Of all the strange, racist and downright nonsensical sexy Halloween costumes, the “Sexy Geisha” has to be one of the most offensive.
Right up there with “Sexy Indian” and “Sexy Eskimo,” the ever-popular geisha costume manages to hypersexualize Japanese women while confusing Asian identity altogether ― all in one mini-skirted, cleavage-exposing costume. Chopsticks included.
That’s why now is the perfect time to revisit BuzzFeed’s 2015 video of Japanese-American women trying on geisha costumes and remember why the costume is so offensive.
“It’s not super uncomfortable except for everything about how it makes me feel,” Jen Ruggirello, a Japanese BuzzFeed staffer, says in the above video while wearing a “Geisha with the Dragon Tattoo” costume.
As the video reminds us, the geisha is an ancient Japanese profession dating back to the 18th century. They are traditionally Japanese women (and sometimes men) who have been professionally trained in performance arts, traditional tea ceremonies and the art of entertaining guests.
The striking makeup ― painted white faces with pops of red ― and modest yet extravagantly-colored garb are keystones of this ancient profession. And contrary to popular belief, being a geisha is not all about sex.
“The whole intrigue of a geisha is that she’s conservative,” a woman explained in the video, while pointing to the sultry “geisha” featured on her costume bag.
She later added: “People don’t put chopsticks in their hair in Japan. Chopsticks are for eating.”
While Japanese American costume-makers would have you thinking all geisha wear thigh-high stockings, mini skirts with a high slit for extra exposure and an excessively plunging neckline. Not to mention the Asian symbols and imagery are usually flat-out wrong.
Red dragons and the Mandarin-style collar (which is turned into a sexy choker), as seen in the video above, are traditionally Chinese. And chopsticks are used for eating in Japan, not for securing your hair in a bun.
“To treat a character like Batman or Superman as a Halloween costume is one thing, but to treat an entire ethnicity as a costume is something else,” Jelani Cobb, professor of Africana studies at Rutgers University said of cultural appropriation in a 2011 interview with CNN.
“If you want to be sexy on Halloween, there are so many ways you can be sexy without disparaging another person’s culture,” Ruggirello says in the above video.
But when it comes to a costume that combines a confusing mix of Asian cultures with hypersexualization, just say no.