I’m So Used To Cultural Appropriation That I’ve Started To Doubt My Own Outrage
The Debrief: Gigi Hadid was styled with an afro in a recent Vogue Italia shoot, and while that’s problematic in itself, the fact that this is still happening speaks to a wider issue that’s still yet to be addressed in the fashion industry.
Part of me wishes that I was as desensitised to cultural appropriation as the decision-makers of the fashion world seem to be. Time and time again we come across the blatant and shameless co-opting of identities that don’t belong to the models chosen for high profile campaigns. Time and time again, it upsets and offends people. Time and time again, the responsibility somehow falls upon social media communities to call out stylists and magazines on the inappropriateness of their shoots. And, time and time again, nothing is done about it.
This time, Gigi Hadid is back in the spotlight. She’s been photographed for Vogue Italia, styled with an afro, big hoop earrings and as some Instagram commenters are speculating, seems to have adopted a tanner skin tone than we’re used to seeing naturally.
The photo appeared on French stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele’s Instagram over the weekend and is clearly problematic, but what’s even more troublesome on a personal level is that when I looked at the photograph I found myself doubting my frustration. I paused as I read the comments and became unsure about whether or not I should be so bothered by something has depressingly become the norm in fashion and wider society. It made me feel shit and then I felt guilty about it.
‘Why was she styled to look like a black woman?’, on user commented. ‘But why not just use a black model?’ asked another. ‘All those people tagged in this photo are tone deaf and majorly missed the mark here. If you want a black aesthetic, why not hire a black model—save a few bucks on bronzer’, said one more.
It’s a frustratingly strange scenario - not because of the uncomfortable presentation of ethnicity is a style choice, sadly we’re all too familiar with this concept in fashion – but rather because this is something we see every day, complain about every day and watch as our complaints are ignored and dismissed by the fashion powers that be. At a time when diversity in fashion is probably as rife as it’s ever been, we’re still hearing about models like Leomie Anderson being dropped from a fashion show because the designer didn’t feel like using more than one black girl. We’re still seeing Solange Knowles having to remind a magazine *not* to touch her hair or Photoshop it out of the cover image. And while on the one hand, Gigi Hadid in an afro is just one instance in a wider shit storm of not okay behaviour, it speaks to something that has been historically drilled into the psyche of women of colour everywhere – that dark skin isn’t beautiful and that the features with which we identify are only validated on lighter skin tones.
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One of the things I’m still trying to reassure myself of is that of course there is validity in my frustration. That, as a black woman who in the past has been told that my old braids don’t look like ‘real‘ hair, to slick back my natural hair with gel to ‘tame’ it to appease the entire white population of staff on school picture day, I’m allowed to be hurt by the validation of the traits of my ethnicity only through it being transferred to a woman who doesn’t look like me. Because hell, why wouldn’t Gigi want to rock a ‘fro? It’s a beautiful hairstyle that sadly took me a long time to recognise growing up surrounded by images that told me otherwise. But it also has a place. It has a heritage that is too often disregarded in fashion for the benefit of fashion houses that otherwise lack diversity.
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