Oh, the Kardashians: no one knows which one is which, they haven’t done anything important to be famous, and yet they’re the masters of making money from every single aspect of their lives. Ok, who am I kidding? Of course I know which one is which, but everything else is true. The thing about these women is that, if any of the scandals they’ve been involved in had happened to anyone else, their career (no matter what industry) would be over immediately. However, in their case, it seems like the more controversial the story, the stronger and richer they get. I really don’t know if their empire will ever be over. Seriously, it’s so weird. I just don't get it.
It would be impossible to talk about all the controversies surrounding the Kardashians, so let’s focus on the two youngest members of the family and the polemic caused by their clothing brand. Not that long ago, there was a huge fuss about Kylie and Kendall launching a t-shirt collection with the face of music legends like Ozzy Osbourne and Tupac on them. Of course, people were furious about them making money from the work and image of musical icons, so the two siblings had no choice but to pull the merchandise and apologize. Did they learn their lesson from this? Unfortunately, no. You might have heard about what happened a couple of weeks ago when these lovely sisters uploaded a photo on their Instagram accounts promoting their new clothing line. The photo showed a model wearing an outfit that is heavily influenced by the style of Mexican-American cholas. Needless to say, the backlash was intense.
In the last few years, we’ve seen many cases of cultural appropriation on the internet, especially in the world of fashion. I'm pretty sure that this has always been a thing in fashion, and that it's only become more visible now because of the internet. Now, as for the response to these acts, either people have opened their eyes and become more aware of their own culture and won’t accept other people using their symbols and imagery, or it’s just cool now to call people out for appropriation. I don't know, really. What I do know is that, because I come from a country whose culture has been appropriated for centuries, I have pretty strong opinions about this issue.
First of all, I do think that what really matters and has to be taken into account is the intention behind appropriating something. For instance, there was a Japanese-American woman who accused a little white girl of appropriation for celebrating a geisha-themed birthday party, condemning the girl's mother for raising her child to appropriate other people's cultures. In this case, I agree with all the Japanese people who responded to this woman, saying that she was exaggerating because there wasn’t any malice in the girl's actions, only the wish to honor a culture she found really cool.
So, is honoring a different culture always appropriation? I mean, maybe I’m wrong, but when I was a kid, I loved dressing up in the traditional costumes of the countries I loved. I had a flamenco dress, a Greek toga, and even a kimono I would wear all the time. To this day, I can’t help but be amazed by all the gorgeous traditional dresses and styles from different parts of the world. For this reason, I don’t care if people from other countries come here to Mexico and get a blouse or a handbag with traditional embroidery on it, nor if they wear a sombrero and celebrate our culture abroad. What bothers me is when people use these things to make fun of or to take advantage of the same people who put their heart into creating these products. Even worse, it's horrible to see how many fashion companies out there deliberately steal the designs of our local artisans.
This brings us to the biggest problem with cultural appropriation. Fashion designers and companies have always looked for inspiration in other cultures, but there are some designers who only want make a profit from them. In other words, they take the intellectual and cultural symbols from these cultures and sell them without acknowledging who the real authors of these works are. Just like the Jenners with their chola look, these designers are only trivializing styles and outfits that have been symbols of resistance against oppression for these cultures. This is why people get angry. Now, the issue of culture appropriation is not always black and white. If, as I said before, it's the intention that counts, what happens when a woman from Europe or the US buys an embroidered shirt with the intention of honoring Mexican culture, but by doing so she’s just supporting a company that steals from indigenous artisans? You see where I’m going with this?
I do think that there are many cases on the internet where people are taking the cultural appropriation issue too far (I'm not talking about the Jenners, of course), and I don’t think that dressing in another country’s traditional clothing is a crime. The point is that you need to know where you’re getting your clothes from, and how the fashion industry might be taking advantage of your intention to celebrate a culture in order to make money. But then again, what do I know? Maybe I’m wrong, and we should all just be happy with what we have and never look beyond our borders.
If you want to know more about the subject, don’t miss these:
Mayan Culture: Fashion’s New Exploitation Source
The Day A Mexican Museum Sued An Artist For Plagiarizing The Aztec Calendar
The Subtle Violence Of Pillaging Art As A Strategy Of Cultural Dominance