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.

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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/

(un)Naturally Beautiful

http://www.cosmopolitan.com.au/beauty/skin/2015/5/this-photoshop-video-proves-beauty-campaigns-are-totally-unrealistic/

I know we’ve all seen the extreme differences between photoshopped and unphotoshopped photos, with the before generally looking fatter, lumpier, redder, wrinkler (or any other adjective associated with being ‘ugly’). However, this recent before and after on Cosmo got me owning my skin.

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Ever since I was 11 years old I’ve had acne. For 10 years! That’s a bloody long time to feel insecure about your face that you show to the world every day. And now, whilst I’m approaching adulthood, I still have acne scars, pimples and imperfections. Yes you heard it here, believe it or not I’m not actually perfect. However, seeing this advertisement/the photoshopping of it was actually quite reassuring for me. Whilst I know within myself that photos for high fashion magazines etc are photoshopped, it’s quite overwhelming and some what depressing being constantly bombarded with images of beautiful women with clear skin. In the before picture, the model’s skin isn’t even bad! It’s just not ‘desirable.’ I feel that more models should embrace their flaws and imperfections and have a more positive influence on young people across the globe.

Peace and pout x

source http://www.etonline.com/photo/2014/09/24103358/640_beyonce_newest_thigh_gap.jpg
Even Beyonce is guilty of some photoshopping! source 

The City of Beauty, Fashion, Morals and Of Course… Sex

Sex & the City is the modern woman’s answer for a bible. It offers us guidance, reassurance, faith, the promise of redemption and stresses the importance of red wine. Whilst it was only last year that I watched the epic 6 season girls guide to life, I have since seen every episode about 3 or 4 times and each time it gets better and Big-ger (hehe get it?) So here is what the four women, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Miranda can teach each and every one of us, and yes boys, you included.

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Being single can be fabulous – For a long time, we were all told that the ultimate goal in life is to get married and have kids. Then we can live a fulfilled life baking cakes and picking our kids up from soccer practice. Well those ideals can f*ck off right back to the 1950’s. These days being single doesn’t mean you’re unattractive, unwanted or undesirable. It means you’re taking time for yourself. Giving yourself the time, love and attention you deserve. We’re allowed to explore ourselves, discover what we want and allowed to have standards and expectations. Being single gives us more time to ourselves, to be ourselves.

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Love and relationships are difficult and confusing – even if we do happen to find someone, it’s bloody difficult. There’s unspoken social rules that need to be followed, expectations, thoughts, experiences, when to call when not to call, Facebook likes… these days there’s so many things that interfere, distract and can get in the way of relationships. There’s so many complex relationships; Carrie and Mr. Big, Carrie and Aidan, Miranda and Steve, Charlotte and Trey, Charlotte and Harry, Samantha and Smith, Samantha and everyone… but regardless of their relationships and connections, they kind of make you feel like any sort of relationship or ‘thing’ you have going on in your life, is kinda normal.

“They say nothing lasts forever …dreams change, trends come and go, but friendships never go out of style.” – Carrie Bradshaw

Friendship will overcome all things – True friends are friends for life. They’ll be with you through thick and thin. Regardless of time or distance, when you need someone to talk to and hold you, your best friends will be there. Through a break up, a bad life choice, a broken fingernail, they’re there for you. The best things about having girlfriends is that you can tell them anything and everything. They’ll never judge you and always be there to give you advice and paint your nails with.

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Fashion is everything darling! – Unfortunately guys, I’m not sure you’ll ever understand the age old struggle of having a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear. Don’e judge us if we take 20minutes or 2hours to get ready, we just want our outfit to match our confidence and inner beauty!

There’s no such thing as a normal *insert noun here*- relationship, penis, date, face, vagina, man, woman, dress… All the different escapades the girls get up to kind of justifies anything you have going on in your life.

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Sex is sex – Sex is a natural part of life which for decades has been smothered by taboo and secrecy. But Sex & the City, true to its name, destroys all sexual stereotypes and taboo. We talk openly about love, life, friends and family, why not sex?

Every woman has a little bit of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda in them- Samantha is a confident, strong, successful, sex crazed woman who sleeps with a new man every episode and always offers the blunt truth. Charlotte is an innocent and hopeless romantic woman who dreams of a fairytale happy ending. Miranda is a cynical strong lawyer who has questionable fashion choices but is a loyal friend. And Carrie, the slightly annoying pushover whose kryptonite is the man she keeps running back to. And me? Well I like to think I’m a bit of a Carrie and Samantha.

We’re all beautiful people who deserve the best and nothing less than butterflies!

xxx A