Lolita fashion finds a niche in the U.S.
October 21st, 2011
07:44 AM ET

Lolita fashion finds a niche in the U.S.

San Francisco will see an exciting new addition to its fashion boutiques this fall with the addition of a line of clothing from Japanese designer h.NAOTO.

NEW PEOPLE, San Francisco's premiere destination for all things Japanese, has just hosted an event to celebrate the debut of the fashion line, which was previously only available for purchase in Japan.

Many of h.NAOTO's designs fall into the category of "gothic lolita," which is a term that may be commonplace in Japan, but is still considered a niche in the United States.

You may not be sure what you are looking at if you spot a woman wearing doll-like clothing, highly detailed accessories such as patterned stockings or ruffled cuffs, small hats, and long curled, flowing hair. Does she carry a small purse with handles? Does her clothing seem as if it's come from another century?

You've seen your first Lolita.

Many Americans may be familiar with the word "Lolita" from Vladmir Nabokov's 1955 novel, which tells the tale of a middle-aged man who falls in love with a twelve year old girl. The novel has remained a topic of discussion ever since, spawning the pop culture version of lolita, which was once used to describe a "sexually precocious" girl.

However, another aspect of the word "lolita" describes youth, and it's this meaning that's intended in the fashion style that bears this name. The style includes victorian-inspired clothing and also echoes Rococo stylings, although since its inception the fashion genre has expanded to include much more.

Women who participate in the movement are often compared to living dolls, and Japanese brands such as Angelic Pretty, Baby, The Stars Shine Bright and Pink House made major strides in making this type of fashion widely available to young people who were interested in wearing it. While Pink House has since turned to more modern, wearable clothing styles, they were credited with kicking off the lolita style with the opening of their boutique in 1979.

Lolita fashion eventually spawned a subsect called "gothic lolita", which featured the same doll-like stylings, but tied them into the gothic style that was also known in the U.S. and UK for its touches of punk, Elizabethan and Victorian inspiration. Mostly all clothing worn is black or jewel toned, and the appearance tends to be dramatic.

Japanese fashion brand Milk is credited with being one of the earliest retailers to promote the movement in Tokyo's fashionable Harajuku district. Much like Pink House, Milk has also turned to more wearable styles in an everyday sense, but their collections still echo the childlike qualities lolita fashion is known for.

So why does a young woman want to look like a doll? While the fashion may seem so elaborate that it surely seems as if it's merely to make a visual statement and nothing else, women who enjoy dressing in it would differ. Lolita fashion has a healthy following not only in Japan, but also in the United States, and a few English-speaking websites such as Lolita Fashion exist for fans of the culture to meet and share stories and photos of their outfits.

A beautiful quarterly publication called the Gothic & Lolita Bible was localized by manga publisher Tokyopop in 2007 so English speaking audiences could enjoy it as well.

Some fans of the fashion believe that it is a direct commentary on the oversexualization of the female image, and by taking it in a new direction, lolitas challenge the image of what women are supposed to look like. Some believe it makes them less approachable, creating a wall of safety between themselves and men who might otherwise approach them. Some enjoy the idea of looking doll-like and simply enjoy the fashion for what it is, and like wearing it out in public gatherings.

Tourists started to notice lolita fashion thanks to visits to Tokyo's Harajuku district, which is thought of as one of the most fashionable areas in Tokyo. This shopping districts offers tons of options for women interested in dressing in lolita style.

In addition, the area is famous for being a gathering place on Sundays for young people who enjoy alternative fashion. Visitors to the area can see a wide variety of different styles across the lolita spectrum, as well as cosplayers showing off outfits inspired from their favorite anime and manga series and much more.

While lolita fashion still remains a niche in the United States, women who participate in it are passionate about it. With the debut of h.NAOTO's fashion line in America, however, it's clear that Japanese designers are aware of the demand for their products overseas, and perhaps this means more opportunities in the future for the movement to grow and gain popularity and recognition.

How do you feel about lolita fashion? Would you ever consider wearing it, or does the idea of looking like a doll make you feel uncomfortable?

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Filed under: Otaku
soundoff (484 Responses)
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    June 24, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
  2. Sheri

    Even though Lolita looks weird on some girls, it looks really lovely on skinny, pretty, tall girls. And pedo aren't atracted to women wearing children cltohes, they like CHILDREN! So dont bash lolita. ANd I feel bad for the daughter. Even though Juicy is expensive.

    June 1, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
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    February 12, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  4. kerri

    I love lolita i have been in to it for about eight years now that i am older and moved on from sweet to more classic look

    August 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  5. Little Miss Optimism

    For all those who commented rudely:'s alright we know you had a bad day and you just need a hug. C'mere let me hug you all. (*hugs*) n_n ...there, feel better?
    For those who admires and loves lolita fashion or lolitas: I'm so proud of you all. You stood up in what you believe in.
    "Just be yourself and don't worry what their biter hearts are gonna say" -The Middle, Jimmy Eat World

    I myself like lolita fashion but I am not a lolita. I just love seeing at pictures of cute, dainty girls and I think it is relaxing. I think they look like royalty, which gains my respect. Now stop the hate and just love.


    May 9, 2012 at 4:55 am |
  6. Julia

    I love this fashion style! It is very adorable, I wish I could wear it every day. 🙂

    November 18, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  7. P.J

    Yay! A good article on lolita!

    November 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  8. Hollis

    I’m glad you found it useful!

    October 28, 2011 at 5:52 am |
  9. Sharp

    I think Lolitas are cute. Playing dress up; Original & attention getting. That's the name of the game for girls.

    October 26, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  10. txmom

    I bought a dress for my daughter.. some are too revealing for a teenager, but some are really cute. I had my restrictions (no low cut tops, etc) and she ended up with a very cute black dress that is a kind of crossover from Lolita to rockabilly .. it's just cute. Be prepared to buy a LOT of petticoats to pull some of these looks off 🙂

    October 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Nadine Brown

      😉 Some US lolitas are very good at handmaking pettis (if yo have ever parused the egl_sales_comm ykwim...) as well as finding used good quality pettis for a crazy price! I bough all of my pettis for up to 1/2 off the original price! That does include shipping btw. I am a haggler though... cheapistas give a hola!

      October 25, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
      • Ronielle

        Redefine your fashion samnetett with a classy clutch bag Lovely lolita costumes in Lolita show Do You Know What Lolita Dress Patterns Are? Posted in Lolita Cosplay Clothing, Lolita Dresses, Lolita affection, Lolita fashion Tags: fashion, Lolita Dress Getting Stylish with Prince Lolita dresses Both comments and pings are currently closed.

        August 5, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • Sharp

      In general part of the Lolita look involves modesty. You will find little if any provocative clothing. It's all about going full circle. What do you show when they're showing everything? The only way to upstage that is to cover everything up.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • pinkpill

      Any dress you saw that was to revealing I'm certain was not lolita, lolita is modesty overall! 🙂

      Unless she is going for Ero lolita, which shows more skin and it's a sub part of the fashion.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • VOID

      well lolita fashion shouldnt be revealing in the first place. the skirt is not suppose to reach no more than 2 inches above the knee and if some parts tend to leak out wear a blouse there should be no excuse for this being revealing.

      May 4, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  11. chickadeejenny

    my husband luvs the lolita look on me so i dress that way a lot. plus it is young and fun!

    October 25, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • Nadine Brown

      *puts hand up to high-five chickadeejenny* 😉 Read my reply!

      October 25, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
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    October 25, 2011 at 5:11 am |
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    October 25, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  14. r

    Pretty dresses only appeal to sick pedophiles. That's why I make sure my daughter only wears track pants with JUICY written on the ass.

    October 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Sharp

      Right. Just add a T-shirt with "Feed Me Drugs" across the front to complete the ensemble.

      October 26, 2011 at 3:16 am |
      • Nadine Brown

        lol XD I think "r" was being sarcastic. I though it was pretty funny! Yours too!

        October 26, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  15. Platypus

    I love lolita fashion because I love modest, elegant, frilly clothing.

    It has nothing to do with fetishism or pedophilia and everything to do with Victorian and Rococo fashion and the bygone days of full skirts and modesty.

    It took me four years to work up the nerve to wear lolita at places other than anime conventions and I'm glad I've finally done so. I work at an upscale boutique and wear it once every two weeks. I'm very thankful that almost all the comments I get are positive and not as asinine as some of the comments have been.

    October 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  16. Rock

    hey honey, how old are you?
    18?? you're first

    October 24, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  17. Phil from Aztec

    Did this style originate in some sort of freaky, specialty cathouse? Maybe they cater to those who participate in historical re-enactiments of a carnal nature.

    October 24, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Laura

      Are you mentally disabled or did you just not bother to read the part where it explained the fashion is inspired by modest, elegant Victorian and rococo fashion?

      October 24, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
      • Tapela

        Redefine your fashion stnetmeat with a classy clutch bag Lovely lolita costumes in Lolita show Do You Know What Lolita Dress Patterns Are? Posted in Cosplay Outfits, Cosplay Wig Types, Disney Costumes, Gothic Lolita Outfit, Lolita Cosplay, Lolita Cosplay Clothing, Lolita Fashion Complex, Lolita Item Sale, Lolita fashion, Lolita hairstyle cosplay Tags: fashion, Fashionable lolita Do You Know What Lolita Dress Patterns Are? You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

        August 4, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • rei

      Actually the start came from a fad that started in the US in the seventies. Everyone was a bit obsessed with little house on the prairie. Just look up Gunne Sax of San Francisco.

      February 10, 2012 at 1:38 am |
  18. Anakaraya

    I LOVE lolita style!! I wish I could buy some lolita clothing!! 😀

    October 24, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  19. HrDad

    Gotta love the lolita fashion models.

    October 24, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  20. Elle

    The "real" Lolita would not ever wear those fussy contrived outfits! And Humbert would just feel embarrassed (!). I don't know what those costumes are, but did the designer ever read the book itself? Do those get-ups sound anything like this? "She was Lo, plain Lo in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock..." The whole attraction of Lolita was her artlessness and spontaneity. She was totally herself - and these girls in that picture are just dressed in faux "non-Lo."

    October 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Do-Chan

      the fashion has NOTHING to do with the novel! maybe you should educate yourself before making a comment like this

      October 23, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Luna

      It's based on victorian fashion, nothing to do with the book.

      October 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • amelie

      They aren't costumes. They are clothing. Some people dress in this fashion everyday, in varying degrees of formality. Just because it's different from what you wear, doesn't mean it's suddenly a "costume".

      October 25, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • pinkpill

      it has nothing to do with the book! Lolita book and lolita fashion are COMPLETELY different things. One is a fashion and one is just a damn book ;P

      These are NOT costumes.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Loli Lexi

      A little friendly hint, I dress lolita almost everyday. I have about 9 or 10 dress's now and currently working purchasing my first angelic pretty dress. The girls in the photo are most likely wearing clothes made by doll delight. Truth is lolita isn't a costume it is a type of fashion. Some going over the top in lolita at times and then some just dress casual lolita. Because honestly in the heat of the summer dressing casual is your best bet. This coming from a real true lolita and if you must know the only costuming is cosplay so try to get fact's straight.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
      • pok

        The 2 girls are definitely not wearing something by doll delight. The blue dress is an old BtssB print, and the girl on the left is RinRin, and Angelic Pretty model, who mostly wears AP and sometimes models Baby.

        April 23, 2013 at 1:17 am |
    • carrie

      elle first off this style has nothing to do with the book lolita read the subject of a discussion before joining it or at least make sure understand before commenting on it lolita the fashion supports modesty and cuteness and has nothing to do with any of the fallowing : seducing older men or being seduced by one or pedophilia it is inspired by days when a girl could wear a full skirt and ribbons and lace it's that simple it's cute and fun and one more thing the designer was NOT inspired by that book

      November 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  21. Danielle

    Aw they look so pretty! 🙂 Reminds me of old paintings...

    October 23, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  22. LL72

    They look pretty! Must take ages to get ready in the morning, though.

    October 23, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • M

      I'm am OTT Sweet Lolita (Over the Top Sweet) and yes it does, getting ready everyday takes forever! But it's very rewarding, when you see the final product.

      October 27, 2011 at 11:26 am |
      • Muneeb

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        August 5, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • Kit

      It takes absolutely ages to get ready in some outfits. Especially if you curl your hair as you are getting ready.

      OTT Sweet, like M wears, takes the longest, IMHO, because there are all the endless clips and bows and such. I wear Classical Lolita usually, which is more toned down compared to OTT Sweet lolita. Classical lolita draws more on the victorian trends and tends to feature darker colors (black, navy, brown, wine red) or muted pastels (dusty rose, offwhite, etc) and more florals/solids as well as more antique looking prints.

      November 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  23. El Kababa

    Women have been programmed by fashion merchandisers. They will throw away money on clothes they will throw away in a few months. It would be more efficient if women just mailed money directly to the global fashion merchandiser of their choice. Money for nothing.

    October 23, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • Daniella Cardinale - Weinberg

      Oh so you are saying that people should not indulge every once in awhile in what makes them happy? What an exciting life you live!!

      October 23, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Dean Black

      How odd for someone with a Middle Eastern sounding name to disparage women.

      October 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
      • Fariza

        Infidelity has ruined lots of marreagis and relationships inside the country and the number is only set to increase within the near future. What's much more saddening is that a lot more and a lot more men and women are acting as if it really is typical and an acceptable issue for individuals to do. Of course, they would be singing a diverse tune if they happen to be on the wrong side of an infidelity issue.

        August 3, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • MW

      Lolita dresses last much longer than ordinary clothes.

      August 2, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
      • greykatt

        Yes we women dress to impress. We are allowed our freedom of dress. As such we are also allowed our right to protect it as well. It may not work for you, but that's okay because YOU aren't wearing it.

        August 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  24. DFWDelia

    I think people should dress in whatever style they want. Each girl's body is different and some bodies look amazing wearing next to nothing, and some need to be covered up in something fashionable to look good. Then there are those few who look great in nothing at all! It's all a matter of taste and your figure.

    October 23, 2011 at 2:22 am |

    Clothes that make women look nice? what the hey what the who? What will I do with all my wonderful dirty looking (dirty? or dirty looking? i can't tell) jeans with the cool holes and all my stringy tops that have my boobs hanging out? All my oversized t-shirts and my 50cent flip flops,
    I must look like i just escaped from a garbage dump for goodness sakes!. I am woman hear me roar...

    October 23, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  26. Anonymous

    I like this "lolita" look on women, it looks aristocratic. I would rather see this then the whorish mainstream look everywhere.

    October 23, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  27. Do-Chan

    I LOVE the Lolita fashion and I am 25....there is nothing wrong with it especially since it covers skin...I would rather be considered a prude because I don't wanna flaunt my 'stuff' than be a little hoe bag

    October 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  28. Blessed Geek

    1000 old dolls went doling out 1000 dollars each to buy their 1000 dollar doller dresses..

    October 22, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  29. scdad

    Aw come on! Teen girls should wear less clothes not more!!!!

    October 22, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Blessed Geek

      Sick dad.

      October 22, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
      • chele


        October 23, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • Tristesse de la Lune

      You're a pervert.

      October 23, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Tony

      AMEN Dad!

      October 24, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  30. abby

    I wouldn't be cremated in these ridiculous outfits....

    October 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • good

      dont buy them then. it wont stop me from wearing them when I want alive or dead

      October 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
      • Mm-hmm.


        October 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm |

        I'm with you sister.

        October 23, 2011 at 2:16 am |
      • greykatt

        I third that remark.

        August 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Tristesse de la Lune

      Realize that you may look ridiculous for other poeple, as you see this style as ridiculous to you.

      October 23, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  31. jim

    Its all about getting them prepared to take thier place in the consumerist society as adults. Ever notice in a shopping mall that about 90% of the stores are womens clothing or fashion stores? HUGE money to be made by exploiting womens vanities.

    October 22, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • ?

      most american lolitas are already adults though or will be shortly.

      October 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • LOL

      Because most teenage girls can afford 300 dollar dresses.

      October 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
      • Nadine Brown

        XDDDD *milk nosed that one!

        October 23, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  32. Anna

    Why does everything a woman wears, does, or the way she acts have to be interpreted in the context of how men view her?

    October 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • palintwit

      Because men are superior. Now get me another beer.

      October 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
      • @palin twit

        you're disgusting. I feel pity for any significant other you ever have

        October 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
      • Anna

        I'm not sure if your being serious or just trolling. Either way, I think your actions reflect more poorly on society than a frilly dress does.

        October 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
      • FlyingFox

        Away with ye, troll.

        October 22, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
      • morebeer

        That's right more beer wench!

        October 23, 2011 at 9:33 am |
      • palintwit

        And make sure you grab a cold one this time.

        October 23, 2011 at 9:49 am |
      • Tristesse de la Lune

        That's funny. How the men are so proud to look so degradated as monkeys.

        October 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Sheldon

      Women are conditioned by Western society to think that how they appear to men is reflective of their value as a woman. Of course, not every woman is stupid enough to buy into this social construction, but it is sad how many teen girls idolize the girls in tabloid magazines and reality shows. To be honest, we live in a society where beautiful women seem to get more attention than ugly ones. So, your question is answered.

      October 23, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  33. Sarah

    So much ignorance in these comments. I don't even...

    October 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Anna


      October 22, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
      • Loli-pop

        I also agree. I, myself, am a Lolita and some people can be so ignorant about things.

        October 23, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  34. binny

    This is a fashion for the young. They should have fun with it while they can. It is elaborate and COVERED, not like the skimpier things teens and young adults wear. That draws a lot more creepers, by the way. So some say it looks like dolls? Well, is that really so bad when other fashions look like lolitas, bums and the undead? What did YOU all wear when you were younger? Bet it drove older people nuts... but that was your job, yes?

    October 22, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Me

      This is not a fashion "for the young" it's a fashion for every girl or woman who wants to take part in it. I think it's ridiculous to think that you have to be a certain age to wear something so modest and beautiful.

      February 24, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • A.G. Chronicles

      I'm 19 (almost 20) And I wear Sweet Lolita.
      Lolita doesn't have a certain age to wear it.

      January 1, 2013 at 3:46 am |
  35. Kay

    Most of the dresses themselves are fine. It's the way they are presented that seems strange not to mention the name. I get the impression that their target market isn't really females at all.

    October 22, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Anna

      How do you interpret its presentation? The reasoning behind the fashion's name is subject to debate, but leaving that particular aspect aside, why do you think the target audience is anything other than women?

      October 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
      • palintwit

        "Lolita' is synonymous with "jailbait". Has been since the 50's.

        October 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
      • @palin twit

        in america maybe but this is not an american fashion. different words can have multiple meanings and that doesnt make them more or less right. The point of lolita isnt to attract a pedophile because THEY WONT WANT US because we are adults

        October 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  36. Jack French

    After seeing this, I know God is dead!

    October 22, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Suze

      Oh, Dear! Women dressing and looking feminine!!! What has the world come to? I think God is just fine.

      BTW consider that a boy can't wear a skirt but a girl can dress in drag (pants, baseball cap...).

      October 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • FlyingFox

      God was never alive, genius.

      October 22, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
      • sarah

        God has nothing to do with spirituality. You can be spiritual in other ways ass.

        That being said, why the hell does EVERYTHING on the internet have to turn into a political battle?

        April 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • mfht

      If that's what your spirituality has come down to, then I'm really sorry for you.

      October 23, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  37. trigtwit palin...America's favorite tard baby.


    October 22, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  38. JKoni

    Personally, I am quite the aficionado of lolita fashion - and have, as of late, been making quite a few forays into the fashion and I just wanted to say: I don't think a lot of the girls who wear it are doing it "for attention" - I wear lolita simply because the way it looks appeals to my aesthetics, not because I want attention my parents didn't give me or some other such nonsense. I wear it because I think it's pretty, and I'm sure that's why most other lolis wear it too.

    October 22, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • Tristesse de la Lune

      A sense-full comment emerged!

      October 23, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  39. Milo

    Here's what I wonder, about the commenters insulting the folks into this:

    Just how empty do your life and soul have to be to go out of your way to come to a pro-nerd-culture blog and make fun of the way people dress?

    October 22, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  40. Tanterei

    nice article.
    I'd say some of the dresses are just overloaded (IMO!), but some are very, veeeery nice. If you look in e.g. 4chanfor some time you'll find some nice pictures.

    October 22, 2011 at 5:20 am |
    • *frank*

      wait it is tarp!

      October 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • maddiexb

      As much as I love Lolita, I have to agree with you on the dresses.

      I'm a newbie, so I stick to the more 'normal' looking dresses (like stuff from Innocent World and some of Mary Magdalene's old stuff) because they're easier to coordinate and I'm not used to getting odd looks yet, but I think the frillier dresses would make for good special event coords since they're more extravagant. Or everyday if you're brave or know what you're doing. Either way, really.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  41. So...

    Why are you even having those discussions? Yes, some people refuse to listen to clearly stated facts made by others who know what they are talking about (The ones who dress in this fashion should know better than the rest of you what it´s about. Logical? indeed), and those kinds of people are impossible to reason with anyway. There is no reason for you lolis to waste your time trying to explain our fashion to them! If they truly want to know, they should look it up. If they aren´t even that interested anyway, arguing with them is a waste of time! Just be glad you aren´t that closed-minded and move on!
    For the record, I am part of this fashion myself, and I am aware why I dress in this fashion 🙂 so, don´t try to explain to me why I do it.. I am not here for your opinion. I am here because I think it´s amusing to read the discussions before I go do something more useful.

    October 22, 2011 at 5:11 am |
    • Megan

      People may want to explain is to people close to you that you care about, but they are just stubborn. My own mother is being hard on the topic but I think with help of some of these forums I can explain it to her better and have other peoples opinions on it. It is very useful in that way so if u aren't going to use it now, you may need to I the future.

      June 4, 2013 at 1:26 am |
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