Saturday, May 26

Brown and Bothered: Turning tikkas into trend subjects it to disrespectful debate

(Harish Balasubramani/Illustrations director)

(Harish Balasubramani/Illustrations director)

Students should avoid cultural appropriation – stealing what is considered the beautiful aspects of another culture without respect for the tradition from which it originates. It ignores the racism and xenophobia the creators of the items face. In Brown and Bothered, columnist Sidra Rashid discusses her experiences with appropriation of her Desi culture.

I Googled “tikka hairstyles” a couple weeks ago. Almost every photo that came up was either a white person or a non-Desi person of color, many of which seemed to have been taken at music festivals.

You probably know what a tikka is, even if you’ve never heard the word before, courtesy of Urban Outfitters. It’s an intricate jewelry piece in South Asian culture, particularly in India and Pakistan. The band or clip-on accessory hangs down the front of the forehead and can also wrap around the crown of the head.

I’ve been wearing the traditional piece for years, usually to religious events or wedding festivities. We would only get them from Pakistan or particular Pakistani clothing sales in the States, and I always loved to wear them.

The problem with pieces like tikkas and naths featured at Coachella, and consequently on fashion blogs, is removing such pieces from their cultural background. Thrusting them into a fashion scene opens a discussion for people to comment their opinions on the traditional adornments for their fashion appeal, rather than to respect them for their cultural and historical significance.

A few years ago, my Pakistani friend brought me a tikka from her summer trip in Pakistan.

“You can wear it on a Coachella spirit day at school,” she told me.

I wasn’t aware of the trend of tikkas at the time, so I was confused and skeptical when she mentioned them in such a context.

Soon after she made this comment, I began noticing tikkas at music festivals and on boho fashion blogs. Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 began selling them as headbands for affordable prices, and fashion magazines like Glamour and SoFeminine deemed them boho trend pieces.

ASOS came under fire this month for selling tikkas under names like “chandelier head clips” and “Festival Hair Tika.”

The tikka trend has transformed into one of Western culture, which explains why non-Desi people come up on Google.

UCLA lecturer Laurel Westrup, who teaches a class on the aesthetics and politics of cultural appropriation, said these trends generally come from a place of ignorance.

“There is something there about wanting to put on a style that is unique, that is special, like ‘I’m going to a music festival and I want to try something new or different,’” Westrup said.

This time a couple years ago, Kendall Jenner showed up to Coachella with what the Daily Mail called “a gigantic nose ring.” She donned an oversized hoop in her nose with dangling fringe and a chain that connected the hoop to her hair.

I, however, know this jewelry by another name. It’s called a nath.

My mom wore one to her wedding. So did my grandmother. And my aunt. And nearly every single one of my Desi friends’ mothers.

[Read more: Henna appropriation cherry-picks beauty while ignoring people]

In most cases, nostril piercings in and of themselves are not explicitly cultural appropriation. The style is widespread and comes from many cultures internationally.

However, bridal nostril jewelry is very specifically South Asian. Like wearing a veil or something blue, wearing a nath – whether it’s real or a clip-on – is traditional for brides at their traditional Pakistani weddings.

Instead, Jenner wore this as a fashion risk for a pop-culture event, perhaps the furthest one can get from a traditional Pakistani wedding. She wore the nose jewelry with a tube top and shorts, while posing for selfies and listening to music.

“You’re taking just the style of it without taking the connotations of the original,” Westrup said. “If you’re putting that on, and you’re not a bride and you’re not going through a ceremony, then perhaps you’re misunderstanding the meaning of that item.”

One commenter on the Daily Mail article said, “She looks like a fool with that idiotic nose ring.”

Another said, “After she turned 18 she started doing all (these) things that make her seem just as stupid as her (older) sisters, looks like she was waiting for that (chance).”

Jenner did not have the permission from the Desi community to wear a nath, especially in such a context. And yet, because of her, my heritage is being called “idiotic” and “stupid.” Because a celebrity put a nath in her nose at a well-documented event, the public now feels they have a right to comment on it and call it offensive names.

When festival attendees steal these accessories, my cultural history becomes subjective. Once a celebrity wears a nath or a tikka, transforming it into the hippest Coachella trend, it becomes a fashion statement – one that critics and internet wanderers are allowed to comment on and critique.

“Once you appropriated something into popular culture, it’s opened up to be discussed and criticized in ways that were never part of its original context,” Westrup said.

If you look through hashtags like #hairchains and #headjewelry on Instagram, you see many people spewing how much they love boho vibes and festival style.

The jewelry that’s been sitting in my drawers for over a decade is not a trend.

I did end up wearing the tikka my friend gifted me to school on a high school spirit day. That day, however, was not Coachella Day. Instead, I made a point to wear it on Cultural Day, where people would be forced to look at my tikka and realize it didn’t belong to them to wear, commodify or debate.

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