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A bindi on me? Ugly, unfashionable and only works with traditional outfits. A bindi on a popular celebrity of the west? Very cool, unique and perfect for every outfit. The west took a part of a centuries-old culture that my generation had begun to reject, so whose fault is that? Mine? For not being able to shut out the haters and proudly wear my bindi regardless of the day, outfit or public opinion. Theirs? For claiming and making a trend out of something women of my culture have been judged and discussed for either wearing or not wearing.
Wearing a bindi is a part of my cultural heritage. Wearing one or not wearing one should be up to me and no one else should have a say in it. That took me the longest time to accept and celebrate. A tiny circular sticker of colour between our eyebrows really shouldn’t make us feel awkward or weird, but it did. I saw kids wearing it being made fun of for it, I saw it being associated with lack of style, backwards and simply ugly. So I actively rejected it, refusing to wear it no matter the situation. Then scrolling through Instagram one day I stumbled upon a post about the latest fashion trend in festival wear with reference to what all the celebrities were wearing at Coachella. And right there, on my phone screen was Vanessa Hudgens, the ‘Queen of Coachella’, wearing bindis. Several of them. And being called fashionable! It was an eye-opening moment for me. I also thought Vanessa looked incredible and that the bindis looked amazing, so why couldn’t I see that in me?
I think it’s kind of interesting how deeply entrenched our idea of beauty and fashion is in celebrity culture. My mom wears a bindi every day, and so do several of the brown women I grew up around, yet I didn’t find it newsworthy. But Vanessa Hudgens at Coachella? I read the whole article, and I still couldn’t believe that bindis were being regarded as an indie and festival wear staple. As proud as I am of the fact that I am a brown Hindu woman, who has a cultural right and norm which enables her to proudly wear a bindi, I still wouldn’t, out of fear of being vilified. The more I think I about it the more I realise that my mind has fallen prey to vicious beauty standards. Comment harshly or ignorantly about unique cultural traditions so much so they are rejected, then call them your own and enjoy the praise of being unique. It’s all in all a lose-lose situation where cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation must take a seat while we discuss the deeper rooted issues when it comes to bindis and browness. The debate is endless but useless if we all don’t realise that the real problem lies with all of us resorting to one part of the world for fashion, media and culture, making the west feel entitled to tell us what is cool and what is not. Our world is beautifully diverse in all of those ways and it shouldn’t take a loud music festival in the middle of the desert to make us love our own culture.