There have been some fabulous posts recently, and I strongly encourage you to check them out.
What I've been wanting to comment on for the past six months is the uncomfortable feeling I get whenever I step into a 'non-lulu' yoga clothing space.
Full disclosure: I am an invisible minority from a place of privilege. As an Acadian woman, I have shared history with the Mi'kmaq people of Nova Scotia and live with the feeling of 'otherness' while benefiting from being able to 'fit in' to mainstream white society. I am not an expert on cultural appropriation, nor do I pretend that my culture's history of being oppressed even closely compares to that of the First Nations Peoples.
Instead of writing an 'expert' post, this is a personal sharing of my discomfort with the increasing 'First Nation' fashion trend creep into the yoga world.
Firstly, I need to admit that I do find all things First Nations beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. I have always been drawn to dream catchers, feathers, stone and natural jewellery and I will admit, all things that are stereotypically portrayed as 'First Nation'. This is very hard for me to write, but I've always felt that it's so important to recognize that I am influenced by our North American, white, culture. In order to be honest, I need to recognize that I am biased.
I don't believe people of privilege who claim to be completely unbiased. I work every day to honestly acknowledge how my small village and (loving) family and education have shaped my thoughts and perspectives while working to move to something real, respectful and empathetic.
About a year ago, I walked into a local yoga wear store (that I love) and stumbled across these 'Be Love' shirts sporting feathers, dream catchers and 'Peace warriors' with obvious First Nation references. They made me uncomfortable. I took some time to think on that, wondering if I were being extra sensitive.
Months later I was back in this store and noticed the 'Pow-wow dress'. Yes. That is the name of the dress. Admittedly, I own several dresses by this company and I heart them very much. However, while holding up the dress I couldn't help timidly voicing my discomfort that this was a bit too much like 'cultural appropriation- don't you think?' to the owner. She was surprised, and kindly said she assumed the company, as with 'Be Love' had most likely consulted with local First Nations community... 'The company is based in Vancouver after all'.
A tweet not long after on this topic resulted in a response from a (then) local blogger Mi'kmaq Mama that solidified all my remaining doubts: "Since when is being Indian cool? I wish someone had told me that". I had the lovely opportunity to meet up over coffee and chat further. It was eye opening. Just listening to how these images of First Nations religious and traditional dress and culture were being portrayed and 'sold' as a trendy, superficial fashion trend made her feel was enough for me to rediscover how the media and images shape our society's view on people and culture. And how that can be hurtful and disrespectful.
(From Native Appropriations post in November 2012 re: Victoria Secret's use of Headdresses in their runway show)
"...eagle feathers are restricted symbols in the many indigenous cultures found throughout Canada and the US. They represent various achievements made by the person who is presented with the feather. Being presented with a feather is a great honour. Many indigenous people will receive only one in their life-time, or perhaps never have that opportunity.Because of the significance of the eagle feather, very few native people would display feathers they haven’t earned. It would be like wearing that Victoria Cross I keep mentioning. Someone outside the culture might not realise what the symbol means and perhaps would not call that person out in disgust for wearing it…but those from within the culture probably would. It would be shameful.
It also cheapens the symbols earned by others..." (emphasis added by EcoYogini)
It's important, I feel, to recognize that in our current society, we are inescapably influenced by media, fashion (as it pertains to media) and the images we are confronted with every day. The advertising industry wouldn't be a billion dollar industry if it didn't work. As such, we can't simply discount the relevance of how fashion trends and our support of such trends, impact and affect those people who continue to be oppressed in our society. I will argue that what we choose to outwardly present to others does have a direct impact in how we shape perceptions of others and our own acceptance of these stereotypes.
I am not writing this because I feel that we should tread on tiptoes for every single piece of First Nations inkling in a shirt, jewellery or dress you'd like to wear. I'm writing it because after some thought, further reading and earnest discussion, I've come to realize that simply the fact that I feel uncomfortable should be enough.
I also feel that this topic isn't discussed enough beyond the 'you're exaggerating' 'lighten up' defensive reactions we get from most online and in person community. Especially in the yoga world where it is simply ASSUMED if you are a yoga company that you will magically have all the empathetic and almost righteous tools to 'with authenticity' create and share your product. It's completely taboo to call out a company that is sharing 'from a place of love'. Unfortunately, this blind acceptance of the yoga label discounts the opportunity for critical growth, acceptance and honest discussion.
Some fantastic reading: "But Why Can't I Wear a Hipster Headdress?" (by Native Appropriations)
"A critical fashion lovers (basic) guide to cultural appropriation" (by À l'allure garçonnière)
"A Much-Needed Primer on Cultural Appropriation" (at Jezebel)
"Dear Defender of the new Atlanta Braves cap" (by Native Appropriations)
"Playing Indian" (by Lindsay Raining Bird at the Coast)