Is cultural appropriation an issue in the doll world?

Jul 25, 2017

    1. I love this site, and dolls, and doll outfits. From when I was little, my mother would occasionally get me dolls with outfits from all over. I loved each and every one!

      Barbie comes with outfits from all over the world, no problems. But has anyone had an issue with a doll being dressed with another culture's hair or clothes?

      For example, you dress your doll in a kimono, only she isn't Asian. Or style a wig with cornrows or braids that isn't a doll of color?

      Basically, this is a fantasy world, but are there worries about political correctness?
      • x 1
    2. It's your doll and you can do what you want with it!
      You don't need to listen to those people. There will always be someone who isn't happy.. what is important is you like your doll ^^!

      I think the issue with cultural appropriation is some people are racist and/or disrespectful, yet they use cultural elements of those cultures they disrespect... :/
      • x 6
    3. Not going to lie, there will always be that 'one' person who wants to raise a stink...but its not just because your doll is wearing a Kimono...its because they like to make a stink.

      Overall this community has been very open/accepting of a whole lot. There are always those small groups who like to make a deal out of nothing but overall the community is supportive.

      Now, if you tried to say "Look at my American looking, blonde hair blue eyed german speaking only Japanese girl with Bright Pink eyeshadow. She's totally a Geisha" Someone might point out that authenticity wise a Geisha wouldn't be wearing that black lipstick and pink eyeshadow...but they usually have tact and are doing it more to help with the 'authenticity' portion of it than being a snot about it.

      As long as you are respectful of the culture you are dressing your doll in I don't think anyone would be upset. Making fun of it with your doll may receive negative reviews. I've never seen anyone upset because a white skinned doll has cornrows/braids or a Dark Skinned doll is wearing a kimono.
      • x 13
    4. I wouldn't worry about braids as every culture and people in the world had braided hairstyles for centuries. :)
      If you are not mocking people or anyones culture with your doll then it is ok. Don't be political with your doll. Just have fun but be mindful. Don't do anything to mock others basically. I mean almost everyone uses pretty Caucasian looking dolls as Japanese people but it doesn't offend because it isn't for mocking intentions. (I mean it can't be helped as most Asian bjd artists use pretty Caucasian models pictures as reference most of the time :) )
      #4 Skyland, Jul 25, 2017
      Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
      • x 2
    5. Please keep the hobby as free from political correctness as possible. Mindful is fine, of course.
      #5 ResinRapture, Jul 25, 2017
      Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
      • x 12
    6. Do what you want. Dress your doll in what you want, style your doll how you want. A Doll simply existing in a certain fashion or style is not an offense nor should it be treated as such.

      Political correctness, as far as I am concerned, has no place in any artistic or creative space, and if a person finds a particular dolls look to be offensive to them, they should just move on and look at something else.
      • x 7
    7. The issue is definitely raised here occasionally... Someone was complaining in another thread recently about how "white" dolls having dreads was appropriation, for instance... But it's not as common here on DoA as it is elsewhere.

      In general, being respectful about cultural markers and how you use them is always a Good Thing. You'll never make everyone happy, but a little thoughtfulness and some background research can go a long way.
      • x 9
    8. I think people against "political correctness" are perhaps the whiniest of all. The opposition to that term has been so repurposed as to be unrecognizable.

      Now, that aside,
      The main poster seems like they just don't want to upset people which is a nice place to be in. As long as you aren't racist or make fun of a culture, you're in the clear . If someone takes issue with what you do and the explain why, lend them your ear. If they just insult you, ignore them. Can you put a person of a different culture into the garb of another? Of course! Just don't mock or make fun of the culture and you will hurt no one. I appreciate asking, as it shows some sensitivity. Though, again, political correctness isn't a thing in the way people against it describe it as. Sorry for messy typing; I'm on my phone.
      • x 22
    9. When I lived in Bangladesh, I wore a sari, bindi and henna to formal events because that was the norm. I'm Swedish and Irish.

      Respect and intent is key when it comes to incorporating aspects of another culture. Especially when it comes to spiritual or historical aspects of the culture.

      If your doll is well researched and a respectful portrayal of your inspiration, there's nothing wrong with that.

      If you're cherry-picking select aspects of the inspiration, wrapping it in a sexy/edgy package and calling it by the name of the inspiration...... That's incredibly disrespectful.

      If someone else speaks up and says "hey, that's a part of my culture and it's offensive/disrespectful because of these reasons ______" and the reply is: "It's my doll and I'll do as I please, STFU" it's not a respectful portrayal of the thing.
      • x 31
    10. The difference between appreciation and appropriation can be basically non-existent depending on who you ask. Some people seem to be offended as a full time job.
      If you plan to share your characters and stories online I think the important part is to make proper research and listen to criticism and advices, if you get any (but take it with a grain of salt also because for some people online you will never do right anyway). really, so long as you are respectful you should be fine.
      • x 6
    11. Naaah, cultural appropriation is stupid anyway. I mean, we as a species have done it since we first left the damn trees. If we hadn't taken ideas from other groups we'd have never gotten anywhere. Good ideas spread.
      The west indies for instance appropriated Batik and made it their own, many alchohols were made using ideas from elsewhere, almost all our food comes from taking an idea and adapting it (pancakes? Pizza? Freaking pasta?)
      The Romans built their whole EMPIRE on appropriation. They'd march in and instead of forcing the locals to adapt to them, they took their good ideas and offered their own. They also had a tendency to embrace local gods "Sulus? Totally a facet of our water goddess yep, same god, just wearing a different face. Omg how cool, we have the same gods! We're totally supposed to be here!"
      And damn it worked amazing for them.
      heck, their entire roman pantheon was nicked from the Greek!
      The bible nicked babylonian myths!
      We took our number system from Arabic, our language is a mishmash of germanic with a roman sentence structure hastily shoved in there and a bit of whatever else for good measure.

      Appropriation isn't a bad thing, it's how societies grow and how technology advances. You know we westerners lost the ability and knowledge to build ROADS and make glass for hundreds of years because when the romans left the British isles the new wave of invaders were scared of the ghost towns and avoided them?
      we still don't actually know HOW the romans made their glass as pure and awesome as they did, seriously, roman glass is incredible. thousands of years in the ground and it comes out still mostly intact, transparent and blue.
      Medieval glass comes out flaking, brown and looking like dirt.
      We lost that info because we didn't appropriate it!

      Assimilation and appropriation is how empires were built, how societies formed, how humanity bettered themselves.
      If we banned all "appropriation" then we wouldn't have tea, we wouldn't have coffee, we wouldn't have most of the foods we now eat. Fusion cooking would be totally unacceptable. Nobody would ever be able to wear brocade or batik or silk even. We wouldn't have trousers either, or indeed just about everything we take for granted in our modern lives.
      History was built on taking stuff from other places, by trade or by force, adapting it and making it our own. Heck, there's a whole branch of the english pottery industry was founded on making cheaper alternatives to chinese pots.

      Good ideas are good ideas.

      There's a distinct difference between drinking tea and eating pasta to say, dressing up like a native american brave and doing a racist war dance.
      But that's not "cultural appropriation", that's just racist stereotyping akin to black or yellow face.
      Taking something that has religious or spiritual significance is maybe a bit iffy, but just an item of clothing? Just a saying? a name? Most of our english sayings come from other cultures! So do most of our names!

      Also remember that for some cultures adopting elements of it isn't seen as offensive, it's actually seen as respectful because you're honouring them by trying to assimilate. In Japanese culture for instance, they don't think it's offensive for someone white to wear a kimono and often give them as gifts to people. There have also been non japanese geisha, there still are today.

      heck, Anime was appropriated from the US! It was designed to emulate Disney and similar western animation.

      Provided you aren't making a mockery of a culture, a group, an ethnicity or a belief system it's fine. People who go about yelling "cultural appropriation eeeep" tend to not really understand the culture they're defending anyway, or the history of the item or symbol in question.
      it's all become a bit much with everything apparently being offensive nowadays. It's exhausting.
      I think it's far healthier to just ignore it and do what you want. So long as you're not being a jerk about it, it'll be fine.
      Loads of people put their dolls in kimonos anyway.
      • x 28
    12. Honestly I'd have more of a problem with someone telling me what to do with my dolls who are my OC's. I don't think there's anything wrong with dolls who's characters aren't Asian wearing kimono's or anything like that. Anyone who likes making a stink over that kind of thing isn't doing it for the sake of the culture as another poster said - it's to make problems and those kinds of people are in all sorts of communities.

      I don't think it's a big deal. Long as their not being offensive, dressing your dolls a certain way doesn't hurt anyone. Anyone has a problem can go be ignored.
      • x 2
    13. Here's the thing: yes, this hobby can be appropriative. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Cultural appropriation, as an academic term, is neutral, and basically identifies the adoption of a cultural item by a culture that didn't originate it. So, for example, the fact that I'm drinking coffee and have a duvet blanket despite being Canadian, are (or at least, were at one point) appropriation, from Arabia and Sweden.

      The problem of appropriation comes in when there's a massive power imbalance between the two cultures, and that one culture suffers from the appropriation. For example, Japanese people wearing jeans and t-shirts is appropriation, but no one is harmed by it. No one's culture is being diminished and no harmful stereotypes are being perpetrated. A random American person wearing a Plains war bonnet for fashion is both. They're not respecting the meaning of item they're borrowing, are from an oppressing group, and they're repeating stereotypes that are harmful to Indigenous people. An example of Indigenous appropriation in the doll world might be this outfit from Iplehouse. It's a Korean company making a vaguely "Indian" outfit based on a historical figure... that is sexualising and reductive compared to actual clothing that real peoples wore. Yes, it's based on a movie, but that movie wasn't particularly helpful in its portrayal of Indigenous characters. (Honestly I'd suggest watching that video anyway. It summarizes cultural appropriation and the line between positive and harmful examples better than I can.) As a general rule, you're good if the item you're buying is sold to you by a person of that culture. Japanese company selling Japanese clothes? Go wild. Korean company selling Indigenous North American clothes? Eh...

      I would argue that all of my dolls have a major element of appropriation - I'm not Japanese, Norwegian, or Czech. But also, I don't think - I hope - that it's a positive sort of appropriation. I do a lot of research before I even begin to work on a character. I consult multiple sources, many of them scholarly, to make sure I'm doing things right. I also know, especially with my Japanese kids, when I stop borrowing from historical or cultural sources and start borrowing from media, which I think is a super important distinction to make. Borrowing from pop culture isn't bad, but it is good to know the difference between it and other forms of culture. I've also got a bit of grace because I'm borrowing from historical and not modern periods, but it would be the same either way.

      TL;DR We've got appropriation going on. It's not always a bad thing. Do research and don't spread harmful stereotypes and you should be good.
      • x 26
    14. I'm pretty much the same, in RL as long as it's respectful or tasteful I have no issues with it. It's only when it's done as a gimmick, done for attention or very inappropriate that it can cross the line.

      With dolls, one of the main activity and appeal of them is 'dressing them up' for fun or fantasy, so someone using outfits from cultures that don't match the ethnic appearance of the doll doesn't really matter in my mind.

      Also as BJDs are expensive, I think it's unrealistic to expect someone to have a wide variety of dolls with different stereotypical cultural looks to match the clothing. People are going to put the clothes on the dolls they have.

      I think the only time doll clothing could be a bit of an issue is when it goes off in to fetish or controversial styles, like BDSM or 'dark glamour' nazi uniforms etc. Then there needs to be some care as to controlling the audience that views them as not everyone can accept those things as just exploring fantasy.

      But yeah, as long as the person has done their homework and not doing anything really inappropriate with thier doll clothing then I don't see the problem.
    15. Thank you all for the very interesting perspectives. As I am new here, I just wanted to see if any of you had experienced anyone complaining about cultural appropriation regarding dolls, since braids were recently making headlines in TRW, again.
    16. I agree that the most important aspect is respect. Part of respect includes not perpetuating negative stereotypes or generalizing. I ran across a doll once that was portrayed as a sex addicted woman. My issue wasn't a sex addicted character, but that this doll owner used my race/ethnicity to explain their sex addiction. "Oh, she's XYZ so that's why she can't stop having sex." Or making another character a "thug" because they were "a fan of XYZ race/ethnicity."

      Perhaps this topic deviates a little from OP concern, but it comes up sometimes, and it can rub people the wrong way. I certainly wouldn't tell the owner of the "sex addicted doll" off just because I felt irked by their portrayal of my race/ethnicity; I just ignore or block, then move on. But, there will always be that one person, even if you don't do anything wrong, even if you're as respectful as you're capable, who will poop on your parade. It's just part of being in a community.

      You do right by you.

      All my dolls are part of an alternate reality (different races from ours) so I've dodged that drama bullet.
      • x 7
    17. Yes and no.
      When it does occur most people aren't going to say anything. For example, I am Native American. If I took time out of my life to explain Native perspectives to everyone, especially Europeans and Asians, many of whom love romanticized caricatures of "The Wild West" but don't know what Native tribes have been through, I'd never have time for anything else.

      I generally just accept that lots of people will "get it wrong" and that they rarely mean to be offensive when they do- they've just seen too many movies. In this hobby, it's pretty much never meant maliciously so I don't comment.
      • x 10
    18. Yes, I've seen people make a stink about it. Sometimes it's justified. The most common one seems to be that people make outfits based on traditional Native American clothing but completely misunderstand or don't try to research the context in which these items would be worn. But then, sometimes it's people just getting offended at nothing.

      If a doll has a feather in their hair, that doesn't mean the owner is trying to appropriate Native American culture. If they're wearing a war bonnet, yeah, that's a problem, but lots of fantasy settings include feather-wearing, and more than just Native Americans have done this historically. This is just one example, but I think you can tell what I mean. Sometimes people stretch things so that anything even remotely like it becomes cultural appropriation. For a while, at least on tumblr, anyone whose doll had anything on their forehead was "appropriating Indian culture", but not every forehead ornament is a bindi.

      Again, I have absolutely seen real cases of people being incredibly disrespectful with their portrayals of cultures outside their own. But then I've also seen really well-done portrayals, like a fully researched and period accurate outfit on a doll that was actually meant to be a Native American from that time and place and culture.

      I think it's like everyone else has already said: do your research, don't treat it like a joke. Most things are fine to share between cultures, but some things have very special significance, and it's very rude to use them out of that context.
      • x 8
    19. i think respectfulness is key as well as listening to those who are part of the cultures you are creating dolls from. if they want to talk to you about your doll, then it's good to listen. i think problems usually arise when people are being stereotypical of certain races and cultures and creating harmful caricatures. i'm sure it happens, but i thankfully haven't come across it.
      i'm middle eastern and once in a while i see an arab dolls that belong to non-arab folks, but i can't recall ever seeing one that was offensive to me.
      in my own opinion, i think it's fine to have dolls from other cultures. in fact, i love to see it. it makes me feel even more welcomed in the community.
      • x 5
    20. Unfortunately the "blame behavior on race" thing is something I've seen a lot in some fandoms I've been in. I really hate it since it makes the character look like their being a bad person just so they can blame it on their race and get out of it scott free.