Time and time again, designers, singers, and celebrities make headlines by taking things of value from other cultures and turn them into trendy accessories to be forgotten by next season. Some call this behavior “cultural appreciation,” however, when these actions are based off of stereotypes, their effects are harmful. The act of appropriating commodifies people’s cultures, and turns them into fads.

 

No doubt, sharing deeper understanding about other countries is an educational activity, however when the mainstream media uses other cultures for their benefit, more often than not the affect is appropriation, not appreciation.

 

Selena Gomez is often seen wearing Native American headpieces and Indian bindis, a trend that has become popular at music festivals. This act takes something that holds a lot of value to its people and turns it into something meaningless, all in order to be fashion forward. In Native American culture, there are various traditional ceremonies a person must complete in order to claim the right to wear a headdress. In Hindu culture, bindis have high religious significance and are often not worn by unmarried women. These clothing items are not passing fads like chevron print or oversized clutches, rather, they are integral parts of people’s culture. To appropriate culture is to take something that holds a lot of value to its people and turn it in into something meaningless. In Selena Gomez’s case, for no reason other than to be considered “fashion forward. ”

 

In the early 2000’s Gwen Stefani continually used four Japanese girls in her music videos, dubbed Harajuku Girls, who followed her around and never spoke. In an article from Salon, Mihi Ahn says Stefani has “swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women. While aping a style that’s suppose to be about individuality and personal expression, Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out.”

 

These stereotypes reinforced a western image of the demure, submissive Asian woman, as well as supporting pre-existing images of white superiority.

 

Moving forward to the 2013 American Music Awards, we see there is no immediate end in sight for cultural appropriation. In her performance for her song, “Unconditionally,” Katy Perry “and her dancers spend much of their performance time putting their palms together and bowing, scurrying across the stage trying to be light on their feet, and hiding behind umbrellas and fans,” reports The Atlantic’s Nolan Feeney.

 

We are not sure why these American pop sensations are so eager to paint as a monolithic group of submissive servants, but we are willing to guess racism is at play once again. In addition to strengthening preexisting notions, stereotypes also reward the rich while neglecting the cultures they were stolen from.

 

Designers like Céline, Stella McCartney, and Marc Jacobs have all made money off of clothing lines that were based off of the fashion trends of various subcultures. Not surprisingly, the people who invented the styles originally were never mention, nor given recognition.

 

The Atlantic quotes Canadian novelists, M.T. Kelly, who explains that “again and again, papers have been written, careers built, tenure granted, royalties issued, and yet the people upon whom this is based are left behind on the reserves with nothing.”

 

When you go to purchase your next outfit or accessorize your outfit, perhaps overlook the bindis and grab a watch instead. Watches are classy, sensible, and as far as we can tell, not taking advantage of other cultures.

 

What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation? Comment below or tweet me @LydiaYekalam