Indigenous Appropriation & Sexualization of Women in Fashion

Angelyn Francis of The Huffington Post Canada said it best when she took the words right out of my mouth, “Bohemian-inspired clothing has long featured flowing, fringed and beaded garments that appear inspired by indigenous clothing. But the inspiration toes the line of cultural appropriation when spiritual symbols wind up being copied without fully understanding the history and meaning of the items.” I am not an Indigenous Native, but I do have a high level of respect and appreciation for other cultures and their symbols. To see the misuse of these symbols so fervently creates a lot of frustration. I feel like I can loosely relate it to an American slapping a Canadian flag patch on his backpack in order to avoid ridicule while travelling to foreign countries. I know that the “patch” issue is a far cry from what is happening here, I’m just trying to convey that I can appreciate (slightly) what it feels like to see the misuse of symbols from my own culture as well.

Indigenous Appropriation & Sexualization of Women in Fashion

To further the blow, these symbols and items that have specific meaning, and sometimes ritual uses, are being sold to the masses by means of displaying them on half naked, white women and plastered all over celebrities for the sake of vanity, calling it “inspired”. Bullshit. Katie J.M. Baker from jezebel.com writes from a personal point of view, “in hopes of better understanding the legal and more “thoughtful” differences between offensive appreciation and positive inspiration”, she delves into the question of ‘unconscious promotion of cultural appropriation’, and how we can approach it from a knowledgeable and respectful angle. So, she tracked down the experts and found a ‘definition’ (not that cultural appropriation is easily defined…), here’s what she found: “Scafidi, the author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, said even she found it hard to give a succinct and clear definition. Here’s what she’d go with: “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. ..This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.” (Book: Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law)

Indigenous Appropriation & Sexualization of Women in Fashion

Just last year, The Daily Dot U.K. published an article when Urban Outfitters faced ridicule for appropriation of the Native American culture. One of their advertising statements read; “# WE ARE ALL NATIVES” – which is blatantly, entirely, and ignorantly, FALSE. These types of statements that are used in advertising (or even in social media personal opinions) absolutely infuriate me. At what point will we stop faking it and live in reality, where we can face the truth everyday without having our subconscious overflowing with guilt because we CHOOSE to be wilfully blind and ignorant? What are we saying by taking these items and symbols and using them as our own, without permission, and slapping them on the next ‘ready-made’, take-and-toss fashion line? Not only that, but by displaying them on nearly-nude white women and the level of sexuality attached to the ‘Native girl’ image? There are plenty of stunning, gorgeous, beautiful, Native American models out there. Why aren’t they being chosen as the models to represent the line? Would that not help solve a part of this misappropriation? Hollywood loves white people. Tonto role was given to a white man, why? There are plenty of Indigenous actors, why the hell are all of these culturally diverse roles (not just Tonto) being given to frickin white people!?! I am utterly confused by the situation.

Indigenous Appropriation & Sexualization of Women in Fashion

 I believe that, if a fashion line that does not have Indigenous/Native American (or whichever culture is being misappropriated) roots in that culture, they should represent that culture with it’s models and provide educational information as to which symbols are being used, and what they mean. I don’t think that’s asking too much, but I think it’s a good place to start. I’m sure the theft of cultures around the world isn’t going to slow down anytime soon, but we can all make a conscious choice to make the situation better for ourselves and others.

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