I’m not a big fan (for reasons that will become clear) of the notion of “cultural appropriation” as a bad thing. But it doesn’t come up a lot in the kind of porn I write about and share here. Thus did my feelers twitch when I saw this tweet:

I agree! Cultural appropriation, which was called “cultural borrowing” back when I studied this sort of thing, is what (IMO) makes every large “world city” great to visit or live in. It’s at the heart of the cultural “melting pot” notion, too, which I am old enough to remember used to be touted as the thing that made the USA such a successful and dynamic society. Cultural borrowing is as old as human trade; without it, the original Silk Road would never been a route of consequence. What’s awesome about cultural borrowing is that just as with intellectual property, when you copy, you multiply; there’s no diminution suffered by the original author, no deprivation suffered by the original culture. The beauty of cultural “borrowing” is that you can imitate what you like from another culture (the food, the music, the clothes, the art) without depriving anybody of anything. (Calling it “cultural appropriation” reveals the same sort of mentality that thinks of copying intellectual property as “stealing” it.)

So why was Hywel Phillips, who (with his beautiful wife Ariel Anderssen) creates several classy erotic websites including Restrained Elegance and Silk Soles, having to pop up on Twitter in defense of cultural appropriation? I had to know more.


It turns out he got some flak on Twitter for posting “a white girl in a kimono” (see above). His blog explains it all: Why I Will Not Be Taking This Photo Down.

Gracious, I should hope not! It’s utterly lovely!

Phillips explains:

All people of all cultures have drawn inspiration and innovation from other cultures, throughout human history and indeed before. We are all human beings, and we should all be allowed to draw inspiration from cultures we were not born into.

White girls should be allowed to wear kimonos. Nigerian girls should be allowed to wear Ancient Greek Peplos. I have photographed Swedish, Romanian and Scottish girls wearing Cheongsams. I’ve photographed Italian people wearing historical Viking dress and English women wearing Togas. I’ve photographed Dutch men wearing dress traditionally considered appropriate for women; were they culturally appropriating the clothes of a traditionally oppressed minority? No, they were just doing something they enjoyed.

Should I have been offended at the cultural appropriation of English people wearing traditional Welsh dress at school Eisteddfods? Why should I? It’s not in any meaningful sense mine, even though I was born and raised in the country from whence the tradition originates.

I’m no moral authority, but I do have a silver rule to back up the golden rule. Replace all labels by the word “person” or “people” and see what I think of it then.

“Should a white girl be allowed to be photographed wearing a kimono?” becomes “Should a person be allowed to be photographed wearing a kimono?”. Yes they should. Anybody who wants to should be able to.

What is the alternative? Not shooting those photos with that model, I guess. Does that mean we should racially segregate the models who come to work with us?

He then goes into the cultural symbolism and putative “ownership” of that particular kimono, to a depth which some might consider pedantic but which I found fascinating:

And let’s examine the Kimono in that photograph. It is a kimono in the following two senses (again, after Wikipedia). 1) It is a thing to wear, which is the literal meaning, and 2) It is similar in design to the traditional Japanese garment of that name.

It was designed and sewn by a British person based on a pattern designed by a European (inspired by that traditional Japenese style), from fabric made in India. That fabric is a synthetic one invented in Britain (or at least most likely descended from a material invented in Britain) but designed to look like a traditional Chinese fabric in texture and also with a design inspired by Chinese tradition.

There’s a long history of colonialism and bloody war between many of those civilisations.

The kimono itself, according to Wikipedia, was heavily influenced by traditional Han Chinese clothing. So should Japanese people even be allowed to wear them, since they are apparently culturally appropriated from China? What is the statute of limitations on how long ago a borrowing has to be before it becomes legitimate?

This is nonsense. Throughout history we’ve all begged, borrowed and stolen inspiration from each other, all the time and in all directions. We are all human beings. We should be allowed to. It is one of the most fertile sources of innovation we have.


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