But what do you mean my kimono is racist?

spirited away blog

The photo shoot was influenced by the 2001 film “Spirited Away.”

Let me start out by answering this question: What exactly is cultural appropriation and why is it bad? Cultural appropriation is when people of one culture use the elements of another culture. That explanation may seem simple, but that’s not all there is to it. Cultural appropriation happens when a dominant culture adopts elements of a culture from a group that is marginalized or is a “minority.”

The reason why I’m bringing this up right now is because of an incident that I came across last week. In a spread for Vogue magazine’s “diversity” issue, an American supermodel named Karlie Kloss was featured on a six-page spread titled “Spirited Away” (a reference to Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 film). Though the spread seemed like a tribute to Japanese culture to some, many took offense to it – offense that I consider to be totally justifiable.

In the spread, which actually takes place in Japan, Kloss is dressed up in full-on geisha wear, posed in various docile poses. Some people argued that her photoshoot was beautiful and a proper tribute to the culture, but many saw flaws (to say the least) with the spread.

What Kloss dons in the photoshoot is essentially yellowface – basically when a non-East Asian person plays the role of an East Asian person.

Despite the growing controversy over the photoshoot, an alarmingly large group of people, including both Asian and Asian-American people, defended Kloss, with arguments such as social justice warriors and millennials are just being too sensitive. I find this extremely troubling.

With this spread, Vogue failed to be mindful of the fact that by hiring a Caucasian model to represent “diversity,” they actually fed into stereotypes, instead of being progressive or truly “celebrating diversity.” In addition to that, while Kloss received a six-page spread, most other models of color merely received a one-page feature.

Again, this isn’t anything new. However, this instance was a wake-up call for me, many of my friends, and a lot of others around us that we need to continue to educate ourselves and to hold ourselves and others accountable.

The big takeaway from this blog post is this: don’t be ignorant, be empathetic. And most importantly – never stop learning and educating yourself.


Pearl Shin

Pearl Shin is a senior majoring in English with a concentration in media, rhetoric and cultural studies, and minoring in political science and philosophy. When she isn’t writing for UIC News, doing homework, or catching up on sleep, she enjoys watching foreign films, going to geek conventions, tutoring at the Writing Center, and photographing events around Chicago. She is the public relations officer of UIC’s pre-law society and the program director of UIC Radio.

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