A few weeks ago, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was taped. The show featured model Karlie Kloss in a bra and panty set, complete with headdress (but then, who doesn’t love to wear a headdress in their underwear?):
Photo from Winnipeg Free Press
The photos have sparked much criticism for ignoring the cultural significance of the headdress in Indigenous culture. Victoria’s Secret has apologized and says they will not air that outfit when the show goes live.
While Victoria’s Secret handled the PR for this disaster smoothly, this is yet another example of what is becoming more popular and common in the media – harnessing Indigenous culture and making money off its public consumption.
Since the early 90s with movies like Dances With Wolves, there has been a proliferation of images in popular culture that play on traditional Indigenous symbols and commodify them for profit.
Pop culture has tied the “Indian princess” and “squaw” dichotomy into one. On one hand, the “Indian princess” is a beautiful, revered figure (although there is no such thing as a princess in Indigenous cultures; as a side note, Indigenous women do not traditionally wear headdresses). On the other hand, the “squaw” image represents the deviant woman, and is often overtly sexualized.
The media has tied the two together. The “Indian princess” image is now sexy. And the “Indian princess/squaw” is no longer Indigenous.
We see examples of Indigenous cultural symbols being used throughout popular culture:
Lady Gaga used the image in her video for Just Dance (2009). The party-goer in the background apparently needed a headdress (see time codes 1:07 and 2:23):
K$sha also wore a headdress for a performance at American Idol in 2010 (see 2:28):
Perhaps even more painful are the backup dancers in Outkast’s 2007 performance at the Grammys, wearing lime green “Indigenous” costumes (low cut in all the right places):
Lana Del Rey also wears a headdress in her new video for the song “Drive” (see 7:00):
Urban Outfitters launched a “Navajo” collection last year, enabling consumers to purchase the “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask” and the “Navajo Hipster Panty.” The product line has since been removed from the website.
2004 Miss America Shandi Finnessey appeared in a bikini and headdress to represent her nation in the Miss Universe contest. Miss Finnessey, who is not Indigenous, seemed to think that it was acceptable to appropriate Indigenous symbolism (inaccurately, I might add) in her costume that was meant to represent her country.
The use of the headdress itself is culturally and historically inaccurate, since Indigenous women traditionally did not use the stereotype of the headdress seen in popular culture (indeed, even men’s war bonnet headdresses are not as popular as the mass media suggests).
Accordingly, popular culture harnesses the idea of “Indianness” and plays it up to White ideals of beauty. The White assumption of Indigenous culture as their own is a colonial notion, played up in the popular media with the uses of inaccurate and stereotypical “Indian” images by mass media.
As shown by popular media, Indigenous women are discriminated against in a myriad of ways, marginalized in terms of both race and gender. As such, representations of Indigenous femininity is largely absent from the popular media. Instead, Indigenous culture is “integrated” (or I would argue, stolen) into popular North American culture, as evidenced by the headdress trend.
I will leave you with this 2011 ad from Converse, and ask: “Whose reality is this?”
Photo from Ads of the World
For more photos and videos, visit my blog: http://kaileybarron.wordpress.com/