Bindis are not just a fashion statement
Your Coachella style is my way of life
As an Indian child in the United States, I never wore bindis to school out of fear of what others would think and say, and I was never pressured to as I’m sure my parents thought similarly. The perception of bindis has definitely changed in recent years, however, as bindis have had their fair share of the spotlight in the last few years as the conversation about cultural appropriation has expanded. Much of the talk about bindis concerns music festivals, with many of the people there, celebrities and others, wearing the touted “face jewel” on their foreheads.
However, bindis are so much more than a fashion statement – they are part of Hinduism and the corresponding culture. Speaking as one Indian Hindu of around a billion, I usually have no problem with non-Hindu women wearing a bindi, but it is sad to see it used simply as a fashion statement with little to no appreciation for the rich religion and culture it comes from.
One of the common arguments for people who believe wearing the bindi is cultural appropriation is its religious significance. However, most Hindus, especially those who did not grow up in India, do not completely understand the religious significance of the bindi.
Take me for example: I am Indian and have visited India several times for a significant portion of my life, but I did not know the significance of the bindi for most of my life. Even now, I don’t completely understand its significance. However, there are obviously many millions of people around the world that do know its significance, and they all differ in what they think about non-Hindus wearing bindis, but many of them do think it is offensive to wear bindis for fashion, which should, in my opinion, be a deterrent to wearing the bindi in the first place.
What you’re wearing to look cute at a music festival is an important religious symbol in one of the biggest, most-widely followed religions in the world. It would be okay if it was something that was solely cultural, but wearing something that has a religious connotation simply for the sake of fashion isn’t right, nor will it ever be.
Indians are generally pretty tolerant people with the condition that you’re doing things with good intention. Thus, many Hindus will be offended when they see people at a place like Coachella wearing intricate bindis. There is a fine line between appreciation and appropriation, and when someone appreciates Hinduism/Indian culture, be it wearing a bindi as a token of appreciation or watching a Bollywood film, they usually won’t be upset or offended at all.
I went to a high school with a lot of other Indians, so people who weren’t Indian would occasionally wear salwar kameezes to one of their classmate’s party, and they would often wear a bindi along with it. Because they knew what they were doing and had good intentions, the Indians there wouldn’t mind. The biggest club at my high school was the Indian American Student Association, and people of all races and ethnicities would participate in the cultural show each year, and no one would ever make a fit about non-Indians wearing Indian clothes and bindis. We were proud to see that there were so many people appreciating our culture, especially since we live so far away from India and thus aren’t always exposed to things that remind us of home.
This comes back to the main distinction between appreciating and appropriating a culture. Nine times out of 10, wearing a bindi to a music festival definitely isn’t cultural appreciation. I doubt people are thinking of Hinduism when they put a bindi on their forehead while getting ready for a music festival.
I’m not telling you not to a wear a bindi. I love my religion and culture and would love for others to be able to experience it without having to travel across the world. I’m simply suggesting that you take a second to fully comprehend what you’re doing and the meaning behind that little piece of body jewelry in your latest Insta. Before the bindi became a fashion statement and a common sight at music festivals, it was (and continues to be) a religious symbol, so take some time to respect that before you wear one.