Words by Aastha Agrawal Art by Chalmers Leung
Not too long ago, I came across an Instagram post of a well-known Australian influencer and travel blogger with over 1.2 million followers on Instagram. She had posted several pictures of herself in a lehenga, an Indian garment usually worn on formal or ceremonial occasions, and a variety of Indian jewellery. She posed in front of the famous and historic forts of Jaipur, Rajasthan (which happens to be my birthplace).
What irked me about this wasn’t the fact that she had chosen to sport these items of great history, religious and traditional value as a form of ‘aesthetic’ without shedding the tiniest bit of light on their importance.
It wasn’t even because she didn’t address that her nose ring is usually worn as a symbol of marriage and prestige, honouring Parvathi, the Hindu goddess of marriage, and is associated with the female reproductive system, according to the Ayuredic belief. Or that the tikka, a traditional headpiece typically placed on a bride’s hairline for the first time on their wedding day, is an essential element of the solar shringaar (the 16 traditional bridal adornments) because it signifies the holy union between a male and female. It wasn’t even the giant pink monument in the background, Jaipur, which holds centuries of history involving the kings and queens of India. I suppose even then, that wasn’t really what irked me.
What got me was the hypocrisy; the hypocrisy which had become so very evident amongst it all.
See personally, I’m extremely in touch with my Indian roots. I’m not religious and actually, I haven’t even lived in India since I was 12. But my ethnicity and culture still makes up an enormous part of who I am.
In the end, it wasn’t her post that offended me, but the response—or lack of—it garnered. Not a single comment questioned her actions. At the same time Trisha Paytas, a Youtuber with 2.5 million Insta followers, posted a photo with box braids which was bringing in thousands and thousands of fuming, rage-filled comments. In a single photo, she was ‘cancelled’ her for appropriating black culture and the comments were trying to educate her about the history of the hairstyle.
Similarly, Kim Kardashian’s recent shapewear launch ‘Kimono’ brought in media coverage from tens of thousands of news agencies, influencers and enraged Instagrammers resulting in the name being changed. But have you heard or seen anyone talk about Gucci’s turban named ‘Indy Full Turban’?
The turban is traditionally worn with religious significance and is an article of faith that millions of Sikhs around the world view as sacred.
The item was first worn by white models during Milan Fashion Week in 2018. Has the coverage for this, in over a year, been anywhere near comparable to the Kardashian’s scandal in the past few weeks? The biggest insult is the fact that Gucci is yet to comment on it.
It was torture seeing how quick people were to turn a blind eye about the fact that this influencer had committed cultural appropriation. If it had been literally any other culture she would have been killed in those comments, but apparently, Indian culture doesn’t warrant the same passion and outrage. Flaunting around in a Native American traditional war bonnet, posing for a quirky photo at Coachella? You’re an absolute goner. Dressing up in a Korean traditional Hanbok with your new BTS album? You’re a trash Koreaboo.
I may come across as resentful and as if I don’t approve of other cultures being treated with respect but honestly, I’m just envious.
I’m jealous and frustrated that other minorities are being talked about, getting the recognition they deserve and discriminatory stereotypes are being demolished. Whereas my culture is still being misrepresented and reduced to the ‘creepy Indian dudes in DM’s’ or simply being cast as the ‘old store clerk uncle’ or ‘the burnt-out math nerd who speaks with an accent’. I feel vulnerable that people aren’t as accepting of who I am, purely due to my skin colour.
We need to represent the brown community. We need South Asian (yes, Asian; Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan, Afghani, etc. are also Asians) representation in media. We need to cut back on the stereotypes. We need to educate ourselves.
Because, either all of it’s okay or none of it’s okay.
Either we can either get offended overall misrepresentation and disrespect of every instance of cultural appropriation or ignore all of it. It is not acceptable to be choosey about which cultures and ethnicities we deem valuable enough to defend.
We are not going to discriminate within discrimination.