Fashion trends are ongoing. One day it’ll be something, and the next day it will be something else, and that is completely fine. There is nothing wrong with fashion, and there is nothing wrong with the trends that people set. However, there is a limit, a limit that requires respecting people’s cultures, heritage, traditions, and most importantly, what can be fashion and what can’t.
In the past couple of months, I have seen a rising fashion trend of the bindi, a gem worn on the forehead between the eyebrows. On fashion websites, I’ve seen these bindis sold as sticky gems that can just be stuck to the forehead, sold in different shapes and colors, in different designs.
The bindis have grown prominence and many girls have started wearing them. Just last weekend, Selena Gomez decided to sport a huge bindi during her performance at the MTV Movie Awards for her new single, “Come and Get It.”
The girls who wear it call the bindi “exotic” and find it very cool because it is a part of the Indian culture, and they think it’s pretty. The funny part is, none of the girls who actually wear the bindi in terms of this fashion trend are Indian. Or even close to South Asians.
So where did this “exotic” bindi come from? The bindi is a forehead decoration worn by women in South Asia. It comes from the Hindu culture and religion, so the majority of the women who wear it are South Asian Hindus.
The bindi can symbolize many aspects of the Hindu culture, but from the beginning it has always been a red dot worn on the forehead, most commonly to represent a married woman. The bindi is also said to be the third eye in Hindu religion, and it can be used to ward off bad luck. The women who wear it in India wear it with some representation of their own culture, whether it’s because they’re married, or if they have another cultural tie to it.
As times progressed, the bindi acquired more designs, and today there are many different kinds of bindis that women wear, with different colors and designs to match their daily outfits, or fancy ones for their fancy dresses. However, at the end of the day, it is a part of their culture, and they wear with that significance.
The women who wear it today, in the Western countries, are not wearing it with that culture in mind. Instead, they wear it because it looks exotic and they try to be trendy, but do they even know what the cultural significance is?
A bindi has a lot of significance to the women who wear it in South Asia, and by not keeping that in mind, the women who wear it here and who are not from South Asia are disrespecting it to a very high degree. They are culturally appropriating the bindi.
Cultural appropriation is a term that defines the adoption of a minority’s culture by the dominant culture. The dominant culture takes the minority’s culture, or a part of it, and makes it seem menial, without any of the significance that it was supposed to have.
Even though many people think that adopting aspects of another culture can be thought of as “sharing,” that doesn’t justify not respecting what that object means in the actual culture it was stolen from. And the reason it is so frustrating is because the dominant culture does not have to suffer any racism because of it.
When Hindu women in the United States wear the bindi, people love to make fun of them. I have heard a countless number of jokes about the bindi. If you watch “Family Guy,” and even if you don’t, you’ve probably seen the scene where Peter Griffin asks his neighbor whether he uses the “red button” on his wife’s forehead as a remote control to shut her up. When people in the Western countries, such as America, see an actual Indian woman wearing the bindi, she is coined as a fob, a backwards and old-fashioned person who does not know how to embrace the American culture.
But somehow, when the dominant culture in America decides to adopt this “trend,” they are called exotic and beautiful. The stigma that the South Asian women face because of their cultural identity choices is very offensive, and it hurts more when people who aren’t even from this culture wear it and don’t get any heat.
Coming from personal experience, I can’t identify with this struggle more. Growing up, I would see people making fun of my mom and I for wearing our traditional outfits when we would go out for parties. However, when I see the the others wear it, I hear people giving them the greatest compliments. And that doesn’t make sense to me. Why are they being exotic and creative, while I am being ridiculed for embracing an aspect of my culture?
When Selena Gomez wore that bindi and decided to go on stage and dance to a song in which the lyrics do not go with the music at all, she was insulting every single South Asian woman. This is cultural appropriation. It is no different from adorning Native American moccasins and headdresses. If you have ever taken a history class, you know how badly the Native Americans were treated because of their culture, a culture that was very different from the Western culture. They were tortured, asked to abandon their heritage, and assimilate into the white dominant culture.
So today, when people from the dominant culture decide to wear those clothes and try to be exotic and treat them like Halloween costumes, it is offensive. The argument that people are just “honoring” them is ridiculous because at one time in American history, the natives were considered filth.
In the same way, trying to adopt the Indian culture while not understanding the significance of that culture is wrong. It is important to think twice before wearing garments and other objects of another culture; it is necessary to understand that these items can really mean something to the people of that culture.