Updated: Sep 21
A couple years ago we all saw many celebrities, most notoriously we witnessed Vanessa Hudgens sporting a Bindi on her forehead at Coachella. If you’re not familiar with what a Bindi is, it is a sacred symbol, either a piece of jewelry or red dot that is worn in the middle of the forehead between the eyebrows.
One Instagram follower of hers, @giorgiajrmazzarone, defended Hudgens while also noting that it’s important for the celebrity to keep others in mind, saying:
“She can do whatever she wants, I'm not against her, but this is cultural appropriation, and yes, there are people from this religion that don't mind if other religions use it as an accessory, but there are the ones that mind!! I'm not saying for her to stop, just to think about it, for example, I'm catholic, but I don't care if other religions use the cross of Jesus in their necklace, but there are people that mind, because it is important for them, is part of their lives!”
But… it’s actually not an accessory
The very thing that folks from the dominant culture wear with casual impunity can be of deep spiritual significance. Bindis are NOT an accessory by any means, and if you happen to catch someone calling it so, you may notice they are likely not of South Asian or Indian descent. It might feel easy to take someone else's culture and accessorize it, and make it “trendy” simply because we think it’s cute.
When it comes to Bindis, they are extremely appropriated and misused a lot by western folks.
“I wanted to appreciate the culture by wearing such a cute Bindi though??”
Unfortunately, even with good intentions, this is not appreciation of the culture. Appreciation and appropriation when it comes to Bindis have seemed to have a gray area but it shouldn’t be gray. Here’s why.
Appropriation comes with not knowing what Bindis are and using them as a “trendy” accessory, versus using them for the significance they hold.
If you are not familiar with the history of Bindis, don’t educate yourself and ignorantly wear them to look cute, you are indeed appropriating, even if you’re not doing it with mal intent.
Appreciation on the other hand, is taking the time to learn where Bindis stem from, what their significance is and allowing folks to which the culture belongs to, wear them while understanding why they do so.
Okay, so what is a bindi then, and what do they symbolize?
Bindi’s are a part of the Hindu culture, and are primarily worn by South Asian femmes. As previously mentioned, they are a red dot or a more adornished piece of jewelry that folks wear in between their eyebrows in the middle of their foreheads.
They can symbolize married folks, and they are also used to avoid bad luck, as the Bindi is representative of the third eye.
Respect and NOT Colonizing - is really what it boils down to
Ultimately, what it comes down to is respect and not perpetuating colonization of culture today. If we are not part of a culture we shouldn’t take what is theirs, adorn ourselves with it just to be “cute” or “trendy”. Especially if you come from a position of power or privilege then consider this - because of global racism the people of the source culture may be mocked, ostracized, criticized or even harmed or killed for doing the thing you for you “cute” or “trendy.”
The very thing that folks from the dominant culture wear with casual impunity can be of deep racist discrimination for those from within the culture.
This isn’t exaggeration. I spoke with a large group of Desi’s - or Indian American folks, and the majority of us have all been ridiculed or mocked for wearing traditional Indian fashion or spiritual adornment such as saris, salwaar kameezes (traditional Indian dress) bindis, or malas.
By desensitizing ourselves to celebrities who used Bindis as accessories, we are saying it is okay to disrespect someone else’s culture. The real use of Bindis is not to be attractive, but they actually have deep meaning behind them.
Those not from within the culture should think hard about wearing Bindis as accessories. However, we can appreciate the differences in all cultures, inform ourselves and do better. We can do better by informing those around us and shining a light on how to respect and appreciate other cultures, instead of appropriating them.
For more information visit susannabarkataki.com/blog for more articles on forms of cultural appropriation and ways to handle it in today’s society.