Fashion trends at summer festivals often come under scrutiny for their cultural appropriation. Bindis have been one of the biggest trends at festivals and it needs to stop.
Summer festivals like Coachella have their own fashion and set their own trends. Celebrities like Selena Gomez, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Vanessa Hudgens are among the celebrities who have been spotted at Coachella wearing a bindi.
Gomez went as far as posting a photograph on her Instagram wearing a bindi with the caption “sari, not sari,” creating a joke out of the traditional Indian clothing.
The use of a bindi as a fashion statement strips away the cultural aspect of the item completely.
These fashion trends make their way into popular music videos too.
A few months ago, Coldplay released a video depicting scenes of snake charmers, a Holi festival and small slum children running around them while they sang “Hymn for the Weekend.”
In this video, Beyoncé, an icon of intersectional feminism and a champion for the Black Lives Matter movement, was on my screen dressed in Indian clothes and wearing jewelry that made it look as though she had a bindi on her forehead. The video itself used the Indian people and religious festival as nothing more than a theme.
Major Lazer’s “Lean On“ and Iggy Azalea’s “Bounce“ are examples of other music videos that use Indian culture as a theme.
Cultural appropriation is defined in the Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature as “a term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group.”
If you are not a Hindu or an Indian, the use of a bindi is by definition cultural appropriation.
A bindi is a beautiful part of Hindu culture that many people passionately believe in. But the bindi has been a reminder for many Indians of why they will never be truly American.
The bindi is a religious Hindu item. It’s history in India is immeasurable and it holds deep meaning for many Indians. The country of India, being comprised of a little more than a billion people, has many different subcultures. A big reason why most Hindus can’t answer the question, “What does a bindi mean?” is that there are so many meanings assigned to the object by different groups in India.
Hinduism is a religion that says any practices or religious texts are just supposed to act as a guide. The religion essentially allows you to take any aspect of it that will help you to personally reach “moksha,” or enlightenment. With such ambiguity, it’s no wonder that there are so many different meanings that can be assigned to a bindi.
When a non-Hindu person wears a bindi, it creates a sense of “otherness” towards Indian Americans. When you wear a bindi as a fashion statement, you’re telling Indian people that their culture is a prop to you. Every experience they have had from childhood to adulthood regarding their culture is erased and they are made invisible.
If I were standing in a room wearing a bindi, I would not be considered a fashion icon. I would just be Indian. I would still have to put up with jokes about cows and arranged marriages.
It took me a long time to come back to appreciating my culture. I spent most of my childhood condemning Hinduism and Indian culture because it made me so different from my peers. I realized that I had condemned generations of heritage because of a society that, years later, adopted my culture as a fashion statement.
As an Indian American, I have a lot of heritage to be proud of. Thanks to my ancestors, people get to enjoy going to yoga, love their paneer masalas, and can even use ayurvedic medicines. But the bindi is a religious symbol that needs to be worn only by those who belong to its heritage.