attire to formal events."

Daum said that the support is overwhelming in the wake of what she described as hard criticism that she did not expect.

She also revealed that she and her family have had discussions on the risk of putting personal life on social media and how to take responsibility for any consequences.

Dawes said on Twitter that she's concerned that her daughter was a target of cyber bullying but stressed that she's proud of Daum standing her ground.

"My family has been supportive of me because they truly know who I am," said Daum, who has a multicultural family. "I am not racist."

"I think it is important for people to learn about other cultures as it allows us to move past racist attitudes," Daum said. "I have had offers to buy the dress...I look forward to wearing it, again."

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