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Kim K faces backlash over new shapewear line

The reality TV star has yet again been accused of cultural appropriation, this time for naming her upcoming shapewear line ‘Kimono.’

Kim Kardashian has announced her decision to change the name of her shapewear line after receiving a great deal of backlash for originally branding it ‘Kimono.’

‘You would think we would have obviously thought it through a little bit deeper. I obviously had really innocent intentions. But, let’s listen. I want to really listen,’ she said in response.

Drawing inspiration from the traditional Japanese robe (and of course with a desire to use the word ‘Kim’ in mind) Kardashian has generated heavy criticism for appropriating Asian culture, which leads us to question: appropriation or appreciation, where do we draw the line?

Whether it’s at a festival, in an Instagram post or as part of a music video, it seems that high profile celebrities are continuously found guilty of using other cultures for personal gain.

Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, Karlie Kloss, Rihanna, Beyoncé – the list goes on.

It has become an increasingly hot topic with social media platforms in constant uproar over the matter, but are we able to objectively define the boundary between blindly appropriating a culture and showing our appreciation? It’s a lot harder than you might think.

Cultural appropriation is defined as ‘the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of elements from another’s culture; it’s an act defined by a lack of respect for other people’s customs, practices, and traditions, typically by the more dominant people of society.’

This is clearly an issue; however, creativity relies on inspiration. It is the key concept behind our creative process, alongside sampling and borrowing. Fashion designers, artists and musicians have always used the world around them for ideas and inspiration, with the artistic process revered as a sacred thing defying criticism. But lately, this artistic freedom appears to have been causing more harm than good.

Ariana Grande

Throughout her promotion for ‘Thank U, Next,’ the singer released an assortment of merchandise featuring various Japanese phrases that garnered a very negative reaction from her fans.

Grande even went as far as getting a tattoo on her palm which was supposed to read ‘7 Rings’ in Japanese, but unfortunately ended up translating to ‘BBQ Grill’ because the characters were incorrect.

‘I’ve supported Ariana in the past, but between her continual use of Japanese culture as an accessory in this part of her career, I’m wary of supporting her now,’ said one twitter user.

‘There is a difference between appropriation and appreciation,’ replied Grande. ‘It was done out of love… my Japanese fans are always excited when I write in Japanese or wear Japanese sayings on my clothing.’

This isn’t the first time Ari’s been called out for cultural appropriation. In December she was accused of speaking with a ‘blaccent’ and just this week following the publication of her first-ever Vogue cover, Grande has come under fire for her ‘noticeably darker skin’ which some are referring to as ‘brownface.’

‘We’re at a time in music where all of these lines are being blurred,’ said Tayla Parx, a close friend of Grande’s. But when does paying tribute cross the line into something unacceptable?


Sparking racially charged conversations around the globe in 2012 with her appearance in Coldplay’s Princess of China music video, Rihanna could be seen wearing a variety of different outfits stereotyping Chinese culture.

The main concern that arose was the merging of styles, particularly with Indian, which led people to ask: ‘are these places really all the same to Western viewers?’

More recently, on Tuesday in fact, the cover of August 2019’s Harper’s Bazaar China was unveiled, showing Rihanna dressed head to toe in traditional Chinese garments with elaborate hair, makeup and props.

‘Western style icon meets Eastern aesthetic’ is what the magazine captioned their promotional Instagram post in an attempt to justify their decision, but the public were not quite so tolerant.

‘When Kendall Jenner was on the cover of a magazine with an ‘afro’ people were screaming cultural appropriation, but when Rihanna dresses up like this nobody says anything, it’s art, it’s glam,’ commented a user infuriated by the ‘double standards.’

‘It is so interesting how people have been impulsively referring to Rihanna’s photo shoot in Harper’s Bazaar China as ‘cultural appropriation’ when the entire creative team (stylist, photographers, chief/visual editors) consists of Chinese artists,’ said another, fighting back.

Taking this into account, it is indeed disrespectful to give the Japanese word ‘Kimono’ a new definition in order to make money and to homogenize the Black Lives Matter movement to sell soft drinks (if you haven’t seen the controversial 2017 Pepsi ad, click here).

However, there isn’t really anything denigrating about Rihanna’s modern renditions of imperial looks that, at the end of the day, weren’t even styled by her.

‘Human beings love to tell other people what to do and what not to do. It is just one of our features. But the fact of the matter is, is that if you’re not hurting anybody, you should be allowed to do what you want to do’ said James O. Young, author of Cultural Appropriation and the Arts.

In circumstances like Rihanna’s, we can give those involved the benefit of the doubt, but it’s something that definitely requires clarity as quite often, people are jumping to conclusions before addressing whether it is actually appropriation or simply appreciation.

Kim Kardashian

Originally targeted for blatantly disregarding that cornrows originate from African culture when she wore them to the MTV awards in 2017 and referred to them as ‘Bo Derek braids’ (after the Caucasian actress), Kardashian is no stranger to backlash surrounding her inconsiderate actions.

‘They never seem to learn,’ begin the majority of stories on cultural appropriation that have surfaced as of late and in this case, it’s a pretty accurate statement.

‘Given her and her family’s past of appropriating cultures, I had little hope that she would reconsider the brand name. I am annoyed that there was no apology, but I think this is still one of the best outcomes possible from the horrible situation,’ said Yuka Ohishi, a San Francisco-based videographer.

Yes, some are claiming it is ‘political correctness gone too far,’ but it is very real and very serious. ‘Diversity and representation are very different from cultural appropriation, and it’s going to be an ongoing conversation for all of us,’ said Ohishi.

In my opinion, I feel as though adapting the surface characteristics of a culture without having to take on its complications is what makes cultural appropriation such a delicate subject.

It’s rare that a culture will imbue an item with significance just because it’s nice to look at, but often this is why cultural appropriators choose to wear them.

These artefacts and objects tend to be of historic importance, and we need to realise that we could be misusing or romanticising them.

Women’s Wear Daily journalist, Ritu Upadhyay, believes ‘we are in a very in a very sensitive period right now’ with an inherent ‘lack of an acknowledgment of the heritage’ which is essentially what the issue comes down to.

All it takes is respect towards and recognition of the cultures that inspire creativity or ‘commercial borrowing.’ There will always be people who disagree, who think it’s unfair, but at the end of the day, the more we explore each other’s customs and heritage, the easier it’ll be to make stronger connections between our communities and to understand what is, and what is not, appropriate in terms of embodying another’s culture.

So, what do you think? Let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree with the designation of Kim K’s line as cultural appropriation.