Cultural appropriation. It’s a term we come across more often than we'd like to in the beauty and fashion industries. Because, no matter how many times designers, brands, and publications get called out on it, it's still happening. Be it the co-opting of cornrows and babyhairs, or trying to pass off big butts as a new phenomenon, the industry has a way of picking aspects of different cultures and passing them off as its own. Just last week, hair blog Mane Addicts wrote a post about the "twisted mini-bun" hairstyle seen on models at the Marc by Marc Jacobs spring 2015 show. At first glance, one might not see a problem with the "buns" sent down the runway. Except, they originated in Africa, have been worn by women of color for centuries, and go by the name Bantu knots. Understandably, the Internet went off in response to the post. It has since been taken down. There's no problem with borrowing hairstyles from other cultures. The issue lies in the dismissal of history and context. It lies in repackaging a style as “chic” and a “new trend” when worn by white women, without any credit to the culture it was taken from — by either the stylist who created it or the editors reporting on it. This is where the distinction between celebrating a culture and appropriating it becomes fuzzy. “I’m 50/50 on it, because I think they take [these styles] because they love it; they’re so intrigued and they want to put [them] out there. But, not only won’t they give us credit, they won’t educate themselves,” says celebrity hairstylist Ursula Stephen, who's worked with Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, and Kerry Washington. “They take it and capitalize on it. Have I ever gotten a call to do a runway show? No, but I see the models walking down the runway with all of the styles I’ve done on Rihanna. It’s funny: We’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.” Until we better equip our industry leaders with information so that they can speak to, say, the history of dreadlocks or the origins and cultural significance of cornrows — or, even better, diversify the talent and hire individuals who are already armed with this knowledge — we'll continue to face situations like the Zendaya and Giuliana Rancic "weed" controversy and people associating cornrows with being in "jail." “When we have more of our brown girls on the red carpet, like Rihanna wearing Bantu knots and doobies and things from our culture, that helps to break it down a little bit and lets people know that a lot of things they’re wearing or doing are a part of our natural culture,” says Stephen. The industry needs to give credit where credit is due — or the same women its leaders are “inspired” by will continue to feel neglected and excluded from the conversation.
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