Teen shamed for wearing Chinese dress to prom sparks cultural appropriation debate

Eighteen-year-old Keziah Ginger Daum wanted a unique prom dress, so she visited a vintage shop in downtown Salt Lake City. The dress she chose was a qipao, a traditional Chinese dress that has become a cultural symbol of Chinese female empowerment. 

In the week since Daum posted her prom photos on Twitter, her outfit has come to symbolize a debate over cultural appropriation. Many online have called her out for ignoring the history of the qipao and turning her prom into just another instance of white people wearing offensive things.

“My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,” Jeremy Lam responded on Twitter. Lam continued to explain the history of the garment, which evolved from “a loose dress/garment without shape, made for Chinese women to clean the house and do other domestic chores with” to “a beautiful form-fitting outfit to wear publically, which Chinese women were not allowed to do during the times of extreme patriarchal oppression.”

Instead of apologizing or walking back the concept behind her outfit, Daum stood her ground. “I don’t see the big deal of me wearing a gorgeous dress I found for my last prom,” she wrote on Twitter. “If anything, I’m showing my appreciation to other cultures and I didn’t intend to make anyone think that I’m trying to be racist. It’s just a dress.”

RELATED: Prom hairstyles to try:

23 PHOTOS
Prom hairstyles
See Gallery
Prom hairstyles

An elegant braided crown.

(Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

A pretty twisted half-up 'do.

(Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

For an edgier look, braid the back of your head into a high bun. 

(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images)

Elegant twists make for a gorgeous chignon.

(Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images)

A boho-inspired braid pulled back into a low bun.

(Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

A purposefully 'messy' bun.

(Photo by Gisela Schober/Getty Images)

The ultimate bouncy ponytail.

(Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

A simple, elegant ballerina bun.

(Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MTV)

A looser, slightly wider bun shows off hair highlights.

(Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

Curled locks pulled back into youthful twists.

(Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

A slightly spiked, twisted bun.

(Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

Soft waves with a little embellishment.

(Photo by Nicholas Hunt/BET/Getty Images)

A daring, elegant, shoot-for-the-stars play on a mohawk.

(Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/BET/Getty Images)

Undone elegance.

(Photo by Andrew Toth/FilmMagic)

The most elegant ponytail you'll ever see.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Subtle, sweet details. 

(Photo by Monica Schipper/FilmMagic)

A gorgeous full, curled ponytail.

(Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)

The ultimate twisted updo.

(Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)

A sleek, knotted look that is insanely cool.

(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Soft waves and a sparkling embellishment.

(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

A low, twisted chignon.

(Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Loose, flowing waves.

(Photo by Matteo Valle/Getty Images)

Gravity-defying volume.

(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

“I chose the dress because I admired it and its cultural history,” Daum tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Some argue cultural appropriation. However, it wasn’t. I was in no way making fun of the culture. I was quite surprised because I did this out of love.”

Others argue that her intention is irrelevant when it comes to cultural appropriation. Lam offers a distinction to the line between homage and appropriation on Twitter:   “I think that it would be acceptable and appreciative if you did research on the traditional clothing, educate yourself of its importance and gain permission from multiple people from that culture to wear it in certain settings.”

Others have accused Daum of outright racism or ignorance, while friends and fans are coming to her defense.

5 PHOTOS
Reactions to teen's Chinese dress she wore to prom
See Gallery
Reactions to teen's Chinese dress she wore to prom
@daumkeziah I am a Chinese woman. I support you. You rocked that dress!! I have an 18 year old daughter who just… https://t.co/6ZDyxaNBWQ
@daumkeziah Hi! I am a collector of cheongsams, with Chinese heritage and I think it is ridiculous other people are… https://t.co/sYr39hnS0P
@jere_bare @will_morris117 @chun_4_fun just because it’s okay to a few chinese people doesn’t mean it’s okay to all… https://t.co/0ck1IGfjtI
Chinese dress at US prom wins support in China after internet backlash https://t.co/cpBEUEom4X
@daumkeziah Mmmk Keziah, it's not so much the dress I've got a problem with - it's more whatever the hell is going… https://t.co/chcfhptcBJ
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

As the overwhelming response to one teen’s prom dress indicates, there’s a need to explore and credit Asian influences in pop culture. Nicki Minaj’s latest single, “Chun Li,” influenced by a character from the video game Street Fighter II, explicitly references Asian culture with lyrics like “ I went and copped the chopsticks/ put it in my bun just to pop s***.” The single also spawned the #ChunLiChallenge on social media, in which fans “re-create” Asian stereotypes like double buns and chopsticks in the hair. Of the almost 8,000 #ChunLiChallenge posts on Instagram, how many participants understand the cultural weight of chopsticks as a hair accessory? As David Yi writes, “it allows mistreatment of Asian culture to flourish.”

Earlier this month, Bella Hadid appeared in a new Instagram feed for her alter ego, an apparently Japanese-inspired creation named Rebekka Harajuku. While it’s unconfirmed whether Hadid herself runs the account, it’s clear that the model is exploring the line between appreciation and appropriation as she poses with a Japanese cabdriver and blows kisses at a pair of chopsticks in her photos.

One way to stay on the right side of cultural appropriation: education. Daum may not have understood the significance of the qipao, and Minaj may not have done the research into why her fans shouldn’t be reposting videos of themselves with chopsticks in their hair. But the ignorance that comes from privilege isn’t an excuse. Before you buy that Asian-inspired outfit, we recommend Googling it.

RELATED: Prom dresses under $200:

26 PHOTOS
Prom dresses under $200
See Gallery
Prom dresses under $200
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

 

Read Full Story
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Like AOL Lifestyle on Facebook