Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements and practices from a marginalized culture by a
relatively privileged or dominant culture. In recent years, the debate and discussion surrounding
the topic has been part of the public discourse. Notably, though, the entertainment industry –
from popstars to models – have been exhibiting examples long before.
As the notion gains traction on social media, as well as the general public discourse, one must
look at what it truly is.
What entices cultural appropriation?
Put simply, power imbalance: this is when individuals of one group have more power and
privilege than another. The ‘superior’ abuses this power to cherry-pick and commodify aspects
of the other’s identity which is otherwise deemed inferior. Think of it as modern colonization
and commercialization of the practices, traditions, and fashion of these non-dominant cultures.
This power imbalance, although less prominent now than when colonisation ran rampant, is still
High-end international brands are guilty of this. Gucci’s release of its blackface sweater and
showcasing white models mostly is one such example. Another instance is Victoria’s Secret’s
appropriation of the Chinese and Native American heritage in two different instances.
Even world-renowned supermodels, fronting social awareness and advocacy on social media, are
guilty. Gigi Hadid wore an Afro wig in a Vogue Italia photoshoot, prompting significant
backlash. The magazine faced similar controversy when it published Kendall Jenner with a
How does Pakistan fare in this debate?
The fashion industry in Pakistan is no stranger to such offences. Cultural appropriation runs just
as rampant here as it does in Milan and New York. The only difference is: it is scarcely brought
Nabila Maqsood, Ali Xeeshan, Sana Safinaz, Alee Hassan, and Sanam Jung are just a few names
that come to mind when one ponders about cultural appropriation in the national fashion
industry. From using BIPOC as props to repeated instances of blackface, these names have
managed to ignore political correctness and basic decency entirely. What is worse when it comes
to Pakistan, though, is the overarching lack of education on such issues. This culminates in most
brands getting immunity from backlash and accountability.
These people simply cherry-pick the aspects of culture and use them for their interests. Choosing
to appropriate instead of trying to understand and learn about stereotypical culture to broaden
their perspective are some common instances of ignorance.
The line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is a thin one. Thus, one needs
to constantly be checking their privilege and catechizing their choices when it comes to the styles
they choose and the trends they follow.
Ask yourself: are you appreciating, amplifying and supporting these cultures? Or are you just
ripping them off to appear trendy?
Although it is sometimes presented as appreciation, these brands just want to be trendy and when
it comes to helping these minorities, they are nowhere near as vocal as they should be.
Furthermore, sometimes different cultures perceive others as exotic, which feeds into the overall
tendency of romanticizing orientalism. This all in a way is modern form colonialist activities and
are highly derogatory. Instead of appreciating cultures, these brands are just driven by greed and
capitalistic advantages. Moreover, these displays of “so-called appreciation” tend to be highly
sensitive towards marginalized groups.
Instead of using different communities’ sacred traditions as a means of making money, a
respectful approach needs adopting unlike this current trend of appropriation.