Archive for meetups

A Lolita Auntie’s Musical Despair




Totally Lolita Bands

Originally uploaded by spirit_seraphim

Those who watch Lolita Secret may recognize the photo to the right (click to see the fullsize version and read the text). Am I now in the habit of stealing secrets to make my point? Absolutely not, because I am going to come clean: this was my secret.

It all started last summer, when I took a trip over to Vancouver, B.C. where the local lolitas happened to be holding a meetup. It was a pretty nice get-together, as far as meetups in a mall with several strangers can be. We chatted, we did some purikura. Everyone felt friendly, accepting. We took over a ring of seats in the food court and just chatted for a while.

It was during the chat that I started to feel a little bit awkward. Bands like The Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana were heavily discussed–underaged Disney Channel kids who I only knew of from the overflow of merchandise oversaturating my local Wal-mart. I understood The Jonas Brothers to be something like the new Hanson (for whom, in 1997, I was also a couple years too old to be among their target audience). In fact, the last time I had ever fallen for a boy band was when New Kids on the Block was the hottest young group alive. It was 1990. I was six years old. They were my first concert. I had a white sweatshirt and a pair of sweat socks with their neon pink logo screenprinted on. Hangin’ Tough was the most badass thing that I had seen or heard in my young life.

This wasn’t about music, though. This was about a social divide. I suddenly began to feel like a stranger in a foreign land. As we went around the circle, giving our name, favorite brand, and–horror of horrors–age, my sinking suspicion was confirmed. I was the only person present who was not in my teens. As the circle closed in on me, I had no choice but to confess with intense embarrassment that I was five years older than everybody else. In fact, I was more than ten years older than at least one of them. The girls graciously swooped in to reassure me that I did not look it.

I suppose they assumed that I feared looking old, but as somebody who has been mistaken for a middle school student well into my twenties, this was not my concern. At the time of the meetup, I had been out of high school for five years. I had a university degree. I had been a teacher for nearly a year. I had been of legal drinking age in my province for six years. I made insurance payments. I had investments. A car. A credit card. A cheque book.

These girls still did chores and received allowances. Drinking and partying were exciting, taboo experiences. Shopping online was done under the close supervision of Mom and Dad.

There were, thankfully, a few 18-year-olds among the 13-year-olds. Somebody made a joke about us “lolita aunties” taking off by ourselves, and I said we should go to a bar. Then I remembered that the drinking age in B.C. is 19, and I would therefore be drinking on my own.

“Auntie,” I thought. That’s what my 5-year-old god-daughter calls me. I’m now an auntie to these teenagers.

I think I fled pretty quickly after that. When I went home, I ran into the workplace of my fellow lolita and practically blurted, “they were so young! And I’m so old!” My local lolitas are all much closer to me in age. Though I’m the oldest among them, the only time I ever feel the gap is when I make mention of some 80s cartoon that they did not have the privilege of watching when they were little. My friends tried to reassure me, but I was greatly disturbed: was I too old for lolita now? Is that what this meant? Was I like those people who still wear Care Bears t-shirts into their 30s?

It seemed unfair. I was already out of high school before I started seriously wearing lolita. My “lolita nieces” got to discover it almost a decade before I did.

And yet, never have I had to ask my mother if I could buy myself a new skirt. Or worse: ask her to buy it for me. From the very beginning, lolita has been mine, and only mine. I worked and I saved for it. I wore it where and when I wanted to. I don’t need my mother to drive me to meetups.

Still, the experience has left me slightly shaken, and I believe, has changed the way I wear my lolita. I have never been a sweet lolita fan to begin with, always leaning on the gothic or classic or even punk sides of the fence (this is a very multidimensional fence, you see). Now, even my classic outfits are beginning to grow more mature than they were in the past. My skirts are getting longer (or sometimes much shorter!). The pearls are coming out more often than the bows and ribbons. The socks are being shelved, and my tights collection is growing. The heels on my Mary Janes seem to be growing higher with each new pair I buy. Sometimes, I wonder whether the young lolita community would even recognize me as one of their own anymore. But I am beginning to accept that maybe, I am not as much a part of their group as I once was.

More and more, I am noticing this influx of young teenage girls into lolita. And while I have nothing at all against these girls, their life is not my life. And by extension, their lolita–the way that they experience it and live it–is not my lolita.

There is room in lolita for everybody. But sometimes, the aunties like to move into the other room, sip their margaritas, and crank the Hangin’ Tough.

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On the Topic of Meetups

Meetups are an interesting part of the lolita world. Here is an occasion where a bunch of strangers who are united by a primarily online subculture come together to celebrate their united frilliness.

It can be a recipe for fun, or for disaster.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I met some of the most amazing people through lolita. I am proud to call some of these girls my best friends. But the fact that we became such good friends is, shall we say, a little bit incidental.

A standard lolita meetup can consist of any number of activities, from the expected tea parties to the unexpected trips to Denny’s. It can be made up of any number of people. Very often, at least a few of these people are strangers. The final, and perhaps most important aspect of this activity, are the pictures. A meetup is not a meetup if photos are not taken and, later, posted.

The part about taking pictures has a fascinating impact on the perception of meetups. First, these are people who likely met through the internet. They enjoy their time off the internet, in the real live world, for a few hours. They then post photos of this real event, thus folding it back into the scheme of the online community. When these photos are posted, they become part of the overall culture of the online lolita scene. People who were not even there are then engaged by being able to see the photos, comment on them, and discuss the outfits and the activities that took place. They may be judged by the community, and whether their photos are a valid contribution. The photos, then, are the only link between the online lolita community and the activities of lolitas offline.

There is an often-overlooked result of these meetup photos, and that is how it makes lolitas–especially those lolitas who have never been to a meetup themselves–view meetups. The meetup is often built up as the second best experience a person can have as a lolita (the first being either living or simply shopping in Japan). When they see these magazine-quality pictures of smiling girls in beautiful dresses, many cannot help but imagine a meetup as some utopic haven of ruffles and bows, a place where everybody is beautiful and kind, a place where one’s future BFF is waiting with her delicate breath held, twirling a ringlet curl around her manicured fingers while she stands on tiptoe in her Rocking Horse shoes.

That would be quite pleasant, actually.

In reality, of course, lolitas are just people. And quite often, I have found, they can be as shy and awkward as any young girl would be when meeting several strangers from the internet for the first time. This is the problem: that lolitas go to meetups expecting it to be like coming home to the best friends they never had, but instead they get stilted conversation and some clumsy attempts at bonding. And why should it be any different? When you walk into a classroom, or a new job, or any new social situation for the first time, do you ever feel anything other than uncomfortable?

I believe that this is why people are often disappointed by their first meetups. It never turns out to be what was expected, but of course, can you be sure that what they expected was reality? Can a bunch of girls really bond over nothing more than frilly skirts, or do they need a little bit more to connect? And can that connection be expected to take place in a large group in the span of a few hours?

But you can bet that when the photos for that meetup are posted, every girl will be smiling.

(Disclaimer: I know that not every meetup involves photos, not every meetup involves strangers, not every first experience was a bad one, etc. etc. etc. We could sit here all day looking at exceptions.)

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