Cultural appropriation VS cultural appreciation in the fashion and beauty world

Sarah Lahiri tackles the distinction between cultural appreciation and appropriation, making sure we take the time to distinguish between them.

Sarah Lahiri
22nd March 2021

Recognising cultures and experiences different from your own has become increasingly important. The merger of cultures, and their incorporation into various aspects of the world plays a beautiful part in bringing people of different backgrounds together. However, there is a huge difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation, and misconceptions about this distinction are becoming increasingly problematic.

Cultural appreciation is when an individual tries to understand, be more informed of, and connect cross-culturally with other people. However, appropriation is when cultural objects and practices are utilised for personal gain. This results in mockery, or propagation of stereotypes that separate communities even more.

This is easily seen in pop culture, especially within the beauty and fashion industries. Where cultures can be intentionally (or unintentionally) appropriated in the name of appreciation. Celebrities and social media stars are usually guilty of this. Often choosing cultural pieces such as: the Japanese Geisha, the Arab Sheikh or the Native American headdress as fashion statements. Cultures are not costumes, and they certainly should not be presented as such.

The essence of foreign culture is blatantly ignored in the name of profit and personal aesthetic.

Luxury fashion brands shamelessly turn elements of culture into casual fashion pieces in the name of style. From Gucci’s modelling of “indy turbans” to Kim Kardashian's “KIMONO” collection, the essence of foreign culture is blatantly ignored in the name of profit and personal aesthetic. There is a clear difference between inspiration and insult, and big brands need to be more aware of the way they incorporate culture and tradition into their products.  

Billion-dollar beauty and cosmetic brands continue to tiptoe around a whole spectrum of people and their needs, playing a part in segregating consumers based on their race, heritage or background. In spite of their claims of diversity and inclusivity. More often than not, makeup products cater to lighter skinned complexions and use a few darker shades to call themselves inclusive. This disregards any kind of appreciation and simply adds to the never-ending cycle of cultural appropriation; continuing the exclusion of non-dominant cultures.  

Still, there are ways to immerse into other cultures without disrespecting anyone. Speaking to someone from the cultural group you are interested in exploring is a good first step. You don’t need to completely remove traditions that aren’t originally yours from your: products, hairstyles or wardrobe. You just need to be mindful of your intention and approach.

i-D: What Defines Cultural Appropriation?

Research into the context of the cultural object, and understand whether you really appreciate its significance. If you just like the way it looks, you are most definitely appropriating and not appreciating. Consider whether the religious symbol you think looks cute could be sensitive to somebody else, or if the jewellery you like is a central part of someone else's identity in ways you cannot understand. If you aren’t willing to understand the implications, you will end up offending someone even if it isn’t your intention.

Exploring various aspects of cultures with a receptive mind is key to navigating cultural appreciation, and is the only way for successful cultural exchange. Cultural appreciation can easily turn into appropriation, but like most things that can be avoided with a little effort.

Featured Image: The Daily Beast

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