Wearing Hijabi-Lolita in Kuala Lumpur
by Michelle “Ms. Geek” Klein-Hass
Anime and Manga are a global thing now. And the global reach of J-Culture means that J-Culture is filtering in to places like the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other majority-Muslim states in Oceania, Asia, Saharan Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Much of the male Otaku interest in these regions is in Gunpla. Model-making, particularly of Gundam related mecha, is huge in the region. There even are specific Gunpla online stores that cater to Arab-speakers, and imports the latest models to the Arab speaking world. Otaku Middle East, JustDK.ae, and Gundam Hobby Dubai all are well known stores in the region, and a huge Build Off happened on March 31st, sponsored by Otaku Middle East.
However, Gundam is not necessarily the most friendly aspect of J-Culture for women. Luckily for them, there has been interest, particularly in Malaysia, Indonesia and among Muslim women in the West, for Lolita Fashion.
Lolita is often misunderstood, between the book by Vladimir Nabokov, and the movie made by Stanley Kubrick of the same name. The Japanese Otaku term “lolicon” means a sexual fetish for little girls, did indeed originate from the appropriated term Lolita. However, Lolita Fashion started in the trendy Harajuku district of Tokyo, and was not based on any sort of sexual fetish.
Most Lolita Fashion fans are not out to impress boys and young men. Unlike most recent fashion trends, Lolita is not body-conscious. Aside from stockings and leggings, nothing clingy is worn. Necklines cover the whole bust, and often extend to one’s actual neck. Skirts rarely are worn above the knee, and some “rules for Lolita Fashion” actually forbid skirts that expose knees. The silhouette is flouncy and bell shaped. If it was off-limits for women’s wear in Victorian England, it pretty much is off-limits for a lot of Lolita fashion. It is very much a rejection of the West’s objectification of women.
Lolita Fashion started because women wanted to look like cute little Victorian porcelain dolls. Companies like Volks were also beginning to make pretty — and expensive — dolls based on old Victorian porcelain dolls, made of plastic resin, and cast in small batches. Many Lolita fashion designers now design not only for human women, but also for their dolls.
In general, Lolita Fashion is all about being pretty for yourself and for your mostly female fellow Lolita friends. Yes, there are the occasional male Lolita out there, most are either transvestite or in transition to a female identity, although some just like the fashion and wear it for the fashion’s sake, without any sort of gender identity aspect to it. People into Lolita Fashion do so to feel happy about themselves and to feel like royalty for a day. Most Lolitas are very accepting of gender non-conformity, and most are to one extent or another feminist. In the midst of the ruffles and bows there’s a lot of empowerment.
Hijab literally means “veil.” Most observant Muslim women who wear it wear a head scarf that also covers the neck. Some types only cover the hair, some also covers the face. But most primarily covers the hair and the neck. The full body covering called the Burqa that is worn in some parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran incorporates Hijab but is not synonymous with Hijab. Observant Islam is not the only religion that commands women to wear head scarves or shawls: some sects of Orthodox Judaism mandate this of married women, and the Catholic Church suggests that women wear a shawl or the Spanish and Latin American-style “mantilla” over their head when in church.
Hijabi-Lolita started as a way to honor one’s identity as a Muslim woman, but also participate in Lolita fashion. Hijabi-Lolita actually started among Muslim girls in Britain, Canada and the US. It has spread to other countries with Muslim minorities, and then to predominantly Muslim countries. Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia in particular have picked up the Hijabi-Lolita look, and Anime/Manga conventions in those countries have Lolita fashion shows and high teas as part of the events there.
Will there be cross-pollination between Hijabi-Lolita and Lolita fashion among those whose religion doesn’t mandate head coverings? A lot of coords (outfits) that incorporate head scarves are quite pretty, and harmonize with the style of Lolita they represent, be it Elegant Lolita, Sweet Lolita, Gothic Lolita or whatever type you can think of. Certainly Gothic Lolita matches well, and calls to mind Victorian mourning fashion, which also mandated head coverings and more modest than usual garb.
If anything, it’s been a source of conversation about acceptance and Japanese culture seen through other cultures’ eyes. This short documentary, “Sugar Coated,” includes, among the Los Angeles Lolitas interviewed, a Mexican-Syrian-American girl, Dina, whose parents met in Saudi Arabia and whose interest in Lolita fashion was all about finding a place she could fit in. Although she doesn’t wear Hijabi-Lolita in this documentary, much of what she says in the documentary applies to others I’ve encountered researching this article who do.
I’m ending this article with an interesting little video I found during research. These are theme songs for Japanese anime that were imported to Arabic-speaking countries. They often sound very different than the originals, because the musical styles are more like the popular music of the region. However, you are likely to notice -- and recognize -- some of these anime.