Life&Style editor Imogen Lancaster discusses whether Kim Kardashian West’s braided hair is an example of cultural appropriation
Kim Kardashian-West is known for sporting numerous different hairstyles in an attempt to continually change up her look. Whether it be the platinum blonde bob, her infamous sleek brunette locks or, most recently, a full head of braids. This hairstyle, otherwise known by many as ‘cornrows’, is traditionally associated with African American textured hair. It dates back to thousands of years ago as particular styles of cornrows differentiated different African tribes. This cultural practice is therefore not only a hairstyle but also a statement of black history and a defining characteristic of the black community.
Yet nonetheless, non-black individuals, including celebrities like the Kardashians, have adopted this hairstyle in the name of fashion, as opposed to for tradition. It has also been done for the convenience of maintaining Afro curls, as done so by many people of colour. Because of this, Kim’s recent Instagram posts of her braided hair spark a debate: is this simply a harmless hairstyle experimentation, or is it a stark example of cultural appropriation in today’s society?
Cultural appropriation, by definition, is ‘the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture‘. And such cultural appropriation is nothing new. Holiday-goers have got their hair braided in this way for decades as an exotic temporary hairdo whilst abroad. And countless non-black models on runways have sported this look because it is presumably considered a novel fashion statement.
Likewise, bindis, which significant religious and historical parts of Hinduism, have similarly been culturally appropriated. Festival-goers recreate and glamourise them by wearing gems and stickers on their lower middle forehead, of course without any religious meaning whatsoever.
Even more obvious, every-day examples include many women wanting fuller lips and darker, tanned skin, both of which are characteristics associated with the black community. This clearly exemplifies how ‘dominant cultures’ want to mimic particular features as a result of trivial trends.
Of course, many individuals have innocent intentions when choosing to adopt these looks, but unfortunately, the widespread ignorance of cultural appropriation is disrespectful and insensitive to these ‘minority’ communities and is overall damaging. Indeed, the original significance and value of such cultural acts is often lost or distorted and otherwise exploited for trivial purposes.
The cornrows hairstyle, to many, is just a hairstyle and a meaningless fashion trend. But to others within these communities, it is a form of identity themselves within their race and is an inherent reflection of their community and history. This inappropriate borrowing of culture for aesthetic purposes is therefore potentially offensive and an undeniable example of cultural appropriation, which often goes unnoticed.
In certain circumstance, it is often unclear where to draw the line when it comes to interpreting what counts as cultural appropriation. But what we should strive to do is give credit to the cultural context where such practices originate. And most importantly, be sensitive and considerate and educate ourselves so that we are aware that adopting such ‘fashion statements’ may actually have harmful consequences.