Every day, there seems to be some new trend or style that is offending someone, somewhere. During the festival season, that of cultural appropriation is huge. How often have you been to a festival and NOT seen a feather headdress or some sort of native American style? I’m all for taking inspiration from the world around you, but there is a line. And one of the most popular, if not the most popular, make up brands has dabbled over and around this line.
MAC’s Vibe Tribe collection, launching Summer 2016, has caused quite a stir in online forums. In particular, there’s a Reddit feed where you can read multiple opinions on the collection. Personally, I’m torn with the new products. Whilst I do love the packaging and am excited to try the products (as they are right up my alley!) as they are soft and quite nude based, I understand why so many are annoyed by the theme MAC has chosen for their summer collection.
The first thing I noticed that could offend is how the make giants packaged the products. The packaging is inspired by the Navajo tribe, the second largest federally recognised tribe in the United States. With over 300,000 enrolled tribe members in 2015, you can imagine the backlash MAC received from this community. It is a mixed reaction on the Reddit thread, though, as some users are saying it’s mostly the older generation who are offended by the packaging whereas the younger generations seem more enthusiastic that their culture is being picked up on by such a major company.
Second, there is the advertising. In the campaign photo above, the models in the ad are pictured wearing colored feathers and tribal tattoos. Native Americans use many symbols to convey secret meanings. Take, for instance, the tree tattoo on the short-haired model. The Cherokee tribe call trees the “standing people” and teach that all of their plant relations are the givers of the Earth providing for the needs of others. Trees also provided healing medicines, shelter from their branches, a place for burrows for the small animals and provide materials to build homes. The wood was also used to create many sacred items, such as talking sticks and prayer sticks. Next, let’s look at the model with long braided hair.You can read about the signifance of long hair in native American tribes here. One of the most important extracts I read from the blog post is this;
“Hair styles are important for they portray and announce participation in various events and the feelings expressed by People; the state of merriment or mourning, at a given time, or a stage of life; whether one is coming of age, marriageable or married, one’s age and tribal status. Hair can depict the Tribal Spirits one follows given the geographical location of a Peoples and the Spirits flowing through someone depending on their age as a Spirit and the spirits that one is calling on, in a given ceremony. Different styles signify the Tribe one belongs to and are worn to indicate times of peace or war”
It’s common knowledge by now just how important hair is within native American culture, thus we can see why members of that community are offended. Finally, of course, there is how the actual make up is on the models. Remember how annoyed people were about non-Hindus wearing a bindi on their face? This is exactly like that. In many tribes, if not all tribes, native Americans painted their faces for rituals, ceremonies, and war. Ceremonial paint, for example, was used to hide ones identity, as well as to obtain power from the creature or spirit represented. Face paint was used to intimidate an enemy or attacker, such as when Tecumseh and his warriors met with William Henry Harrison; the warriors were all wearing war face paint, which undoubtedly struck fear amongst the US soldiers.
It’s hard for me to love this collection, due to all this, and I wish they had chosen a less drama stirring theme, such a “Beach Vibes”, “Sea Sunsets” or something! Even with this knowledge, I myself have definitely offended different cultures in my outfit choices without even knowing. It’s hard to do something these days that doesn’t offend someone. If we’re not insulting a culture, we’re being sexiest, homophobic, or blasphemous. I may get some hate, but I like the colours used in the products and what the products are. I will definitely be purchasing some pieces from the collection.
Could this be all part of MACs marketing plan to get their product out there? I wouldn’t think a big brand like MAC would need to cause such controversy, but you never know!