Celebrities have a lot of influence on people due to their large following. Most celebrities like to change up what they wear in order to make bold statements. However, some celebrities often participate in cultural appropriation while trying to make these “bold statements.”
The problem here is that they do not take the time to learn the meaning behind what they are wearing. They only borrow from a culture without accepting and representing what it truly stands for and what people within that culture continue to face. Celebrities only use the elements to benefit themselves and turn their backs to the issue when others point it out.
Let’s backtrack a bit. What is cultural appropriation?
According to Oxford Reference, cultural appropriation is “a term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance. “
One way celebrities tend to take part in cultural appropriation is through hairstyles. Two recent events that show this are the ones that Miley Cyrus and Kylie Jenner made. Both of them decided to wear dreadlocks, which is an African American hairstyle.
Back in February, Kylie Jenner was seen wearing dreadlocks for a photoshoot which was “rebel-themed.” Dreads were used as the hairstyle for the photoshoot since it was perceived to be “rebellious” and “edgy.” Kylie took to Instagram to pose while showing off her hair, and she simply captioned the picture “Dreads.” Also in February, Zendaya decided to step out in dreads, a style of hair which African Americans use in order to style and take care of their hair, for the 2015 Oscars.
Just like Kylie, Miley Cyrus has been seen wearing dreadlocks multiple times during this past year. However, it initially sparked a lot of attention when she wore them to the 2015 VMAs in August. Miley took to her Instagram to post lots of pictures of her with dreads as well. Then for Halloween, she posted several pictures of fans who dressed up like her with the same hairstyle.
The media’s response to Zendaya was shocking because it was completely different from the initial response that both Miley and Kylie received. Popular online websites responded positively to Miley and Kylie by saying that it “rock[ed]” and it was “daring.” Although they all wore the same hairstyle, Zendaya received a negative comment made by Giuliana Rancic, a TV persona and a co-host on Fashion Police. Giuliana said that Zendaya’s hair probably smelled like “patchouli oil” and “weed.”
Zendaya was a victim of the double standards that happens between celebrities. Why? While Zendaya wore a hairstyle that belongs to her culture, she was automatically criticized for it by the media. Headlines with words like “daring” was not seen for Zendaya. On the other hand, Miley Cyrus and Kylie Jenner were both making fashion statements, and it was seen as something cool for them to be doing.
Despite the positivity both Miley and Kylie initially received, they did get some pushback from people who recognized that they were appropriating dreadlocks. On Twitter, I witnessed many people tweeting how they disliked Miley and Kylie wearing dreads. I kept seeing tweets throughout the year as Miley continuously wore dreads even after the VMAs. People also expressed their opinion on other online platforms, like blogs, to also express their opinion and to talk about how Miley and Kylie were participating in cultural appropriation. Although there were many comments and comparisons made about Zendaya’s experience, both Miley and Kylie have dismissed the subject and have basically kept quiet about the issue.
Zendaya, just like others, took to Instagram to respond to the comment Giuliana Rancic made about her hair at the Oscars. Since it was online, it was shared and commented on very quickly. Zendaya is a good example of a celebrity using her influence for good. She took to social media to respond to the incident and encouraged others to be more aware of what they say or do. This was a smart move for her since it is a public platform. This allowed for it to reach a large audience and allow them to learn from it as well instead of keeping it behind the scenes with only Giuliana Rancic. As a result, Giuliana also apologized publicly, which Zendaya then kindly accepted.
Similarly to Zendaya, another celebrity took to an online, public platform to educate others about African American hairstyles and cultural appropriation. Amandla Stenberg, known for her role in The Hunger Games, posted a video on YouTube to share about how African Americans use dreadlocks, braids, and other hairstyles in order to maintain and protect their hair. Amandla speaks about how the different African American hairstyles became part of Hip Hop and Rap culture, and it eventually became part of pop culture and the fashion world. She describes how white artists “adopted black culture as a way as being edgy and getting attention.” She expands on the issues that come along with white artists appropriating black culture, such as stereotypes. The video does a good job in providing information and examples of celebrities participating in cultural appropriation.
Why am I focusing on celebrities?
Let me start of by saying that there is not a defined line when it comes to cultural appropriation. The basic concept is understandable however there are moments where it is difficult to understand if something is cultural appropriation or not. The reason why there can be so much confusion is because every person has different boundaries. Some still consider it cultural appropriation if a person takes from a culture even when they have educated themselves while others disagree and think that it is okay. Although I understand where the confusion is, I believe that people should take the time to learn about cultural appropriation. If they learn about cultural appropriation then they might be able to at least think twice before making a choice to use elements from another culture. This is where celebrities come in. Celebrities have a large influence on others and they are able to push people to think beyond what is in front of them, just like Zendaya and Amandla did. Celebrities are in a position where they can educate themselves then others by speaking out about these issues. It is important for them to challenge themselves and others to actually take the time to educate themselves instead of participating in something that might hurt a large group of people.