Image | Instagram
Yes, those two things really can go hand in hand. In this blog post, we're digging a little deeper into the cultural appropriation of the way black women wear wigs for fashion.
What is Cultural Appropriation?
Before we can get started, it's important to know what cultural appropriation (CA) is. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as "the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture".
For example, Karlie Kloss wearing a Native American headdress for a VS fashion show is a form of cultural appropriation. Why you might ask? Because by reducing the headdress to nothing more than a fashion accessory, it's stripping it of all the things that make it sacred to the Indigenous people of North America. The headdresses are reserved for the most powerful members of the tribe and are earned over a long period of time with different tribes of Indigenous people having different customs when it comes to their headdresses. If it hasn't been earned, one shouldn't be worn so for a model (and a white one, at that) to parade around in a recreation of one is considered highly disrespectful and racist.
Image | CR Fashion Book
Why Is It Such A Big Deal? Aren't They Just Appreciating The Culture?
In short, no. There's a very fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Cultural appreciation involves educating oneself on topics like the history of the culture and its traditions as well as its significance to its people. Appropriation skips over all of that and erases all of these important factors to reduce certain parts of ethnic cultures into an 'aesthetic'.
As white people have historically been the main perpetrators of cultural appropriation–and have been for years–the unavoidable power dynamic this adds to the mix doesn't just make cultural appropriation inappropriate, it also makes it racist. Even more so when white people have been known to mock parts of different cultures (acrylic nails, hoop earrings, bindis, to name a few) only to then adopt these things for themselves and claim them as 'fashionable'.
Someone once described it like this: Imagine someone copying your homework word for word only for you to be given an F and for them to be given an A+. That's exactly what cultural appropriation is like.
So How Does This Apply To Wigs?
In a past blog post exploring some of the reasons why wigs might have become more popular in recent years, we mentioned that influencers and celebrities have played a large role in popularising the wearing of wigs for the sake of fashion. In particular, we mentioned the Kardashians and Jenners who have consistently made headlines for their wigs; stating the impact they've had in bringing wigs to mainstream and predominantly white audiences.
While it can't be denied they've done just that, it's also important to note that although they might have helped popularise the wearing of wigs in everyday life, they weren't the first to do it. Not by a long shot and it's something we should've made clearer in our post. Giving them large credit in popularising wig wearing for fashion is not only inaccurate, but perpetuates cultural appropriation.
Wigs can be traced all the way back to 2700 B.C.E where Egyptians would construct wigs from human hair and even palm leaf fibres.
Since then, examples of wig-wearing can be found in the histories of all parts of the world. Reasons ranged from practicality to fashion and differed according to regions.
However, the specific wearing of wigs for fashion the way we know it to be now can be attributed to black women exclusively. Although wig wearing for black women has roots in protective styling and/or the pressures to assimilate with dominant societies, things have shifted over past decades.
Yes, many black women still wear wigs for those two aforementioned reasons and many now wear them because it's fun. Regardless of the 'why', it ultimately boils down to the phrase "because they can". Hair is a form of self-expression. Whether it's a form of political activism or a way to elevate your outfit, hair styling and wig-wearing are a way to show the world who you are; something that has been celebrated widely within black communities. It shouldn't need a lengthy explanation. But when it comes to communities outside of this, they often (wrongly) assume that a black woman wearing wigs, weaves and extensions means she hates her natural hair and it's constantly questioned. When white women and non-black women of colour do it, it's rarely looked at twice.
Take Beyonce for instance, for years questions have circulated around her hair: is she bald? Is her hair real? Is she natural? Why does she hide her real hair? All she was doing was using her hair as another way to express herself and her creativity. However, her white counterparts were not questioned on their hairstyles in the same manner.
Similarly, Lil' Kim has always been a style maven even in her earlier years. Known for her bold looks consisting of brightly coloured wigs and outfits were a reflection of what was - and still is - popular within black communities. However, mainstream audiences often called her looks ghetto or tacky. Her iconic blue wig stamped with the tell-tale Chanel double C's wasn't to everyone's taste and neither was the blonde, Versace iteration. Fast forward to 2020, and people far and wide have copied her style including a high profile YouTuber known for his racist comments and actions. Once again, this only highlights how white people will often be celebrated for things black and non-black POC have been doing while the latter groups are shamed for the same thing. Rachel Mckenzie but it perfectly when she said: "the business model is such that Black culture sells when white people hijack it."
So when white people like the KarJenners started adopting the way black women wore and continue to wear wigs for fashion (among other instances of cultural appropriation) and got all the praise for it from mainstream audiences while the latter still get shamed for it, it ticks all the boxes of classic cultural appropriation.
Will There Ever Be An End To Cultural Appropriation?
We would love to say that cultural appropriation will be a thing of the past soon enough but the truth of the matter is, it's something that was created centuries ago so it won't be solved in a night.
Adding on to the fact that cultural appropriation is closely tied to racism, we can't expect it to be erased in one night. However, what we can do is educate ourselves on the topic and encourage others to do the same. Likewise, amplifying the voices of those who experience cultural appropriation and not celebrating those that perpetuate CA, is another step we can take it reducing and eventually, eradicating it.
What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation and wigs? Leave your thoughts in the comments! And don't forget, the Wig Fix now comes in skin-toned shades!