Yesterday, I saw a trailer for a Fox Network “comedy” in which a lady wore the Japanese schoolgirl outfit known as a fuku, or seifuku, and I was repulsed by the sight. I have friends who own seifuku costumes. Heck, I own one. Why was I so horrified?
I knew I liked looking at ladies in various unlikely outfits at least as early as my introduction to Dungeons and Dragons. If you look at how they dressed female characters back then, “practical for fighting monsters” is the last concept that would cross your mind. I could only assume that the chainmail bikinis had to include some kind of magical deflector shield to be usable armor. Back then, I found the idea silly, but this was just a game, and it didn’t bother me.
Once I discovered anime, the seeds of doubt took root. I still loved some of the even more-implausible outfits, but seeing the characters move and be voiced by humans changed my perspective. I felt somehow more obliged to believe that someone would really wear this, and that was a bit of a stretch. Japan isn’t the most sexism-progressive country, and I wondered how women felt about being depicted in these costumes designed only to draw in the male gaze.
At fan conventions, I began to find out – or at least to become further confused. There were ladies all over the place wearing these costumes – at least the ones which could physically be hung on a human being’s body. I wanted to look, but was it okay to look? Which emotions were acceptable while I looked? What expression should I maintain to not seem creepy? The whole thing confused the hell out of me. If the costumes were not sexist, then why were there no obvious male equivalents? Why did they seem designed solely to encourage sexual thoughts in the viewer? And if they were sexist, how could these women – many of whom I knew to be intelligent, capable, and unwilling to take crap from anyone – be wearing them, and having such fun doing so?
Now I have an answer. There may be other answers but this idea has cleared up a few things. I’ve been into costuming since I was little, but in recent years I’ve chosen to wear rather more flamboyant outfits, for reasons which could be several blog posts on their own. Now some would call these outfits degrading when worn by any gender, but I stumbled upon a secret: if I’m wearing a costume *because I want to*, it’s not degrading at all. Someone else can try to convince me it is, but that’s my decision to make; and if my costume choice makes me feel appealing, confident, and happy, then people’s negative opinions don’t matter much.
And that’s the answer to my dilemma. If anyone wears something that makes them happy to wear, then I’m free to enjoy it. The inverse also holds true: no matter what the garment, if someone’s wearing something they don’t feel good in, something they are forced to wear to cater to another person’s whims, it’s bad. And these can be the exact same outfit, because at the end of the day, it’s just clothing. It has no power besides what we allow.
That’s how a seifuku on Fox turned my stomach. The lady didn’t want to wear the outfit, it was forced on her by someone to make it clear they had no respect at all for her. Hell, the costume was more over-the-top sexualized than you’d ever see at a con – which on its own doesn’t have to be a problem, but here was meant to say, “You are not a person, you are an advertising prop.” Nauseating.
So I’ll go back to looking with a clear conscience; I only hope that the wearer is having ten times as much fun wearing it as I am looking, because that’s how it works for me when I’m dressed up. I still can’t recommend the chainmail bikini for actual monster fighting, though. Dramatic poses only!