Voices of Youth: Confronting stereotypes of Asian women through fashion design

This article is part of Concentrate's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Washtenaw County youth in partnership with Concentrate staff mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, student artist Ella Yip shares her design for a dress that refutes common stereotypes of Asian women.

For more on this topic from Ella, check out the story she and fellow Voices of Youth participant Thylicia Babumba wrote about how stereotypes affect the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.

Ella explains each of the elements of her design as follows:

Top: The shirt underneath represents the person you truly are, the pattern showing the complexity of any one identity and personality. The overlaying shirt, made of a flowing light pink transparent tulle, shows how an identity can be hidden by other people’s biases and stereotypes. This top has inspiration from the traditional Chinese dress, a Cheongsam, representing Asian heritage. 

Waist: The waist of the dress has a corset look. This represents a stereotype/beauty standard that Asian women face about how their body is expected to look and the stereotypes that surround their figure. 

Left pant leg: Represents words, sayings, and opinions that can be internalized to battle the stereotypes. The volume of the pant is to represent the sheer size or amount of ways that anyone can push back against stereotypes. 

Right pant leg: This pant is skin-tight to represent "true skin" and the complexity of a person: not how others see you, but who you truly are. 

Train: The train is made of a dark black mesh, burlap material, representing how stereotypes follow all Asian women and how they might feel sometimes. However, the fabric is porous with lots of gaps, representing the fault and lack of any real evidence backing up stereotypes that face Asian identities.

Color palette: The color palette, consisting of almost all red hues, is another way to represent Asian, specifically Chinese, heritage. Red is a prominent color, seen as lucky, and the color is worn to almost all special occasions, weddings, etc.

Artist's statement:
I have loved fashion design almost all my life. I drew dresses as soon as I had the materials, making patterns on my baby blankets. I learned to sew around 6 when my mom got sick of me cutting up my dolls' clothes because I was playing "fashion designer."
As an artist, speaking through something other than words inspires me. I like to see how I can make people think by just looking at something. Spreading a message with something other than words is something I hope to bring even further in the future and even hopefully bring these pieces to life!

Concentrate staffer Yen Azzaro served as Ella's Voices of Youth mentor on this project.
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