Cultural Appropriation (or Inspiration?) And Wigs

Cultural Appropriation (or Inspiration?) And Wigs
Image | Instagram

 

EDIT from founder:

Before we dive into this this is a side note from the founder of The Renatural.

"We have had a few comments that have made it clear some aspects of this post have been misconstrued. We do not dictate, determine or decide what one can and cannot wear throughout this blog post or any other blog post. We are further discussing a topic that has been researched by academic institutions such as Cambridge UniversityUCL and LSE  and global media publications such as Vogue magazine, Allure  and Grazia.

Highlighting the experiences and sharing the history of one demographic does not take away from the struggles experienced by another. The Renatural is for and has always been for, all people that wear wigs often. No matter your gender, race, religious affiliation or hair type, we want you to feel comfortable, confident and have the most seamless experience wearing wigs. 

To properly construe our sentiment this and avoid further misinterpretations we have changed the title from cultural appropriation and wigs to Cultural Appropriation (or Inspiration?) And Wigs. 

 

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 to parade around in a recreation of one is considered highly disrespectful.

cultural appropriation and wigs

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'. 

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.

While it can't be denied they have done just that! It's also important to note that there is a strong a rich cultural history of wig wearing prior to them that did not receive the same acceptance and understanding. 

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.

Wig wearing for black women in particular has roots in protective styling and/or the pressures of assimilation.

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 wants to cover up her natural hair and it's constantly questioned. 

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 counterparts were not questioned on their hairstyles in the same manner. Keira Knightley for example has been wearing wigs for over a decade!

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. 

 
 
 
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A post shared by LIL’ KIM FANBASE (@lilkimfanbase) on

 

Will There Ever Be An End To Cultural Appropriation? 

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! 

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8 comments

  • Kate

    I just purchase some gently used wigs for cos play, from a teenager. I would like to know more about de-tanglingz. They are clean and gently worn.

  • Cat

    I’m a white woman. I feel weird about wearing wigs and I think it’s rooted in a genuine concern for cultural appropriation but also rooted in subconscious racism against Blackness. Although I have a desire to wear wigs for the purpose of mixing up my look, I worry about my Black girlfriends side-eyeing me and my White girlfriends side eyeing me for different reasons. An example of this feeling: in college, my Black girlfriend begged me to let her straighten my hair for an event (I didnt try back then so my look was messy) and she told me to wear a silk wrap during the day to keep it from getting ruined. I did not do that and when she found out she got mad at me because all her hard work was at risk of being ruined (sidenote: kinda annoyed I didnt even want my hair straightened!). I was not honest about why I didn’t wear a wrap because I was embarrassed to tell her the reason. The reason was that I didn’t want to be associated as a White girl trying to act “Black.” I told myself it was because of appropriation (which was true to an extent), but I didn’t actually believe it was a big deal to wear a wrap I just felt that it was disrespectful because a history of racism towards Black women doing anything. However, the not wanting to be the White girl who was trying to be “Black” feels like something a racist would feel… maybe a well-intentioned racist but def some subconscious racism. White women used to commonly wear wigs and hairpieces probably till the mid 60s (not 100 on this, but i know for sure that did wear them a lot). At some point that became uncommon among white woman and today there is cultural significance of wigs among Black women. i don’t know about other races, but among white people there is a need to prove how you have goddess level beauty while also maintaining you are 100% natural (if someone knew you wore a wig it would be embarrassing and feel fraudulent). Valuing specific beauty standards and natural beauty to both extremes does not go hand in hand. We should normalize intentional beauty (term i made up meaning beauty efforts that rely on external tools… like makeup). We have to be careful because it can get classist, but intentional beauty rooted in self-love is an expression of creativity. Intentional beauty is usually associated with self-loathing and insecurity ("omg she wears too much makeup cause she is insecure!) and sometimes this is the case, but its not always the case. Sometimes valuing natural beauty to an extreme causes unrealistic expectations and self-loathing. The empowering aspect of intentional beauty is that anyone can be beautiful if they put in the effort. When I saw little girls on toddlers and tiaras (not suggesting pageantry like that either necessarily) who were confident because they knew everyone had the option of being beautiful if they just put in the effort… transformed my perspective. If white women wearing wigs normalized it to the point that basic white hetero men knew about its prevalence, Id probably be frustrated too as a Black woman. But, I think that frustration to the point of stigmatizing white women who wear wigs is rooted in something much deeper that is left out of convos. Stigmas against white women wearing a wig out in the name of cultural appropriation wont fix it. If we are feeling weird about white women doing something that a lot of Black women do (that isn’t tied to something as culturally significant as a Native American headdress) then the issue of racism towards Black people (Black women in particular) is deeper, and we are struggling to articulate it. My attempt to explain it is this: we aren’t looking up to Black people enough and we aren’t looking to Black women enough as beauty inspirations. That may sound contradictory because we are saying Black women will be the ones to normalize wigs, but the reason we know it is not contradictory is because of that icky feeling we get when a white woman wears a wig. That feeling is telling us that while a white woman may get beauty inspiration from Black women, we still aren’t celebrating Black women as beautiful. Not beautiful Black woman or beautiful for a Black woman…but simply just beautiful. Beautiful Black women is not a subgenre of beauty, but beauty in itself. White women wearing wigs shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but they are, and instead of trying to figure out if anyone is allowed to care we should ask ourselves WHY do people care.

  • Rebecca

    Hi,
    I am caucasian and have struggled with Trichotillomania all my life but never the hair on my head, just my eyelashes off and on up until about 5 years ago when I saw my first gray hair. I have always been a blonde, so I never noticed or even thought about it. However, seeing that gray hair made me think about aging and that I wasn’t ready yet for that bc I was not where I wanted to be at that point in my life and it really hit me hard….so hard that I stopped the eyelashes but became horrible to my head. Now instead of just aging gracefully, I have made myself embarrassed to go anywhere and hating myself. I am recently single after 15 years of marriage as well as recently had a baby at 39 and now I’m 40. I’m miserable and I just want to let it grow and not struggle daily with what to do with how my hair is right now. Over the course of this time, u have purchased several different wigs and some very expensive but I never feel comfortable in them or that they look natural. I have always admired how lovely and natural black women wear them….so much so that I don’t even know when they are and didn’t know about it until recently when I entered a wig shop. I always thought hair was hair and wigs were wigs and that any wig shop would be just fine. Well, I want to wear one or hair to cover my head but I want it done like the natural, beautiful, undetectable ways that black women wear them. I am so clueless to the whole wig thing in General and am learning as I go but I do know that black women wear wigs fabulously and wiykd like mine to be like that and not stupid looking on my head. Is there any reason why I cannot or wrong? I truly do not know or understand but I’ve seen where “for black women” or “for white women” are included in a title or description so it made me wonder why? I do not mean to offend anyone by any of what I am saying truly. I really just want to look and feel normal and I don’t like the options I’ve been given so far. I say a you tube video today of a beautiful black young lady showing how she did this new wig she bought and I was amazed. It made me excited that maybe I could do that too and it feel ridiculous. I mean I really am impressed with the process that is done and how natural and beautiful it looks. So, now I’m trying to figure out if it is possible for me to do that too. Can I do it with blonde hair? I am asking because I really do not know anything but I am desperate to look good when I go anywhere and from what I can tell is the only way a wig should be worn without looking like I’ve got a big helmet on. Please help! Thank you greatly un advance for any information or help. I have a great appreciation for the work black women put into their hair whether it be a wig or not….I couldn’t tell anyways it is that good. I have never questioned it myself and I am not one to judge when I barely have any hair myself by my own doing.

  • Hannah

    Hey everyone! I’m Hannah, I’m currently in high school and I’ve really been wanting to get a wig for awhile. I’m just bored with my hair and I see all these gorgeous wigs and think it would be so nice to try it. However I am white and teenagers are very judgmental. I also am not trying to offend any woman of colour either. What should I do? Can I wear a wig?

  • Shy

    Can Non-black POC wear a curly wig? I normally go for wavy wigs with bangs but this one is more curly. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes on accident.
    If it helps, I am 100% Mexican and my hair is naturally curly- my curls are bigger. The curls on this wig are a little tighter.

    Thank you! Peace and love


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