Skip the Bindi, Enjoy the Music

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Bisma ShahbazBisma Shahbaz is a junior international studies major.

The lineup at the Coachella music festival has changed over the years, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the cultural appropriation of bindis by attendees. Celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens constantly fail to acknowledge the repeated attempts over social media to educate her on why donning a bindi at the music festival is not appropriate. Joining her in her inappropriate donning of the bindi included celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Sarah Hyland, and Kylie and Kendall Jenner.  Let us also not forget the hundreds of other girls who don bindis in order to fulfill their “boho” aesthetic. 

Why this is wrong is simple. Bindis have a cultural and religious significance that should not be taken lightly, nor utilized as a costume by people who have no connection to the Hindu religion or South Asian culture. The bindi is worn by both Hindu men and women to retain energy, strengthen concentration, represent the third eye, and symbolize a protection of knowledge. The bindi does not only have a spiritual identity, but a cultural identity and that is why many people will find women from South Asian countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh wearing it as well. When non-Hindu, non-South Asian celebrities and Coachella-goers wear the bindi for extra likes on their Instagram, they are disregarding the history and significance of the bindi, turning it simply into a shiny sticker they put in in between their eyebrows.

To this day, I still remember the different looks and jokes that Hindu or South Asian women received when they proudly displayed their Bindi’s on their foreheads. Many times the jokes and stares women received made those same women feel ashamed and embarrassed for wearing something that was so beautiful and close to their identity. A Google search of the term “dotbusters” will reveal the violence Hindu and South Asian women, all Indians in particular, received after donning their traditional garments, including the bindi, in Jersey City in the late 1980s. For all those who don’t understand why they can’t wear bindis but Hindu and South Asian women can wear jeans need to understand the pressures and circumstances they are in that force many of them to assimilate into western culture, and dotbusters is a perfect example of this.

When women who are not a part of either of these identities wear bindis, they are considered “exotic” and immediately it either becomes a trending item or they are complimented for appreciating and experimenting with other cultures. Other people’s culture is not meant to be experimented with. Unless there is a clear invitation for you to wear a bindi by someone who identifies with it, such as being invited to your South Asian friend’s wedding, there is no need for you to sport it.

The cultural appropriation at music festivals like Coachella unfortunately doesn’t stop at bindis. Native American headdress are constantly worn by many non-Native people causing many in the Native American community to rightfully get upset since their headdress have deep spiritual significance. This also led to the hashtag #DontTrendOnMe and #NativeAppropiation. Appreciating a culture and appropriating a culture are very different. A headdress and a bindi are beautiful, but it is not for others to take. Being able to pick and choose the shiny and cute things from a culture or religion when a festival comes along is a privilege that those who actually identify with those items don’t get to have.

Coachella-goers’ appropriation problem has led to the emergence of a “Reclaim your Bindi” movement on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram. Those planning to go to Coachella next year should learn from the existence of this movement. If Hindu and South Asian women have to reclaim something that has always been theirs, there is a problem. Unless you are of these identities, next time you go to Coachella skip the bindi and the Native headdress and just enjoy the music.

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