Is it wrong to wear the traditional dress or symbols of someone else’s culture?
Some religious leaders think so. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hindu groups are offended that ex-Disney star Selena Gomez decided to wear a bindi during her performance at the MTV Movie Awards over the weekend. Gomez wore the glittery symbol on her forehead again during the taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Monday.
While the accessory was meant to match Gomez’s Punjabi-inflected new single Come and Get It, the Los Angeles Times says some Hindu leaders are demanding that the singer-actress apologize.
According to the entertainment news agency WENN, officials at the Universal Society of Hinduism have called her performance “insensitive.”
“The bindi on the forehead is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and has religious significance. It is also sometimes referred to as the third eye and the flame, and is an auspicious religious and spiritual symbol,” Rajan Zed told WENN.“It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.
“Selena should apologize and then she should get acquainted with the basics of world religions.”
As the Los Angeles Times points out, however, plenty of other performers have worn the bindi in the past. Gwen Stefani practically made it her trademark look during the 1990s.
While some believe the protest against Gomez’s style is unwarranted (as one online commenter wrote: “I am a Hindu ad I can tell you these so called groups have too much time on their hands. … I mean seriously who objects to a bindi”), it does raise the question of where to draw the line when it comes to cultural appropriation. At what point is adopting another culture or religion’s customs reverent? And at what point is it offensive?
Last year, as Jezebel reported, Victoria’s Secret apologized for dressing one of its models in a bra, underwear and Native American feather headdress. The same company earlier pulled its “Sexy Little Geisha” lingerie.
As previously reported on The Hot Button, Urban Outfitters landed in hot water for its “Navajo” – branded clothing and accessories. (In that case, the main cause for upset was that Urban Outfitters was accused of violating the Navajo Nation’s trademark on the name, though some also criticized the company for sexualizing and trivializing ethnic symbols.)
What do you think? When, if ever, is it okay to wear traditional symbols or clothing that are not your own?