My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Stereotyping From Within The Subculture And Inclusivity: Part 3 - Pale Is Not The Only Aesthetic

This one is so basic that I'm really annoyed that I have to even mention this, but you don't have to be as pale as paper to be a Goth. The very fact that there is this sort of notion within the subculture at all makes me irritated. 

I am very much the super-pale Goth stereotype. I am naturally very pale, and in the Goth subculture was very grateful to find a place where the same pallor that made me the object of ridicule ("oi! Vampire!" and that was even before I turned Goth!) and perpetual inquiries after my health ("Are you feeling alright? You look awfully pale...") and suggestions of good fake tans (No thank-you, I am quite happy looking the way I do) it was nice to find somewhere where this was not just accepted but seen as ideal of beauty. As such it can be easy to loose sight that other people within the community with darker skin ranging from more tanned European skin tones to very dark skin from African and Australasian/Pacific ancestry can feel like the community isn't as supportive of them. 

There is a VERY good article on this at Coilhouse which I think all readers of this article should read ::here::

The usual excuse I hear is that pale skin is better for the cool-colours and monochrome aesthetic. Yes, unnaturally pale people are closer to monochrome, even more so if they actually paint their faces white, and thus fit the cool-colours only palette, but since when has this been the only way to achieve a Gothic aesthetic? And this is coming from one of those naturally ridiculously pale people; I have no necessity to think up what sort of colours co-ordinate with warmer and darker skin tones but I can still do so without much effort; all black works with everything, for a start. Goths who say it's impossible for dark skinned and warm-skin-toned people to do Goth properly either have no imagination for makeup or fashion or are just trying disguise their racism or silliness (because more tanned Goths of European ancestry get this nonsense too). Heck, if we can have people who are tattooed rainbow colours being acceptable Goths despite definitely falling out of the 'monochrome and cool colours only' bracket, then we can certainly dismiss the argument of "but warm tones aren't Goth!!". Also -what about all the Goths with red, auburn and other warm-toned hair (red, auburn and copper being particularly Pre-Raphaelite and particularly Steampunk related at the moment). 

Beyond the aesthetic argument, why should not being pale be any barrier to participation in the subculture? Goth is a vast and varied subculture, anyone who likes the music, the culture and the fashion can join - no restrictions on skin tone, race, ethnicity, religion or locale, because none of these things are even vaguely criteria for what Goth is. Go read my article ::What IS Goth?:: and see if I mention on there "must be as pale as Death's bleached skull"  - hint: I don't. 

This may seem like shocking news to some, but the subculture has been world-wide for years and there are even Goths in the Middle East and South America (I've seen the photographs from World Goth Day club nights in Brasilia - there were some awesome outfits going on there, and everyone looks like they had a lot of fun!). The scene has its own local characteristics wherever it sprouts, but it always has the same roots. An appreciation for the macabre is a part of human nature - there have been people with a dark wardrobe and appreciation for macabre beauty for a long time throughout history, long before the Goth subculture ever appeared and there are eccentric and darkly minded people all over the world. In the age of the internet and mass globally-distributed media it's not surprising that the subculture has spread as people find there's an entire subculture for people whose taste for the darker things might get them ostracised from mainstream society, whether that's in England or Turkey or Japan or America or Sweden or South Africa or anywhere else, and connect with like-minded individuals. This is a good thing and the diversity of input into the subculture stops it going stale. 

Talking of stale, I feel like there's a certain staleness in Gothic imagery and photographs (and remember that those photographs are aspirational material for many Goths) and they include an awful lot of very pale people, often women, looking undead in lovely anachronistic outfits, probably in a graveyard, in a creepy forest or in front of a cathedral - it's gorgeous, it's surely beautiful, and I am certainly a fan, but it is not the ONLY way to do Goth; it's not Dracula's wives or bust. I'm sure a lot of this is artistic laziness instead of deliberate racism; it's easier to just recycle the same imagery that's been around since  pre-Raphaelite depictions of Ophelia and probably before than come up with something completely new (they were old by the time of Hammer horror movies and The Addams and Munsters); it is a visual language so often repeated that we all know it like the words to a familiar song, but we can do so much more than that, and it is about time we stepped up to the plate and started embracing a more diverse set of Gothic imagery. 

There is no reason why post-apocalyptic Goths have to be pale; after all I'm sure even the palest people will develop tans after the sunscreen factories get nuked and radioactive killer zombies tear holes in your parasols. There's no good reason why vampires have to be a particularly pale version of European (anyone seen the Blade movies? Ok, just the first one?). Anyone can be the ghost lurking in the shadows of a haunted house or the unfortunate person to find the ghost. Even the Gothic clichés don't have to involve only very pale people. I'm sure Goths of parent cultures other than our own will have their own ghastly folk tales and history to bring to the table of ghoulish delights, and I am fascinated to see what can be done. We've had thousands of permutations of aristocratic European vampires, haunted mostly-wooden American houses with creepy things in the basement, and black clad witches in grim and tangled forests, and while I am sure there's plenty more permutations possible and I will always enjoy these themes, our grim folk mythology isn't the only one. 

If you are a Gothic artist or photographer, or any other form of visual artist in the scene, and you find yourself mostly making images of pale (and often very slender, and often female) people, question why, and question if you can't be a bit more diverse and try something different. Heck, it would be nice to see a greater balance of images between every other gender/sex and Gothic women, as most of the images I see are of women Goths! It will probably go a long way to make Goths with a broader range of skin tones feel a lot more like a valued and equally aspirational sort of Goth. 

There is nothing wrong with being a freckled Goth or a goth with olive, chocolate or walnut skin, or a Goth with inked skin in a variety of colours put there by tattoos, or with being a very pale Goth - I'm hardly saying it's passé and ugly now! We're all Goths, and no value judgement should be put on how Goth someone is because of skin colour, ethnicity or parent culture. I really want everyone within the subculture to feel that they can be comfortable in their own skin and not under any pressure to live up to some beauty standard that expects them to be as pale as the moon (and as thin as a willow leaf.. but that is another topic for another article.) and I especially think Goth should be a haven, especially for those who experience prejudice outside of the subculture, whether that is racism, ableism, homophobia or anything else, not to mention that our unusual tastes and interests can often make us outcasts to a degree at the best of times. 

I do not want to see Goth turn into something with the same rot as mainstream culture, just with a darker aesthetic, and I do sometimes worry that is starting to happen. I get worried when I see Goth adopting narrow standards of beauty, because it is both contrary to what I feel are the principles of Goth and something that causes, or is at least contributory to a lot of body-image and self-esteem issues in mainstream society, especially when these standards of beauty go from being what the fashion media are looking for in models to something the nastier people in society use to measure each other and judge. 

From what I've seen of old photographs from the '80s and '90s, there were quite a few people with a broad range of skin-tones and ethnicities in the scene. I don't want to hear any more reports of Goths with darker skins or from non-European ethnicities not being accepted as "proper Goths" (who put you in charge of deciding that?) or having their Gothic credibility questioned. If they are at the Goth club, wearing the same kind of clothes as you, and dancing to the same music as you, what gives you the right to question the legitimacy of them being there? Chances are they are there for the exact same reasons as everyone else at the Goth club, or spooky picnic, or internet forum about why Siouxsie Sioux is a wonderful singer or any other place where Goths interact socially. 

If you are still not convinced, then go visit some wonderful bloggers like ::Madame Mari Mortem:: and Colour Me Goth who are very damn Goth indeed. If that does not satisfy, have a look around Tumblr too.  

Dear Goth community as a whole, please stop making up excuses to be exclusionary; you are making Goth look bad, giving credence to the terribly mis-informed people who think we're Neo-Nazis, and making people who can contribute to the Goth scene just as much as anyone else feel left out. 

14 comments:

  1. I actually haven't heard much ridicule against non-pale Goths in my area. One of my friends in high school was coloured and dressed alternative (not exactly Goth but still) and it never made a difference to us. However, I did get the whole "wow you're so pale you'd be an amazing Goth" from people *outside* of the Gothic community. It seems the stereotype is mostly perpetuated by people who don't know anything about the Gothic subculture. Maybe that's why we see so many children getting into the Goth scene and painting their faces white. Unless it's a tribute to the 80's Goth I just don't like white face paint. Goths look much nicer using their regular skin colour, whatever that may be.

    I know of plenty Goth people who aren't Caucasian and I follow a lot of their blogs and websites. I mean look at how popular La Carmina is (although she's not dressing as Goth as she used to). And although I hate to mention it because I don't like her music, even FeFe Dobson was embraced by the Emo and Pop-punk crowd. I think we've made great progress in accepting Goth and alternative people of colour, like anything it just takes time. Discussing it on blogs is a great start, but I think the best way to see change is if the magazines get on board... I don't see many of them featuring coloured Goths.

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    1. A couple of my alternative friends aren't of primarily European descent - one is part Honduran, and the other is African American, but neither of them are part of the Goth subculture per se, more into Metal.

      I think you're right that there's a link between babybat Goths and /things aimed at them/ and this stereotype - I think that's where the artistic laziness comes in; it's an artistic cliche that sells to a certain demographic, so if you want to sell your Gothic wall calendar or T-shirts or what have you, sticking a very cliche and stereotyped Goth woman, usually young slender and sexualised (rather than necessarily sexual, and I see a difference) wearing all black, maybe some red and purple, playing at being a vampire or a witch on it and you've got an item that will sell. I don't think all of that stuff comes from people established within the subculture, I think some of that comes from people outside the subculture looking to cash in on our demographic, and some of that comes from babybats who simply don't know much about the culture except from what they've seen through the distortions of stereotype and are trying to live up to something based on the meanest rumours about us rather than what we really are.

      I don't read Gothic Beauty or Morgue or any of the other magazines targeted at the subculture. I occasionally read the Fortean Times and a few of the tattoo culture magazines, but that's as close as I get from English-speaking countries. Sadly, while I'm sure I'd find Gothic Beauty, etc. very interesting, I haven't got the money to subscribe to them. I occasionally get copies (usually out-of-date by YEARS) of Gosurori and The Gothic & Lolita bible if my friends give me them or bring them back from their travels or send them to me if they're living there (I have a couple of friends living in Japan) but even that I rarely get hold of, so I really don't know much about what is and is not displayed in them.

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  2. It's conforting that there are people who share this view on... gothic racism? I don't consider myself goth (by what I've read on your previous entries, maybe you'd consider me one, I don't know), but I'm in love with the fashion and are influenced by it. I'm latin american but my genetics clearly show middle-eastern presence. Because of this, my skin is a bit tanned, and for some reason, YELLOWISH. >:( I don't know if that's what you call olive skin, if it has something to do with asian people or if it's related to the liver issues I had when I was a child. It's nice to know someone thinks I can be pretty regardless of my skin colour.

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    1. Have a look at the photos of that Goth night in Brasil; absolute proof that Goth night is Goth night regardless of where and what colour skin the attendees have. Someone was rocking some really awesome horns that night, too (but that's off on a tangent...).A while ago, I invited one of my best friends, a metal-head who didn't mind dressing up for the occasion, and a chap of Honduran heritage to a Gothic and Lolita meet. He's in the last photo here: http://domesticatedgoth.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/january-alternative-mini-meet.html He wore a jabot and frock coat that were Raven's and mine respectively, but the shirt he's wearing with it is an embroidered guayabera. I think he looked rather dashing. We were there with a greek chap who I didn't get a photograph of, too - a darker skinned European (I think Greeks consider themselves European, anyway) who looked pretty snazzy in his Goth gear too. Warm toned and darker skin is no barrier to being a pretty Goth!

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  3. For quite awhile I considered that I wasn't looking pale enough to attend events. While I am quite light complected and do my best to avoid the summer sun, I take care of a couple of cemeteries and have other outdoor activities I must attend to. Exposure to the elements does give me a certain amount of color, but I believe that exposure actually promotes good health. So, I really don't entertain any notions of striving to maintain a permanent pale appearance. On occasion I have used makeup to bring on a whiter look, but I do that rarely. What I have found is that other Goths only try to achieve the pale aesthetic on rare occasions as well. Last year's Halloween Ball comes to mind.

    Also, I totally agree that our subculture should be all inclusive. Being Goth is about a love of the macabre and its expression through music, literature and other venues. Skin color should have nothing to do with it. I honestly can't say that I'm seeing any exclusionary behavior in my local Goth community. All in all, we're a pretty relaxed group of people. Still, I'm sure that it happens somewhere, human nature being what it is.



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    1. Even with a tan, I look paler than I ought, and I tend to burn rather easily. It's even worse for Raven - he's of the sort of Irish descent that's given him red-gold hair and skin that burns very quickly, so even though we're outdoorsy, we cover up quite a bit and wear a lot of sun-screen. Scotland isn't the sunniest of countries, so it's rare for it to that bright out, but it does get quite nice sometimes.

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  4. "I do not want to see Goth turn into something with the same rot as mainstream culture, just with a darker aesthetic, [...]"

    I fear this has already happened (movies and TV trying to explain "goth" come to mind). Also, those gorgeous Monster High dolls have an alternative look made mainstream.
    At the same time, girls in the street (and their mom's) no longer frown upon when passing me (or other gothlings) by, but rather engage in adorable conversations about the dolls or it's tv show.

    I live in the Caribbean, in the tropical island of Puerto Rico (meaning many types of ethnicities can be found here). The alternative scene is quite big here. The goth scene is small. However, apart from the usual drama, they all get along pretty good. ;)
    I quite invite everyone to spend a nice vacation in PR along the alternative scene. It's definitely a diverse experience. :D

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    1. I still get strange looks in the street and stupid comments (especially those of a sexist nature; today I got "Oi, whore, wanna give me good time" because apparently anyone with a collar and fishnets is a whore >.> ) but I am at least getting a better response from parents with children - children have never been hugely terrified of me, but parents used to drag their offspring away from me or deliberately cross the street away from me and I have not had that in the last few years. In some way, as Jillian Venters mentioned in her Gothic Charm School book a few years back, the mainstream's commercialisation of something is generally a sign of its acceptance of it. Sadly, it still hasn't seen the erasure of many of the external stereotypes.

      I'd love to visit the Caribbean sometime - packing a LOT of sun-screen, from what I have heard of the weather!

      Inverness has a big alternative scene (mostly skater and metal) but only a small fraction of that is Goth, so I know that feeling quite well - we all seem to get on quite well except for the usual drama. I don't think the scene is capable of existing without drama, so I just refuse to partake and never start any of my own.

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    2. About the the mainstream's commercialisation of the goth scene, I wonder if it's just going to be something fashionable that eventually people will get rid off?
      I think the alt-scene is growing more than ever, So it's hard to see the blurred lines of the trend.
      Well, this does sound like a whole new subject. :P


      Do come to the Caribbean and do pack loads of sunscreen! ♥

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    3. As I can't even afford to visit my family in England very much, and they're only 600 miles away, it might be a while before I can visit the Carribean! Maybe one day - if I ever get as far as being an architect, maybe I'll have the money for tropical holidays then.

      I'm planning on writing about the commercialisation of the Goth scene and the materialism within it in my next serious/non-fashion post on this blog, but those sorts of posts take a lot of planning and thinking about - it's like writing an essay! Keep checking back, because it's something that I will definitely write about as I feel quite strongly on the matter.

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  5. I'm very fortunate to live in Los Angeles, which is a very "live and let live" society in general. The goth scene out here has a bit of cliquishness, but it's very accepting of everyone who respect others. Any given club night, we've got Goths of every shape, size , color, style, and so on. That's one thing I love about this city!

    Another great non-pale Goth blogger is Gothicsoulflower - I discovered her blog during Red & Black Week! www.gothicsoulflower.com

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    1. I think there's cliquishness in most Goth scenes, even tiny ones like my own get it sometimes.

      I will have to check out her blog :)

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  6. This was a wonderful post; I definitely plan on writing about this in the future. Speaking as a black Goth, I do get frustrated sometimes when I read about how black people (or anyone who has darker skin) make terrible Goths. I know that is not a viewpoint shared by the majority of Goths, but it can be disheartening.

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    1. All I hope is that the voices of those that are accepting drown out those who are prejudiced, and that those who have silly notions about pre-requisite characteristics needed to be Goth learn better.

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