When Keziah Daum, 18, a high school student from Utah wore a cheongsam to her prom, she broke the Internet — but not in the way she’d expected. It all started when the American student posted her prom pics on Twitter, which elicited a response from Utah-based undergrad Jeremy Lam, who tweeted in response: “My culture is not your prom dress.” It’s been retweeted 42,000 times since and has sparked off an online debate about cultural appropriation, triggering an angry mob online.
Yes, ladies and gents, choosing a dress in this Age of Extreme Political Correctness can be tricky. Too safe? Too raunchy? Too much like what you wore on Racial Harmony Day? How now brown cow? Or should it be just, how now cow? Okay, never mind. Either way, these are the questions that may or may not go through our minds the next time we’re shopping for a special occasion dress.
Q1: Dress shopping is so tricky these days! What else do I have to consider besides fit, colour and price when I shop?
If you’re the sort who gets bogged down by other people’s opinion, there’s a lot to think about. In which case, you’re better off being the wallflower of the party in a non-descript dress and staying off socials. As for Keziah, maybe she wanted to stand out from her Forever 21-clad peers. Maybe it was the only dress she found at the vintage store that fit like a glove. Maybe she really likes dim sum. Whatever her reasons for donning a cheongsam to prom, she looked fab and wanted to flaunt it the only way a millennial knows how — on social media. You know, that cesspool where people always have an opinion no matter what?
Q2: Can I really carry it off?
And we don’t mean wondering if you’ll end up looking like a genteel waitress at a Chinese restaurant. Don’t get us wrong, Keziah looked great, but the real reason the teen has managed to emerge from the whole brouhaha a winner has largely to do with her mature response and gung-ho attitude. The unwitting viral sensation defended her decision, tweeting: “I mean no disrespect to the Chinese culture…I’m not deleting my post because I’ve done nothing but show my love for the culture. It’s a [expletive] dress. And it’s beautiful.” She also told reporters that through this furore, she’s learnt that the cheongsam is a symbol of female empowerment (how many of you knew that?) and stands by her decision to wear the dress.
Q3: Is imitation really the best form of flattery?
Yes, with a capital Y-E-S…if you’re in China. And we’re not just talking about, er, designer knockoffs. While she was the victim of social media lynching in the US, Keziah garnered the support on the other end of the world from netizens residing in the birthplace of the cheongsam. She received a tsunami of encouragement and even praise from folks in China who were swelling with national pride, egging her on for paying homage to their culture. “It’s not cultural theft. It’s cultural appreciation, and cultural respect,” wrote one.