Booty and Beauty: The Fine Line of Cultural Appropriation

“What would America (and the world) be like if we loved black people, as much as we love black culture?” – Amandla Stenberg

The fashion industry is fierce. It’s tough, sets unrealistic expectations and leaves you staring at yourself in the mirror just that bit longer, wishing you had a smaller this and bigger that. We’ve always been one’s to take bits and pieces that we love from the catwalk and parade them around the streets of our neighbourhood. But what happens when we start taking bits and pieces from people’s culture and traditional dress to jazz up our outfits? You my friend, are engaging in cultural appropriation. 

Cultural appropriation is ‘the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.’ (Frew, 2015).

Black cultural appropriation by celebrities: Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera
Black cultural appropriation by celebrities: Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera

The issue here is power. And moreso ‘post-colonial power’ (Nicklas & Lindner, 2012). The dominant or ‘normal’ culture is free to appropriate what they want, whereas the ‘minority’ or ‘marginalized group’ is left with significant cultural forms of expressions, being worn by white girls at music festivals. Cultural appropriation is dangerous and damaging. According to Everyday Feminism contributor, Maisha Johnson, it ‘trivialises violent historical oppression, let’s privileged people profit from oppressed people’s labour and perpetuates racist stereotypes.’ It’s no lie that the dominant or ‘normal’ culture in the mainstream media and society is a white, middle class man or women. And what gives us the right to take something significant from another culture, make it ‘cool,’ and only once a white person adopts it, is it widely accepted?

Everyday Feminism: explains how it is. Source
Everyday Feminism: explains how it is. Source

‘Marginalized groups don’t have the power to decide if they’d prefer to stick with their customs or try on the dominant culture’s traditions just for fun’ (Johnson, 2015).

Native American headresses have slowly been banned at various music festivals. Source
Native American headdresses have slowly been banned at various music festivals. Source

We’ve come to accept that cultural appropriation regarding some items of clothing such as the Native American headdress as unacceptable as it is disrespectful of Native American history, traditions and oppression. It has already been banned at Montreal’s Osheaga’s Arts and Music festival and other major music festivals like Coachella have been encouraged to follow suit. So if we realise that we should show ‘respect and honour’ towards First Nation’s people in Canada and America, when will this translate to bindis, cornrows, grills, henna and any other ‘desirable’ or ‘exotic’ cultural traits.

Nicki Minaj flaunting her booty. Source
Nicki Minaj flaunting her booty. Source

It even extends to the whole, Booty craze sweeping the world at the moment. Sure, Queen B sang about it back in 2001 with Bootylicious, it’s only within the past year or two that the rise of the booty has exploded across the fitness scene. Now you can’t scroll through Facebook or Instagram without ‘how to get a bubble butt, #girlsthatsquat, big booty bitches…’ ANYTHING related to how apparently now it’s trending to have a big booty.  This can extend from the ‘appropriation of African American culture, occurring as a result of the dominant culture’s fetishistic desire to consume blackness and to relegate the black body. They’re objectified and can leave the individual psychologically and emotionally damaged.’ (Bailey, 2012).

Alex Wek. International super model who speaks openly about her struggles as a black model coming from a South Sudanese/British background. Source
Alex Wek. International super model who speaks openly about her struggles as a black model coming from a South Sudanese/British background and also encourages individual beauty of the mind, heart and soul. Source

I’m not writing this to accuse people of being racist, or to depict anyone in any single way. We’re all different and have different experiences in life. However, being a white woman born in Australia, I have to acknowledge the extreme privilege that I have. I’m not trying to exclude myself from this either. I’ve worn saris and bindis to dress up parties and been to the gym and maybe hashtagged #thatass before. I’m also not trying to say that these traits can only ever belong to that cultural group. But I think it’s important to be educated and understand the history and significance these actions can have on others before doing so. I believe that the power I do have should be used to discuss these issues so we can attempt to empathise, empower and create change. If we continue to turn a blind eye to casual racism and cultural appropriation, especially regarding beauty, then we will only continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes.

So to answer the question at the beginning of this blog post, I believe the world would be a much better place if we loved people from all over the globe equally for who they are and not for what we can take from them.

*

References

Bailey, C 2012, Fight the Power: African American Humor as a Discourse of Resistance, The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 36, No. 4, University of Missouri

Frew, C 2015, Othering, blackface, appropriation and #blacklives matter, Lecture Slides, University of Wollongong, 14 August

Johnson, M 2015, What’s wrong with cultural appropriation? Everyday Feminism, June 14, http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/

Nicklas, P, & Lindner, O (eds) 2012, spectrum Literaturwissenschaft / spectrum Literature : Adaptation and Cultural Appropriation : Literature, Film, and the Arts, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, DEU. Available from: ProQuest ebrary. [14 August 2015].

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/05/cultural-appropriation-in-fashion-stop-talking-about-it/370826/

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4 thoughts on “Booty and Beauty: The Fine Line of Cultural Appropriation

  1. This is an interesting topic; i’m always confused as to how this debate all came to light, and what it means for modern global society and culture. The thing i’m most puzzled about in this article is how/when white people being “bootylicious” became another major sign of cultural appropriation? Especially since it’s featured in the title of the article.
    I have absolutely no idea how the “booty” is an integral part of black culture specifically, or how the appreciation of just that one thing leads to consequences for black people. There are many white girls who could be considered “bootylicious” just naturally (and many who work for it because they/their partners/society think it’s sexy) – what does this debate mean for them?
    Is a white girl’s #datass really a sign of cultural appropriation?
    I know there’s definitely much more to the issue, but your thoughts/reply on this particular bit would be appreciated 🙂
    I say we all just sit back and appreciate a nice set of glutes, regardless of what colour they are :p

    1. It is a really interesting topic. The reason I spoke about being ‘bootylicious’ as being a possible sign of cultural appropriation is extending from Amandla Stenberg’s argument that white girls like Kylie Jenner, is a sign of cultural appropriation because it disrespects various other cultural factors like history.
      So I was attempting to remove myself from this post and bring to light if the whole ‘booty’ is another form of cultural appropriation. I don’t have the answer for that, because I believe we’re all born differently and the size of our butts, lips, breasts or feet don’t have anything to do with the colour of our skin. Genetics is a strange thing (I’m the only red head in my whole extended and immediate family).
      The whole point of this post was trying to find the line or what is cultural appropriation, what’s not and if it matters. Some would argue it’s very significant and others, not so much.
      I really appreciate your insight Abdul. Always happy to hear and learn from other people’s perspectives so thank you. 🙂

  2. Argh! i had a massive reply that was really incisive and super smart, but the website for some reason didn’t save it 😦
    A quick summary of it – why is our society’s sudden appreciation of the big booty considered cultural appropriation? I’ve never associated large behinds as a core facet of black culture, certainly not one that is specific to them, and I can’t really see how such appreciation is detrimental to black people as a whole.
    Does this also mean that white girls should not be going to the gym and appreciating #datass? Or do they just have to always consciously acknowledge that #bootylicious has links to the black community?
    Your thoughts/replies would be much appreciated!

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