Beauty comes with a special freedom of expression, which can be liberating and empowering. You have the power to express yourself with the style in which you choose to wear your hair and makeup. The power of beauty goes beyond what meets the eye and reflects something much deeper. Within the world of beauty lie strong cultural symbols that reflect rich historical references. It becomes an issue when cultural symbols of beauty become materialized into the latest trend or beauty statement to make for a good Instagram photo. And one of the most vivid forms of beauty exploitation happens at music festivals.
Cultural appropriation is when cultural elements of a minority culture are borrowed or stolen by members of a dominant culture and taken out of context. In the midst of Coachella, one of the biggest music festivals in the world, we fawn over the drop-dead-gorgeous beauty looks, but we can't help but also acknowledge the blatant racism that shows up every season. Without fail, festivalgoers appropriate beauty looks from other cultures with no regard for their historical significance. Instead, they're falsely advertised as "festival beauty trends," captured on camera, and then disseminated via blogs, websites, and social media feeds. The flimsy, recreational use of culturally loaded symbols like bindis, headdresses, and cornrows are inexcusable, and here's why.
Bindis have long served as beauty statements at music festivals, worn by attendees as well as celebrities who shall remain nameless. Adorning your face with colorful jewels because it looks "cool" is a problem, and here's why: Bindis are religious symbols historically worn by women in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China. The bindi has many scriptural and societal meanings that are sacred and grounded in rich tradition. For example, in the Hindu culture, bindis are used to symbolize married women and are a sign of good fortune. It's actually the opposite of exotic, and it shouldn't be used as such or primarily as a way to dress up your forehead.
One of the most glaring forms of cultural appropriation at musical festivals comes in the form of feathered headdresses. Time and again, they're worn as elevated "hair accessories" by individuals who have no idea about their origins in Native American culture. (By the way, there are over 500 Native American tribes and counting, yet their culture is continually reduced to a single fashion statement.)
"Headdresses are something that has to be earned," Cherokee Nation member Adrienne Keene shared on the Native Appropriations blog. "That's completely lost when it's this chicken-feather thing you bought at a costume shop. That deep sacred meaning is eclipsed by the desire to just dress up and play Indian." The overt act of degrading Native American culture has to come to an end.
This Coachella attendee might think her dollar sign–shaped cornrows look on trend for a music festival, but she's likely unaware of the fact that Black women have been fired from their jobs for wearing braids, discriminated against in the workplace, and suspended from school for wearing ethnic styles.
Braids have a long, rich history. “The origin of braids can be traced back 5000 years in African culture to 3500 BC, ” says celebrity hairstylist Larry Sims. Cornrows, in particular, are a significant style with a historical legacy: Classic cornrows are a style that has been a sign of societal status, ethnicity, religion, and more. This is an example of a white woman using the aesthetic of Black culture as a fashion statement, either unconscious or careless of the weighty history this style carries in Black culture.
There's a line between freedom of expression and outright disrespect. At Byrdie, we're firm believers in owning your own beauty independence, but we don't believe in blatantly appropriating other cultures. It's insensitive to minority cultures to disregard the meaning behind these symbols, especially in privileged environments like music festivals. We charge everyone to be more conscious of their beauty decisions, both inside and out of music festivals. Own your individualism, not someone else's culture.