Sunday, 7 September 2014

My Thoughts on Novala Takemoto

To follow on from the musings of my previous post, I thought I would continue to do a bit more analysis as to why the idea of a lolita lifestyle has become something to edge away from. It's sad that I cannot claim to be a lifestyler without it sounding rather tongue in cheek, attention-seeking, and a bit strange. But given the image created by other self-confessed lifestylers over the years, I am really not surprised!

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As I thought more and more about the topic, I found myself coming to the conclusion that one of the reasons why we have grown to avoid the lifestyle label is because of Novala Takemoto.

Now, there are some things I like about him. I appreciate his intent in dispelling the stereotype that a straight man cannot have a feminine side, or be understanding of femininity. He does, in fact, embrace it entirely, and there are many photos of him from Gothic & Lolita Bibles depicting him in cutesy outfits. 

However, a lot of his thoughts come across as being unrealistic, and downright disturbing.

Consider, for example, his piece entitled "I Don't Need Things Like Friends". I do not see this as a mindset shared by many, and for good reason. This essay centres around some sort of maiden complex, and is thus not built upon reality, but a romantic fantasy. Given that this essay is supposedly aimed at the young, lonely girls who would write to Takemoto regularly, I can't help but find it disconcerting. It is disappointing to see that this early figurehead for lolita fashion took a harmless, and relevant idea of there being a lifestyle which naturally accompanies the life of a lolita, and bastardised it into his own bizarre, potentially damaging construction.

The other week, I decided to purchase a copy of the Kamikaze Girls novel which I had never read, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. It is certainly more satisfying than the film, which I always found to be completely lacking in plot and purpose, despite how visually enticing it is.

Ichigo makes a speech towards the end, explaining to her biker gang the reason why she admired Momoko's friendless existence. She raises the point that people are intent on labelling their relationships with people to create a sense of security for themselves, for fear of being alone. After considering some of these opinions, I find them to be true in certain ways. I think many of us have been caught up in exhausting cliques at some point in our lives, where we were constantly being made to prove our loyalties. Momoko does not face this situation, as Ichigo does, because she is comfortable enough with herself to not need to prove herself to anyone, or sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of belonging to a larger unit. 

Despite this, I do not believe that promoting the idea that the ideal lolita lifestyle should be built upon loneliness, with only a "tv and potted plants" for friends, is a healthy one. To me, it's incredibly bleak, and it skips out what I consider to be one of the most enjoyable parts of being a lolita, and that is the social life you can build from it. I think it's important to impress upon not only young lolitas, but young people in general, that it's simply not worth erasing your personality or making yourself uncomfortable for the sake of being popular. Perhaps a better essay would have been "I don't need to be popular to lead a fulfilling life". I believe that would have made for a more wholesome, realistic read.

I think a danger lies in trying to depict members of the lolita subculture as being inherently different from members of society who stick to more mainstream things. Some people like to be seen as different, and have that "special snowflake" mentality about lolita fashion (which I find pretty ironic seeing as lolita has such a strong set of aesthetic rules from which we try not to deviate. Sorry, but this is not a "unique" person's fashion!), but most of us don't. Takemoto's writings paint lolita at large to be a movement centred around socially inept, cold individuals who pretend to be maidens, and that's really not the case. Is lolita not simply a passion in the same way sports, films, books, or model planes are for others? Why should any of these hobbies result in eccentric personalities?

I'm surprised that with the conclusion of Kamikaze Girls, in which Momoko finally appreciates all that friendship can bring, we don't see Takemoto stressing the importance of community, and how fulfilling it can be to have a special someone in our lives, even if we are not romantically involved with them. Instead, a common theme in his often eerie work (which you can find English translations of online with a bit of googling) seems to be fear of betrayal, with distancing yourself from others presented as a sensible long term solution.

I'm glad Takemoto was able to help with the process of spreading lolita fashion beyond Japan with Kamikaze Girls. But I do believe many of his writings to be questionable, forcing upon others an ideal that very few people within the lolita subculture would ever wholeheartedly share. Plus, I suppose I always find myself becoming wary of anyone who comments on something they have no experience in, or are not really a part of. 

Of course, he is clearly learned in the look of lolita, given the descriptions he was able to put together of Momoko's outfits throughout Kamikaze Girls. He has even done collaboration pieces with Baby, The Stars Shine Bright in the past. But from reading his work (and seeing his own bizarre outfits to be honest), I have gotten the impression he fell in love with this look, and in doing so, conjured up his own interpretation, his own "daydream carnival" of the mindset every lolita should have to go along with their clothes. I guess it's similar to the way in which some people are able to fall in love with the idea of love-- they love their own perceived, inaccurate musings which are based upon imagination, rather than true life experience.

It would be unfair of me to blame Takemoto completely for the current mentality towards wearing lolita clothing. Besides, I find myself really not wanting to. Somehow, I can't help but have an odd sense of admiration for someone so completely comfortable sharing these personal aspects of themselves (he claims Momoko is his alter ego) despite knowing they will be considered incredibly unusual. 

As discussed before, the current lolita climate has been affected by how accessible the fashion has become, people no longer getting into it via the lolita (and so, egl on livejournal) route, plus a general distaste for the idea that clothes can somehow affect your life on a deeper level. But perhaps it is also the extreme views such as those expressed by Takemoto, plus the hardcore, seemingly contrived quaintrelle image, which allowed the "lifestyle lolita" moniker to become an embarrassing joke which none of us wants to be the butt of.


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