We’ve been hearing about cultural appropriation a lot. From some of the looks at the 2015 Met Ball (theme—“China: Through the Looking Glass”) to the kimonos and bindis being sold as “trends” for clothing companies, it seems as though there is much to be fixed about the way we market items of cultural significance. One of the most pressing concerns about the way that these “new” beauty looks are gaining momentum is the timing of it: they seem to only become popular when white celebrities are perpetuating them.
Take the most recent example: big lips. We’ve all seen the Kylie Jenner lip challenge, right? That ridiculous (albeit hilarious, sometimes even dangerous) few week-long hashtag that linked to clips of hundreds of girls sucking on shot glasses to swell up their lips. While those videos were meant as satire, they were still poking fun at a larger trend: the move to loving bigger lips, achieved by way of lip fillers and extra lipliner. As the name suggests, this new craze reemerged as a result of Kylie Jenner’s “iconic” statement lips—and I say re-emerged because the public also went gaga when Angelina Jolie hit the scene way back when. Yet what about the fact that a majority of African-Americans characteristically have large lips? Black celebrities like Viola Davis are called “less classically beautiful,” while white women are heralded as “trendsetters.” Even worse, the public is now revering a trait that used to be historically ridiculed in minstrel shows and cartoons, back when blackface was the norm.
And not to target Jenner clan again, but the same goes for Kendall Jenner’s 2014 look. Marie Claire lauded her partial-cornrows look as “bold” and “epic,” a statement that quickly garnered significant Twitter outrage. Defiant users were quick to note (sarcastically) that cornrows were not, in fact, “invented by white people in 2014.” This is especially when yet another popular African-American style fell under fire later in February 2015: Giuliana Rancic wrote off Zendaya’s Oscars dreadlocks, saying that she must have smelled like “patchouli and weed.” Need more examples? Take FKA Twig’s gelled down baby hair, Katy Perry’s slicked-down bangs and braids in music video “This Is How We Do,” and Marc Jacob’s white models sporting bantu knots at Spring 2015 NYFW.
All of these incidents suggest that what has been cast aside as regularity in minorities is suddenly beautiful only when the mainstream is ready to advertise it. It’s the cool girl wearing a shirt that other kids already had and getting crazy compliments on it when the rest had always been overlooked. And here, the cool girl is a group, a select look. At the same time, the minority might feel relieved, then feel guilty about feeling relieved, because something that had always been cast aside as characteristic of their group is now loved by the majority. Who doesn’t secretly like the cool girl stamp of approval—and then hate that they even care?
It all comes down to a problem of awareness. I don’t think that there is any problem with wearing a kimono or sporting cornrows for a day, regardless of ethnicity. We just have to make sure that we don’t label anything as “revolutionary” when we see it in different circumstances. In the fashion world, style recycles itself, and “discovery” is really a relative term. Let’s try not to Columbus anything.
– Grace Lee
Images courtesy of: Us Weekly, Maskcara, and Kendall Jenner