The Difference Between Cosplay and Yellowface

Yellowface is gross and racist. STOP.

Disclaimer: these are my thoughts, and my thoughts alone. I do not speak for all Asian American women, nor do I claim to do so.

A couple weekends ago, I went to Anime Boston, the biggest anime convention in the Northeast, and had an amazing experience that included watching LiSA (who sang this opening) live and seeing all the amazing cosplays that anime nerds put together.

There was one thing, however, that really bothered me about the crowd of fellow anime fans that surrounded me: the amount of yellowface that I saw from people cosplaying as stereotypical “kawaii Japanese girls” was TOO DAMN HIGH.

I see nothing wrong with people cosplaying as characters who have a different skin tone than their own. Cosplay is a form of showing appreciation for the character and the show or movie or game that s/he comes from, and it’s a great way of showcasing creativity.

This is a cosplay. A really good one too.
This is a cosplay. A really good one too.

Cosplaying is not the same thing as yellowface. For people who don’t know what yellowface is, it’s the application of makeup (to the face, as the term suggests) to make someone look stereotypically East or Southeast Asian.

This is the girl from the first image. She's white.
This is the girl from the first image. She’s white.

A couple arguments that people (read: WHITE GIRLS) use to “justify” yellowface are “showing an appreciation for Asian culture” and “being inspired by Asian culture”. Excuse you, but have you seen a map in the past half a century? Using our art styles to make yourselves into “exotic” caricatures of our people is bad enough, but lumping us all together into one big “Asian” monolith? You’re just showing us that you’re bigoted AND ignorant.

This is the white girl trying to look like a Korean girl. Yellowface. It's disgusting.
This is the white girl trying to look like a “Korean” girl. Yellowface. It’s disgusting.

You don’t get to “appreciate” our aesthetic when you don’t have to face the slurs and prejudices that come with the color of our skin. Your makeup and wigs may come off, but we’re stuck in our bodies for life. We’ve spent way too long being fetishized and boxed into “cute innocent schoolgirls” or “seductive geishas” by your people for you to pretend to be us for a few days and then leave it at that.

As for being “inspired” by traditional makeup, our cultures are NOT here for you to consume. Let me repeat that. Our traditions are not yours to cut up into little whitewashed bite-sized pieces for you to chew up and swallow. Again, when the makeup comes off, you can ditch the exotic fetishism of Asian women and return to your pedestal of privilege, but we can’t do that, so stop trying to invade what little culture we have left from your international meddling.

(Images and screenshots courtesy of Nikki the Wondrous and Venus Angelic)