Fashion blogger extraordinaire Gala Darling knows a thing about creating a signature style: in some parts of the Internet, her cotton-candy hairstyle, positivity-inducing attitude, and recovering-Goth-meets-Sex-and-the-City outfit posts make her an icon. And Darling makes her money precisely because she is so fabulous: readers of her blog shell out extra cash for installments of her e-book, which promises to teach her acolytes the secrets to attaining her magical, glitter-infused lifestyle for themselves.
Gala Darling is so into personal branding that she has a signature signature: she signs off her posts, “Love Letters and Feather Headdresses, Gala xx”.
Yep, feather headdresses. Gala has been a fan of this hipster-hyped accessory for the latest year or so. Every post, she wishes her reader “feather headdresses” as her parting words. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, but after months of this, when it finally sunk in that, indeed, she was doing it on purpose, and she wasn’t going to realize that this was Classic Cultural Appropriation Fail, I left a comment on her blog asking what was up with the phrase.
Gala’s response was even more cringe-inducing:
So many things I love are from cultures foreign to my own (hip hop, Indian music, Buddhist concepts, etc.), should I ignore those things because I’m a white girl from New Zealand? My life would be much less fabulous if I did! I absolutely believe that culture is something to be shared, delighted in, learned about & cherished…
Rather than engage with the many reasons that Indigenous peoples might not want to have affluent white women wearing their traditional regalia, Darling speaks to the reasons that her own, very privileged lifestyle would lose some of its lustre if she felt she needed to limit her style choices to things that come solely from her own culture.
In doing so, she basically justifies her use of the headdress as part of her own personal branding by saying that it benefits her to do so. And since Darling bases her income on selling the desirability of her own fabulous lifestyle, and in influencing other young women to find that lifestyle desirable, she is literally appropriating Indigenous culture to benefit her own bottom line.
Last week, in a post promoting the latest instalment of her book, Darling describes the transmission of the electronic copies as “whizzing around our heads right now, landing with a splash in the inboxes of international playgirls, glamorous savages & doll-faced geniuses all over the world!” (emphasis mine).
We know that Darling thinks that (at least some) “savages” are glamorous, as we can see from the style inspiration on her blog. But now, she has portrayed herself as selling her own fashion-forward, magical lifestyle back to the folks she stole it from in the first place. I left an admittedly-frustrated comment on her post calling her out on her language, and so did a few other folks I know, but they have all been deleted.
Back on that original post in February, I responded that the problem with cultural appropriation, as I saw it, is that Indigenous folks face discrimination and in some cases have a history of being legally barred from wearing things like headdresses. The hipster headdress is perceived by others as being “fierce” or “exotic” or “creative” or “bohemian” at the same time that Indigenous people who might want to dress similarly would be perceived negatively for doing so. I said that when you are a person who has not invested any time in understanding the widespread racism that Indigenous people and communities face, or the continuing effects of colonialism on those communities, it is especially insensitive and can be straight-up racist to align yourself with those communities by taking something you think is fashionable and using it to make yourself look cool. I asked Gala to think about how “you are taking from that culture and giving nothing back, not even your constructive support.”
But this most recent comment about “savages” shows that, obviously, she hasn’t thought about it. And the fact that Darling is deleting comments that call her out means that she isn’t willing to publicly discuss it, either.
And that’s bullshit. It is time for Darling to have to publicly discuss her Cultural Appropriation beyond a pithy comment about her fabulous lifestyle. And it is time for her to be asked to answer to similar criticisms being made by other bloggers. Why does her blog depict mainly white women? Why, when she talks so much about self-love and body acceptance, does she post photos of thin women almost exclusively?
I love a good fashion blog. I love talking about outfits. But we have no business allowing the representatives of the fashion blog community to be oppressive. Gala Darling needs to be called out. And we need to step up and do it.
There are lots of resources out there already that talk about cultural appropriation and the hipster headdress. Namely, this post at the Cultural Appropriations blog called “But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?”
There are lotsa reasons why, of course, including this one:
By the sheer fact that you live in the United States you are benefiting from the history of genocide and continued colonialism of Native peoples. That land you're standing on? Indian land. Taken illegally so your ancestor who came to the US could buy it and live off it, gaining valuable capital (both monetary and cultural) that passed down through the generations to you. Have I benefited as well, given I was raised in a white, suburban community? yes. absolutely. but by dismissing and minimizing the continued subordination and oppression of Natives in the US by donning your headdress, you are contributing to the culture of power that continues the cycle today.
Two years ago now, Jessica Yee wrote a post about Juliette Lewis’s hipster-headdress appropriation:
But it’s not like this all isn’t a usual occurrence. We in the Native community have to witness this with every kid who dresses up like Pocahontas on Halloween, or every time we turn on the TV to watch the Redskins, Braves, or Indians play. In fact it’s been going on for so damn long that we’re kinda the only race who it’s still happening to on this extreme, public level, to the point where the fight has basically died down. Or has it?What I find most interesting though about all this imagery, and in particular Lewis’s choice of dress with her band, is actually coming from my raging feminist point of view. In an attempt to appear strong, raw, and unapologetic, people, and in this case, a woman, feels like she has to appropriate Native culture to a pretty extreme extent in order to do a good job of it.
- This post, called, “When Non-Native Appropriation Goes Terribly Wrong” identifies and dissects exactly what I fear is happening when young women internalize Darling’s sexy-exoticizing message.
- And here’s a recent Threadbared post about appropriation, More Native Appropriations, Heritage Capitalism and Fashion on Antiques Roadshow.
- Finally, this tumblr, My Culture is Not a Trend, is a nausea-inducing roundup of problematic hipster fashion.