With the arrival of July, we are now in the midst of the beloved festival season which, for many, means a fun-filled summer of friends, music, booze, and lifelong memories. With this comes the plethora of articles and videos about the latest festival fashion and makeup trends.
While this can be an exciting opportunity to experiment with glitter and the craziest of colours, many festival accessories can be offensive as, for some, these “accessories” are an important part of their culture. Trends such as bindis, henna and Native American headdresses, often sported by influential celebrities, are just some of the most common examples of cultural appropriation seen at festivals.
Cultural appropriation is the concept in which members of the dominant culture – the western and predominantly white culture – adopt normative practises of minority cultures, typically with the presence of colonial elements and power imbalances. This adoption of culture is often accompanied by ignorance: as harmless as people may think this is, such clothing and accessories belittle an entire culture, at once turning something so important into something so trivial. As a non-religious, white person from the west, I am aware that I am not the best spokesperson on the issue, but it’s important that we avoid cultural appropriation this summer – so let’s find out the meanings behind the biggest examples: bindis, henna and the headdress.
A bindi is a mark, often a red dot, worn in the middle of the forehead by Hindu and Jain women. Why one wears a bindi varies from person to person but its meaning is always beyond that of a mere accessory. For some, it signifies protection from the evil eye, while for others, it is a connection point to their chakra – a centre for wisdom,”retain(ing) energy and strengthen(ing) concentration”. Besides its spiritual significance, when an Indian woman wears a bindi in her day to day life, she is actively putting herself at risk of harassment, while white woman simply take it on and off as part of an outfit, rather than a deeper ethnic and religious identity.
While henna is the root used in the actual dye, Mehndi is the name of the beautiful tattoos often placed in intricate designs around hands and feet. India and its surroundings are often cited as the origin of the practice, but it has been commonplace in many countries around Asia where it is often worn at important life ceremonies, such as weddings, and as a symbol of the coming-of-age of a child. “The bride’s arms and feet are embellished with symbolic and historical designs that are meant to demonstrate the love and strength the bride will have in marriage. This custom holds great cultural significance in Hinduism, as it is said that the darker the henna, the deeper the love within the marriage.” Indeed, some argue that making henna so commonplace across Western culture has naturalised it, subsequently meaning the original meaning and significance behind the henna has been increasingly forgotten.
The Native American headdress, also known as a war bonnet, is traditionally worn by male leaders within tribes as a symbol of the respect they have earned from companions. It is with great honour and pride that a person takes on the bonnet; it is used to formally recognise a man’s services to his community and, because of this, it has tremendous political and spiritual importance. The feathered headdress has caused such controversy that it has since been banned at Glastonbury festival.
So no matter how cute you may think you look rocking up to Reading or Bestival in the latest festival fashions, take a minute to consider what these fashions actually mean. You can easily experiment and get crazy without belittling somebody else’s culture, for example, by following this specifically anti-cultural appropriation makeup tutorial by public figure Jackie Aina.