Definition and examples of cultural appropriation

The term “cultural appropriation” has been used to describe everything from makeup and hairstyles to tattoos, clothing, and even eating and wellness practices. The phrase originated in the 1980s in academic discussions of colonialism and the treatment of non-white cultures. From there it has worked its way into the modern lexicon, but decoding what constitutes and does not constitute cultural appropriation can be tricky.

What is the definition of cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation, also called cultural putappropriation, occurs when a person of a culture adopts the fashion, iconography, trends or styles of a culture that is not their own. Some of the most damaging examples of cultural appropriation occur when the culture to be appropriated belongs to a historically oppressed group.

What is cultural appropriation versus appreciation?

The line between what differentiates cultural appropriation from cultural appreciation can be very thin, if not very controversial. Some say that ownership does not exist because no culture is completely original and not influenced by another. Others believe that creatives like designers and musical artists get a pass because their art is open to discussion and interpretation. The key to practicing appreciation rather than appropriation is understanding the culture you are borrowing from, including acknowledging its history of oppression and marginalization. It also helps support the creators of that culture, where possible.

How to avoid cultural appropriation?

If you’ve researched a crop, does that mean you have permission to use it freely? Not exactly. Good intentions do not automatically exempt us from the harm that cultural appropriation does to marginalized communities. Before “borrowing” from a culture, do an instinctive check: is what I’m doing a stereotype? Am I using something sacred to another culture – a Native American headdress, a religious symbol – in a casual or “fun” way outside of its intended use? Do I engage with a piece of old culture like it’s new? Do I neglect to credit the source of my inspiration? If you can safely answer “no” to all of these questions, you will probably be able to avoid cultural appropriation. Yet think of it this way: If you feel the need to ask yourself whether you are culturally appropriate, it may be safer to avoid the outfit or practice that causes you to ask the question in the first place.

What are the examples of cultural appropriation?

Certain Halloween costumes, such as a ‘gypsy’, rastafarian or geisha are considered cultural appropriation because these outfits play on stereotypes that have led to the abuse or misunderstanding of a group of people. . But they are far from the only ones. Here are a few more examples of what not to do.


Washington football team

Sports teams have a long history of cultural appropriation, but some have started to do the right thing. Washington football team changed name in July 2020. Other teams, like the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves, still retain their names, even though they may be considered offensive to Native Americans.



The popular recording artist raised eyebrows for her February 2020 Rolling Stone cover in which she was criticized for wearing a traditional headdress from Cambodian and Thai cultures. “If it were appreciation, the story would support the culture that is portrayed. But it is only for the black community. I’m all for your culture, but don’t use someone else’s to talk about yours, ”one Instagram commenter replied.


Kim Kardashian West

Kim Kardashian has received a lot of criticism over the years for styling her hair in Fulani braids, or cornrows, a traditionally black hairstyle. In 2018, Kardashian West responded to the controversy over her by calling her blonde braids “Bo Derek braids.” “I know where they came from and I’m totally respectful of that,” she told Bustle. “I’m not deaf… I understand. She was also criticized again in 2019 for naming her shapewear line Kimono.



For Halloween 2013, Rihanna dressed in classic chola style – thin arched eyebrows, a button-up flannel shirt, gold hoops, loose khakis – paired with a modern subculture of Mexican American women. “Privileged people want to borrow the ‘cool’ disenfranchised people of color, but don’t have to face the discrimination that comes with it,” wrote Julianne Escobedo Shepherd. Rihanna, who repeated parts of the look in the September issue of Vogue UK, said she thought it was “feminine but punk.” Her outfit on a 2019 cover of Harper’s Bazaar China in which she wears traditional Chinese clothing drew similar criticism.



The Queen of Pop has been pushing buttons since the ’80s, and her outfit for the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards has brought her back to the headlines. Madonna took the stage in an ensemble inspired by the Amazigh people of North Africa. Some accused her of disrespecting the culture, while others said it was an honor. Madonna did not respond to criticism, but has repeatedly dismissed accusations of cultural appropriation. “I don’t own anything,” she said. “I am inspired and I refer to other cultures. It is my right as an artist.


Miley Cyrus

Over the years, Miley Cyrus has gone from Hannah Montana to someone sporting her hair in Bantu knots while twerking in front of Robin Thicke. Lately, it’s a Billboard interview in 2017 on his latest more rootsy style, which has been talking about cultural appropriation. Asked why she seemed to distance herself from black culture, Cyrus said: “It was too much” Lamborghini, I have my Rolex… “I am not at all.” Said a commentator on Twitter, “Miley Cyrus wore hip hop culture as a costume. Abandoned. The stereotype now.


Gordon ramsay

The Hell’s Kitchen chef recently got into hot water after opening his new Asian-inspired London restaurant, Lucky Cat. Food critic Angela Hui was not impressed with Ramsay’s choice as chef de cuisine for the restaurant, a man whose cooking research consisted of traveling back and forth to Asia for many months. Hui also pointed out the interchangeable use of Chinese and Japanese ingredients in the menu. “Chinese? Japanese? It’s all Asians who care,” she wrote on Instagram. Ramsey called her comments “derogatory and offensive.”


Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez donned a bindi, a colorful dot traditionally worn in the center of the forehead by Indian women from various religious and cultural communities, for several performances in 2013. The bindi can symbolize connection with the “third eye” or as a means of distinguish married woman. “The bindi is an auspicious religious symbol that should not be used freely,” said Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism. But Gomez is not backing down. “I learned a lot about the culture, and I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I think it’s fun to put that into the performance.”


Karlie kloss

A Native American war bonnet is a feathered headgear traditionally worn by respected rulers. While she certainly isn’t the only person wearing the headdress in an out of context setting (here’s looking at you, festival outfit), the reaction to model Karlie Kloss at a Victoria’s Secret show in 2012 was swift. “Any mockery, whether it’s Halloween or Victoria’s Secret, they spit on us,” said Erny Zah, spokesperson for the Navajo Nation. Kloss later tweeted an apology. “I am deeply sorry if what I was wearing on the VS show offended anyone,” she wrote.

Director of Features
As the Functional Director of Woman’s Day and Good Housekeeping, Beth covers topics ranging from the opioid epidemic and mental health to personal finance, women in politics and more.

Lizz Schumer is the Editor-in-Chief of Good Housekeeping and also contributes to Women’s Day and Prevention, covering pets, culture, lifestyle, books and entertainment.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported to this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and other similar content on

About Wesley V. Finley

Check Also

Benefits of Merino Wool from African Merino Sheep

Merino sheep are only found in a limited number of places in the world. Besides …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.