'Some days I feel like quitting': Misako Aoki and aging in lolita fashion

photo credit: Masanori Sugiura | source

This interview of Misako Aoki from April 2019 (link in new window) by Ai Kawaguchi of The Huffington Post Japan caught my eye. Misako gave a separate interview two months earlier where she said she'll never quit. Huh?

From reading the title you might think this interview would be pessimistic but it is actually quite thoughtful. There are some really nice quotes in it that I can identify with, especially as a fellow introvert who has also gained confidence in herself through the fashion, and as someone of a similar age.

For those who are unfamiliar, Misako Aoki (青木美沙子) is a well known lolita fashion model and Japanese pop culture ambassador. For teenage Misako, lolita fashion was a way to hide areas of her body that she was insecure about. Covering them in something she thought was pretty made her feel better about her body and in turn better about herself, and made her feel more confident. It helped her to confront her feelings and be more honest with herself.

Modeling for Moi-meme-Moitie (left) and Angelic Pretty (right) in the Gothic and Lolita Bible vol. 3, 2001.

Why would she want to quit?

While you may firmly hold the belief that you can wear what you like at any age and also be a happy and functional adult, and are living proof that it can work, regular and repeated pushback from society at large for not playing the "correct" role can still make one question their life choices sometimes.

"The media usually depicts lolitas as 'strong women fully devoted to our fashion' but that's not how it is at all. We're just like everyone else, tormented by our daily worries and inferiority complexes. 'Is it really OK for me to keep being a lolita?' I often wonder. While I do believe that one shouldn't worry about wearing 'age-appropriate' clothing, my thoughts still turn to age when I'm having a meal with friends who are married and raising children. 'Is it really OK for me to keep dressing like this?' I think, and sometimes, my feelings change. But it's OK. Even if I'm really worried about it some days, the next day I get up in the morning, put on my lolita, do my makeup, step out of my house, and I can still feel glad that this is my life. Lolita has helped me to recognize my true feelings."

'It's too hard to decide, so I'll do both'

Misako (right) modeling for Maxicimam in the Gothic and Lolita Bible vol. 30, 2008.

Another reason society might push you to quit when you get older is that feminine things are traditionally seen as soft and weak and frivolous in many cultures, and as such many people may not take you seriously or treat you like a grown adult if you dress in a very feminine way. But as Misako says, we're people too, just like everyone else. Clothes are not an indicator of whether you are a functioning adult. In fact, clothes help her to mentally keep her two different jobs separate.

"I have two completely different personalities when I'm a lolita model vs. when I'm a nurse. I can be a little absentminded as a lolita but as a nurse, I'm a completely different person. People's lives are at stake, so I quickly become very diligent, because mistakes can be unforgivable. Keeping those worlds separate is very important to me. I can continue being a lolita because I work as a nurse. The people and environment in each are completely different, as are my place and situation within them. Both expand my worldview. Switching gears comes pretty naturally to me. Once I put on my nurse uniform and zip it up, I'm a nurse. I'm the kind of person that mentally switches gears when I change clothes. Clothes are that important and fundamental to me." 

Misako at work as a nurse | source

Making the choice to continue to do both modeling and nursing was difficult for her. The first time she felt pressure to quit lolita fashion was at 25 years old. She had been a nurse for 5 years and was working full time at a hospital when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nominated her to be a cultural ambassador. She switched from working full time in the hospital to part-time and in-home care to make enough time for cultural ambassador duties, but she felt very conflicted about it.

"My friends graduated from college and were working really hard all the time, and here I was as a nurse, a relatively stable profession, cutting back my work hours and feeling guilty. I thought 'is it really OK for me to be jumping into the world of modeling, not knowing whether I'd be able to support myself on that wage?' I was really worried. My parents were concerned for me too, but in the end, they said 'you can't help that you have two things you want to do with your life.' Nursing and modeling are both my callings, and it would be a waste to give up on either one. 'It's too hard to decide, so I'll do both' is the answer I arrived at.

Generally, most people only have one job, and when they find something new, they might quit or give up something in order to choose that new thing. But maybe you don't have to do that in order to find the best answer for yourself. You could try doing both for a while, and you might find you clearly like one of them better. Your decision might change depending on how old you are. That was when I learned that it's important to have the courage to not quit or to make a decision right away."

'I can't bring you to meet my parents dressed like that'

Modeling for Alice and the Pirates (left) and Innocent World (right) in the Gothic and Lolita Bible vol. 54, 2014. | source

Misako may have personally come to terms with continuing in lolita fashion and having a career, but another thing that society pressures adult women to do is get married, and by the time she was 30, many of her friends were doing just that. She began dating but found that wearing lolita was a big issue with a lot of her potential partners.

"Just as I was hitting my stride with both of my careers, everyone around me was getting married. Once you turn 30, people start getting married in droves. I started getting anxious about that. As a nurse and lolita I'm primarily surrounded by women, so I hadn't met any men I wanted to date. A friend of mine recommended an online dating app to me. And as you might expect, men were really put off when I met them dressed in lolita. They'd say things like 'that's way too gaudy, you have to stop wearing that' or 'I can't bring you to meet my parents dressed like that.' I felt prejudice from every single date.

I realized something from these experiences. For me, lolita fashion is not just clothes; it's my soul, my faith. At first, I wore it because it's cute and because I liked it, but now it is my life. The men I dated did not understand this (smiles) but what's more important is, when I reported these experiences with an overall message of 'ignore the male gaze and wear what you want,' many people also interpreted it to mean 'no matter how old you get or what anyone might say, you should enjoy what you love.' That made me happy. I was surprised that a majority of people agreed with me instead of telling me I'm too old for this. I even got some messages from mothers saying that I've inspired them to get back into lolita once their children get a little older. By continuing to wear lolita, I am not worrying about my age and enjoying my life. I realized that I am living proof of that. The general view throughout the world is that because lolita has a strong childlike image, you can't wear it unless you're young. But that's absolutely not true. By wearing lolita, I want to spread the impression that there are no limits about what you should wear based on your age."

'I want to be true to myself'

Modeling for Metamorphose temps de fille, 2019. | source

With the passing of several more years, it seems Misako has found peace with her life choices and encourages others to make the best decisions for themselves, regardless of social pressure.

"I think an important step toward living true to myself is not worrying about my age. In the past I did not reveal my age because I'm a lolita model, but not anymore. Now I freely state my age and I feel so much better. That has made it easier to live my life in a way that's true to myself. I don't give up anything just because of my age or environment. I have lots of options, and all of them are OK. I could get married, or not. I could get divorced, and that's OK. I could have children, or not. My fashion sense might change as I get older, or I could continue wearing lolita. I think all of them are OK. Society is still biased and we still have labels, but you don't have to worry about them, and I think it's OK for everyone to be different. When you like something, say so. Live true to yourself. That's about it."

My thoughts

In some ways, it surprises me to find out that a large number of lolitas I follow are only in their teens and early 20s, and I wonder if they are equally surprised to find out that Misako is currently in her late 30s. Many people don't really think about how old she is because she's been a really visible figure since lolita fashion became a big thing, and admittedly to me she looks pretty much the same as she did 20 years ago.

It's important that the people you choose to have in your life support you doing what you love, even if they personally don't quite get it. Even though she might have trouble finding a partner who understands, it's nice for Misako that at least her family is supportive. Admittedly, my parents are one reason I waited so long to start lolita. I was very interested as a teen but my parents would have had to be involved with buying it, and at the best of times they were just confused with a lot of my hobbies, and at the worst they would actively tell me that what I liked was weird. I still felt skittish letting them know about it after I was completely financially independent and had other people in my life who were supportive, and I still don't think they really understand it that well, but my mom sees my Instagram and seems to think it's pretty at least.

I got into lolita after I got married and my partner is very supportive, so I thankfully did not have to deal with bringing it up during dating. (In fact, we did our final project in our Japanese language class together on lolita fashion!) However, because of the impressions that completely unfamiliar people get about lolita when they see it and because in general I don't trust that they'll care enough to get it right when I explain complicated things that are important to me, I still avoid talking about it with my partner's parents. They live far away and I don't usually bring lolita clothes with me when we visit them because it's not convenient to do so, plus I don't want to draw attention to it. It's my biggest hobby, though, so there's not a lot left to tell them. (Sometimes I wonder what they think I do all day.) My partner occasionally mentions it during phone calls with them because he helps me shoot my fashion walk videos, and he sometimes posts photos of us together where I'm dressed up in places where his parents can see them. I don't think they understand but that's fine. It's not for them.

Will I ever stop wearing lolita? Probably someday. But as long as it makes me feel pretty and happy, I'm going to keep doing it. If and when I stop it's going to be my own decision, and not because someone else says that I'm too old.

I translated another Misako Aoki interview a while back where she talks more about her dating experiences. Read it here!


I'll leave you with the final paragraph of the original interview, because I think it's kind of nice.

As she walks away jauntily through the falling cherry blossoms, she looks not like a princess, but a soldier. She will be 36 years old this year [2019]. Misako Aoki will keep living true to herself, following her path in lolita fashion.
photo credit: Masanori Sugiura | source