On Monday, actress/singer/Coachella queen Vanessa Hudgens posted a series of images from a photo shoot she did with the website Beauty Coach, where she modeled two hairstyles meant to highlight her natural texture. She also sported a purple dream catcher as an accessory.
According to Page Six, commenters on the celeb's Instagram are pointing to this as an example of commodification of Native American symbols, as dream catchers aren't meant to be worn in such a way. On the flip side, some fans are pointing to Hudgens's Native American ancestry, arguing that this actually isn't appropriation at all. The internet at large, however, has found itself sighing a collective "really!?"
But is it...or isn't it?
According to jewelry designer Nanibaa Beck, it's not that simple. "Supporting inspired Natives/Indigenous people rather than native-inspired makers greatly reduces the act of appropriation," she tells Refinery29. "Your support empowers those creative-minded people to continue sharing our unique and individual style as someone of our Native tribes/nations. Our creativity comes from a beautiful point of origin. This current Vanessa Hudgens issue fits into a huge problem of 'native-inspired' items, which greatly affects Native jewelry, too. And most people don't realize our legal system created the Indian Arts and Crafts Act in 1935 (the IACA of 1990 pertains to "truth in advertising") to protect the cultural Native groups and [address their] subsequent misappropriation, but it has limitations to the U.S. only.
"Take a step back and look at where Native appropriation begins in this issue," she continues. "It starts at Purple Beetle, a Philippines-based company. They make the dream catchers as an inexpensive, trendy ornament, out of context, and away from its original region and makers. Vanessa Hudgens plays into this scene as another ignorant 'trendsetter' and, yes, adds to the overall appropriation. As a person of Native American descent, she could educate herself by being aware of the vibrant Native creative community who make culturally relevant pieces. Then she can share her newfound knowledge with her stylists and creative directors. She has a public image that can do more good."
This strong reaction to Hudgens's latest photo shoot is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that she is a repeat offender. For starters, she wore a dream catcher headband — very similar to the one currently causing a stir — to Coachella (of course) earlier this year, according to Riawna Capri, her hairstylist and the cofounder of Beauty Coach. Hudgens has garnered a reputation as the so-called queen of the festival, and given the ill-informed (read: offensive) tendencies of this realm of fashion, one doesn't simply earn that title without some controversy.
In 2012, Hudgens committed one of the most obvious of the festival faux pas by wearing a Native headdress. Despite heads shaking across the globe in the aftermath, it wasn't the last time she wore the piece, which has spiritual significance among Native tribes. Two years later, she wore a headdress again to the music festival — plus, she and other celebrities drew criticism for wearing bindis as accessories. In spite of all this, though, a few weeks ago Hudgens shared another dispatch from a music festival in which she wears a bindi once again, which might make this particular dream catcher situation all the more sensitive.
Neither Hudgens nor Capri nor Beauty Coach have taken down the images or commented on the ensuing controversy. At this point, though, there are as many "How Not to be Offensive" guides to festival dressing as there are practical outfit suggestions, which paints a grim picture of what people consider appropriate — and makes it all the harder to take when this type of thing happens; the line between appreciation and appropriation is very fine.
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