We asked Warwick students: Is it ok for anyone to wear a bindi or a sari?

‘They can’t just pick and choose which parts or accessories of Asian culture that they like’

Festival season is fast approaching, which means endless hours spent online shopping for the perfect outfit that simultaneously embodies edginess and style. But let’s talk about that – feather headpieces, dreadlocks and more subtly but most commonly, bindis have become part of what we deem fashionable in the summer season.

Cultural appropriation certainly has become a buzz across social media, most recently with the controversy concerning Kendall Jenner sporting the cover of Vogue India’s 10th anniversary. Accordingly, the spotlight is shining more than ever on the ongoing discussion on what, if anything at all, is appropriation to wear.

Last week we asked fellow Warwick students their opinions on cultural appropriation, focusing on when and where it is should be deemed appropriate to wear bindis and saris if one is not part of the culture it represents. What do you think?

Jess, first year, International Managment, Chathu, first year, Engineering, and Anne, third year, English

Chathu: No. Asian girls have been criticised for wearing traditional clothing by others. White girls don’t have to go through this and to glorify a white girl wearing one is disrespectful.

Anne: It depends. If they are trying to embrace the culture, then it’s acceptable. They would have to wear the whole attire though – they can’t just pick and choose which parts or accessories of Asian culture that they like.

Jess: It’s not okay when it’s worn for the wrong purposes. It’s wrong to sexualise and fetishise a culture.

Fresher Lorraine, International Management

It’s not okay. You wouldn’t wear a cross if you aren’t Catholic, the same applies when it comes to a bindi.

Blessing, third year, History and Politics

I think the question is if you’re ‘sharing’ and ‘appreciating’ culture, have you actually understood what it means by speaking to the people who own it? I think a lot of people want to claim they are just ‘appreciating culture’ but they bought their clothes and accessories from white-owned online shops.

Cultural appreciation means you need to understand where what you wear came from. White women are the global ‘standard’ of beauty, you are what everyone imagines when they think of beautiful women. So if you take what is special from other women and wear it with reckless abandon, knowing that if you wear it you are fashionable, but when a woman of colour wears it she is stereotyped, laughed at an bullied – are you really a feminist? Are you really committed to fighting against racism?

It’s deeper that just rocking up to an event, it’s acknowledging that you, as a white woman, have unspoken power and privilege. You can do what you want, so why isn’t it ok to just let margininalised women have their space? I get it, you go to India, you wear a sari – you’re the minority there, you’re showing appreciation, but in England when you are the majority, don’t you see how you silence women by refusing to let them embrace what is theirs?

Sybille, first year, International Management

If she wants to, then it’s totally okay. A girl can do what she wants with her body.

Fresher Victoria, International Management

It isn’t a bad thing. It depends on whose point of view you’re looking from. From a European perspective, a bindi is a fashion statement and it has no intent of offending anyone.

Hannah, first year, History and Sociology 

If the girl is wearing a sari to an Asian themed event because they want to appreciate the culture, then it’s fine. But the bindi has cultural and religious connotations, it just seems wrong to put it into the context of a festival. You wouldn’t wear a cross.

Muzz, second year, Engineering

I think it’s fine. It’s pretty cool that they’re embracing Asian culture like that.

Ed, second year, History 

If it’s an Asian themed event, celebrating Asian culture, then I don’t see a problem with anyone wearing a sari, as long as it’s done with respect, rather than as a joke. If it’s some gap yah bullshit party where they’ve got no real reason or connection to the culture at all, then I could understand the issue.

With regards to a bindi at a festival, would you wear a Burka or a Kippah to a festival as a fashion statement, even though you don’t identify as one of those cultural groups? Just because it so happens that the Bindi spot is popular as a fashion statement at the moment, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to wear it. People will always follow fashion trends, especially if they’re a little bit controversial.

Ofir, first year, Law 

I think it’s really great for someone to try and participate in a culture. A friend of mine said he would be really happy if someone tried to immerse themselves into his culture and wear a sari to an Asian event. But if it’s not okay to wear a bindi to a festival – there’s a time and a place.

Ciaran, first year, Ancient History and Margaret, first year, Politics

Ciaran: Go for it. It’s a free world, you can do what you like.

Margaret: I see that as cultural appropriation, i don’t agree with that, it’s an exploitation of someone’s culture.

Vishnu, second year, History 

I don’t really think there’s anything wrong in wearing a sari to an Asian event – I think it shows an appreciation of other cultures

I can see why people can get offended by people wearing a bindi to a festival as it kind of shows a lack of respect to other cultures, but I wouldn’t be offended by it. I think it’s important that people are aware and understand other races and religions and as long as people understand what they’re wearing it’s fine.

Freshers Toyin and Augustina, Biomed 

Toyin: I think it’s inappropriate

Augustina: Depends on how involved she is with the culture.