why gwen stefani shouldn’t be your style icon

i originally published this on tumblr in response to a lot of gwen stefani love i’ve seen going around on my dashboard lately. i find it difficult to have engaging conversations on that platform, so i thought i’d repost it here.

gwen stefani in 1998

images not unlike this one circulate around tumblr and the web, often tagged as “inspiration” or “riot grrrl” and “hero.” tinged with a taste of nostalgia for the days of our youth, our budding critical thinking ways, and our need to look up to and admire someone who told people not to be shitty to her just because she was a girl.

i stumbled upon a gif of stefani singing in the “sunday morning” video, with the lyrics “sappy pathetic little me” in the caption. this is new radio posted it with this statement underneath:

I think the absolute best revenge on an ex-boyfriend is write songs about how he wronged you and then HE HAS TO PLAY THEM.

i had to chew on this for a second. yeah, i have to say that sounds like pretty sweet revenge. but… what about this situation? we’re talking about no doubt here, and the relationship between gwen and bassist tony kanal.

the thing is?

gwen stefani is kind of an asshole. i mean, what’s the worst thing tony kanal did? she’s the one who got famous, and he is always in the background (i mean he is the bassist and he is, from my recollection of teen magazines, shy and quiet). meanwhile, her stock kind of skyrockets. she profits from being an “it girl” in both the music and fashion industries, and ends up making bindis and saris popular for a hot minute in the 90s. i literally know nothing about their relationship/breakup other than the fact that it inspired the tragic kindgom record. am i wrong in wondering why she deserves “revenge?” correct me if i’m totally out of line here…

but you might be wondering… why do i think gwen stefani is an asshole?

let me count the ways. ananya mukherjea breaks it down in her essay indo-chic:

Somewhere around 1995, the band No Doubt, with its energetic, effervescent, cute lead-“just-a-girl” Gwen Stefani hit MTV (and North American hearts everywhere) hard. The story was this: the guitarist was this Indian-Californian boy named Tony Kanal and was the love of Gwen’s life for a few years until he dumped her (for being “too clingy”) just before the production of their mega-hit album, breaking her heart. Consequently, every song on the album is written about their break-up and her heart-break. She moved on, eventually, to that guy from Bush; but her sexual/ emotional brush with the East remained significant.

It was there in all these songs, in the interviews where she discussed her fallen relationship at length, and in the videos where she crooned at Tony (who remained silent throughout). Most visibly, it was there in her fashion— in her ever-present bindi and in the expensive sari’s she wrapped around her waist sarong-style, matched with a little bustier. No one ever talked about Tony being Indian (that would be strange and irrelevant, no?) or discussed the myriad complexities of inter-racial romance (again, a different story) or even articulated which subcontinent her fashion was borrowed from (but, why?)… her bindi and sari fabric were just quirky, “new,” and cute— like Gwen, herself. My much-maligned bindi looked attractive, it seemed, on Gwen’s racially different face; and the implicit message seemed to be that the dark and silent Tony had squandered his chance with this girl who featured fusion-sexy (white skin, American attitude, exotic style) so temptingly well.

there are countless other examples (let us not forget that fuckery around literally silencing asian women but using them as props with the harajuku girls) and i’ve definitely got other questions about no doubt (why were the black horn section players never seen as part of the band? why is it okay for a popular californian ska/rock/pop band to just jump from culture to culture to culture for musical and sartorial inspiration?) but in this case, this is the one that comes to mind.

i’m not gonna lie, gwen stefani was a big deal to me when i was a teenager. i blame it on the dearth of strong female musicians in the mainstream rock scene in the 90s – at least for a kid growing up on military bases and whose access to music severly limited. remember, we’re talking about the pre-internet days here. when i think back, i have a hard time remembering what it is i loved about her… i suppose she was one of the first people i saw mimicking style icons of the silent screen, and i loved that she was still boyish and tough while wearing makeup.

a screencap of no doubt lead singer gwen stefani with finger waved hair in the "don't speak" music video.

a screencap of no doubt lead singer gwen stefani with finger waved hair in the "don't speak" music video.

a screencap of gwen stefani in the "excuse me mister video," channeling cherubic silent film star lillian gish or mary pickford.

a screencap of gwen stefani in the "excuse me mister video," channeling cherubic silent film star lillian gish or mary pickford.

unsurprisingly, she was quickly de-throned when i discovered punk music and riot grrl… but still, in ‘96 she was super important to me. it wasn’t until she went solo/i got older that i started realizing how blatantly appropriative she was/is, and i still don’t feel like she’s been properly taken to task on it.

if this 90s revivalism shit keeps picks up any more steam, it looks like i’m going to have to be the one to do it.


Filed under fashion

65 responses to “why gwen stefani shouldn’t be your style icon

  1. Nancey

    Anti-Gwen blog? This is a first, your opinions are bizarre to be honest, I don’t agree with this one bit, I find Gwen a great inspiration.

    • calling my entire blog “anti-gwen” would be giving her way more space and importance than necessary. this is simply one short post mapping out some of the problems i see with her. i’d recommend taking the time to read a post before commenting.

  2. Jake

    I’m feeling some jealousy?

  3. Yes yes yes.

    + What about that new Jeremy Scott collection with all of those bindis?

    I am very perplexed/weirded out by the 90s revival on tumblr. My 90s were actually pretty much filled with kick ass r&b/pop stars like En Vogue, Mary J. Blidge, TLC etc. but on tumblr you’re lucky when you see a Left Eye reblog a month in between many Gwen reblogs a day. I don’t know what other’s experiences are about the 90s and this revival has me actually doubting if the 90s r&b was really as prevalent as I thought? But then again I’m pretty sure tumblr kids are just white-washing everything and it makes me sick to my stomach.

    • eline YES YES YES. i’m working on a post hopefully in the next week to talk about that. someone just emailed me asking what i thought about the latest jezebel post on “who owns” the 90s revival, and seems more concerned of jeremy scott vs. tumblr girls than anything else.

      i’ve unfollowed an obscene amount of otherwise pretty awesome people on tumblr because for some reason, uncritical bindi wearing seems to go hand in hand… i’ve found two or three people who at least acknowledge that it can be seen as disrespectful and offensive, but overall… no one is really talking about it.

      i saw someone recently talking about how black rnb girl groups REALLY need some love lately. why waste all our attention on riot grrrl groups that already take up SO much space and are SO white?

  4. I can’t believe I never noticed the connection between Gwen’s bindis and saris, and her Indian ex-boyfriend, before now. It seems so obvious when you point it out! (Of course, I was 9 when Tragic Kingdom came out, but still.)

  5. To be honest I think you should stop worrying about what Gwen is “doing wrong” in her life and focus on something interesting

  6. JTStrnage

    Let it rip on Gwen – I find it funny fans come out to “defend” their hero. We loved Debbie Harry in the 70’s – flash forward to 2012 – Blondie now wears a white wig (and a bad one at that) is 30 pounds heavier, and hasn’t seen the Billboard charts since the late 80’s. Gwen will fizzle, and so will her band. I think the record they’re working on will be mediocre at best, and disappoint fans and critics alike – word on the street is… No Doubt has lost their spark – can’t write, and their new album has “painstakingly” moved along. Go back to Hey Baby, when the band was in Jamaica, the creative poured out of them. Now, in 2012, Gwen’s got a multimillion dollar fashion empire under her belt and is far richer and far more famous than the band mates that helped get her there. Throw in two successful solo albums, no doubt has Fleetwood mac written all over it. The rest of her band doesn’t like being support staff, which is what they’ve become today. They can never eclipse their uber famous front woman or her success – she’s set for life, they’re not and have far more to lose than she does. She upset the creative apple cart when she did Love, Angel, Music, Baby and No Doubt has never been the same since.

  7. Lola

    I went to India as an exchange student a couple of years back (at age 15) and was constantly worried about cultural appropriation when dressing for events in traditional clothing. I am half-black (which, I honestly believe, makes me a little more sensitive to racism), though many I met on my exchange trip were white Europeans and I couldn’t help but cringe when my friends went out in jeans, camis, payal, and bindis. To think that Gwen Stefani became famous for this kind of bastardization of Asian cultures baffles me. However, I believe that the “model minority” standing of Asians in the US has something to do with this; I have never really heard of much Stefani backlash amongst Asian-Americans. I can only imagine that if Stefani were to step on stage in dashiki or a kaftan, she would have faced a lot of public rage from the black community.

    • thanks for commenting, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of experience around this topic! it’s definitely a hard balance to find when you’re a guest in another country, and though i’ve never experienced that myself i’ve had some conversations with friends about it.

      however, i have to challenge you on that “model minority” stereotype. lots of people, including many asians, criticized gwen stefani openly and loudly around the release of her 2005 album. notably, margaret cho took her to task: http://www.margaretcho.com/content/2005/10/31/harajuku-girls/. also, i’ve heard some people say that it’s just not important enough to waste our breath on – she resisted responding to criticisms about this when that album was released, and will never apologize, so sometimes it’s kind of like… what’s the point? it’s almost giving her more importance and space than she needs by filling pages and pages with criticisms?

      also, she has appropriated certain aspects of rasta/jamaicain culture (rock steady album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix6rSwLCm7M&feature=related) but in more of a musical way, so it’s not really the same as criticizing her style choices…

      • Lola

        I’m thrilled to learn that there was some backlash! Maybe I was just hiding under a rock and didn’t hear it. I’m a very big Margaret Cho fan and I’m glad to hear what she had to say about the issue (thanks for the link!). At the same time, I’m saddened that, although there was public outcry against Gwen, that she’s seen as such an inspiration for so many (white) people (and that this outcry did little to dampen No Doubt’s record sales). Wasting breath on her is probably not a good use of public attention, sure. My concern, then, is that we look at Gwen with doe eyes and are so enthralled with her creativity that we start to think that cultural appropriation is what cool white people do. As you so aptly stated in your post, pictures of tumblr girls wearing bindis are far too common. As are pictures of white people in Native American dress, which is really just revolting.

      • “My concern, then, is that we look at Gwen with doe eyes and are so enthralled with her creativity that we start to think that cultural appropriation is what cool white people do.”

        you hit the nail on the head. that’s totally what i’m trying to get at here. why is it seen as creative when she wears a bindi, but outdated when an indian girl does?

    • nymphatics

      Are you kidding me? I am Indian and personally I am not offended by gwen wearing a bindi. Its basically a cosmetic mark used to “enhance” beauty, any woman can wear it.

      • ver

        I totally agree, coming from South Asia, Gwen wearing a bindi with Western clothing is in no way offensive or demeaning! Heck people wear bindis with hardly any clothes on in bollywood all the time and with normal clothes too; traditionally I suppose a bindi was used for more than just cosmetic reasons, but nowadays, things are different! However, I do agree that her writing all those songs, publicly voicing out her feelings and tony being right there is a tad bit umm weird. I dont know if I’d call it revenge….but i dont know what to call it either

  8. As an Asian-American, my guess is the different _kinds_ of racist cultural perceptions there are between African-Americans and Asians. Whereas the bad stereotypes of Black people are of being lower-class and violent, the bad stereotypes of Asians are of being “too foreign” — bad at English, poor at assimilating, etc. In other words, the exotic aspect of “the Orient” is played up very frequently in American media, perhaps to the extent that Gwen Stefani’s way of appropriation isn’t even something we bat an eye at.

  9. moveon

    Her horn players are not big on press, etc. i’ve heard a few stories from the fanboard that when meeting fans, they’re not big on autographs, pictures and the like. they just want to say hi and play..

    • ian

      that’s actually true, they were fans and agreed to help out, and dont specifically have a built in contract. they wanted to stay elevated, and ultimately on stage that’s the only logical placement of them. i once saw them after a concert and after some smiles and handshakes they split.

  10. I haven’t heard Gwen Stefani since she started traveling with that “Asian minstrel show” (term coined by Margaret Cho), but was really surprised when no one questioned why she had a group of four adult Asian women dressed like schoolgirls following her wherever she went. Even more horrifying were the jumpsuits that they had to wear with their “new” names (i.e. Angel, Music, Baby, etc.). They were specifically instructed in their contracts not to speak and could only respond to the names Stefani had given them. WTF is going on with society that this type of behavior isn’t considered a form of enslavement?

  11. I was about 10 when Gwen Stefani was first popular and I remember buying a bindi (which at that time was a big deal – I do like the point Jenna Sauers makes in the Jezebel article about that adolescent identification with the objects you buy with your own money), but when I got home and showed my parents they explained cultural appropriation to me and told me not to wear it. I remember feeling conflicted about it – I was a fairly progressive and politically invested kid, but it must have been the first time I was conscious of being implicated in cultural racism.

  12. Mona

    I don’t understand why anyone is defending her and/or ticked off at you for speaking the truth. Now that you point it out, the Kangal/bindi connection is really creepy and disturbing. I’m watching the end of ‘Simple Kind of Life’ (where she is holding on to her Indian baby/accessory and has to choose between her two white bandmates and Kangal) like this D:<. She appropriates random things from exoticized cultures because it makes her interesting and edgy. Do you remember 'Luxurious'? In the music video she apes cholas and the song is about chilling out after hustling all week. I don't know if I'd call it cultural appropriation but it's really 'wtf'.

  13. I never thought about it that way- and I find it “funny” (not ‘Haha!’ funny) that people are already lashing out on you for just stating your opinion.
    But speaking of saris and bindis as fashion and forgetting it’s cultural importance, I recently read an article on The Blind Hem with similar reactions. http://www.theblindhem.com/1059/native-issues/

  14. A Medina

    It’s a little unfortunate that it’s so normalized. Treating other cultures and peoples as like…trendy play-things basically! I can definitely see why other people may not fully understand the issue of appropriating the bindi (though less so when we consider her ex was Indian), but I really don’t understand how people can hail her carrying around four Asian women like purse dogs as “cute” or “creative.”
    And I also think it’s necessary to point out how complicit the mainstream media was in covering this bindi trend. Gwen never mentioned the connection between her newfound trend, but then again, who asked? How many reporters asked questions about the connection? How many added that aspect to their articles? How many editors cut those lines? Given how little people care about brown people, it’s no surprise everyone would buy into such bull. Why look at us like we’re real people, worthy of the same respect?

  15. I love this, because I’ve never really seen anyone else call her out on the cultural appropriation she does over and over (except for the whole harajuku girls thing which was immediately disturbing to me and many people.) I would never defend her on charges of casual racism. Unfortunately I’m still conflicted about my feelings on Gwen and No Doubt because I am such a sentimental person. She was my first real tough girl role model and she came around when I was 11 – right when that type of thing is important. I’m not sure that if I hadn’t gotten so into No Doubt’s music that I would have discovered real ska and punk rock and riot grrl. So yeah I guess all I’m saying is that although I appreciate and agree with the criticism it’s hard for me personally to write Gwen off completely, not think of her as a role model in some sense, or call her an asshole.

    • “Unfortunately I’m still conflicted about my feelings on Gwen and No Doubt because I am such a sentimental person.”

      i think those are totally valid concerns, and i think it’s important to have conversations about loving things even though they are problematic, because they have some sort of personal attachment to your youth, or a person, etc. i’ve been trying to find a way to write about these things more concisely and clearly, but i think it’s something a lot of critical folks can relate to. someone you once looked up to having some major missteps is hard to deal with for a whole lot of reasons.

      the other thing i want to address is that you don’t HAVE to write her off completely; i’m mainly hoping to encourage people to at least take these questions into consideration, and am surprised more people haven’t taken her to task for questions of respect and intent – we just see these as “edgy fashion choices” and the conversation stays limited at that.

      • I really like that you say this. I love Gwen Stefani/No Doubt, but I have read a lot about her use of the bindi/sari, as well as taking from other cultures musically, and I do find it to be problematic. I guess I don’t find her lyrics to be that upsetting, because other than Don’t Speak, Sunday Morning, and the various break-up songs on Tragic Kingdom, most of her relationship songs refer to Gavin, not Tony. And she wrote many of those songs WITH Tony and her bandmates… Don’t Speak was originally a love song about her and Tony until he broke up with her and she tweaked the lyrics to reflect her heartbreak.

        I think the fashion industry is very willing to turn a blind eye to things that are problematic– look at the countless controversial/racist editorials in Italian Vogue, for instance. Or Anna Wintour’s devotion to fur. It’s definitely a problem, and should be talked about.

  16. andibgoode

    I don’t really have anything to add to the discussion as cultural appropriation is something I’ve actually only thought about in the past…couple of years? Less? And it’s due to you and other people I engage with online. I find it really difficult to absorb and read really heavy critical and/or academic texts at the moment so I’ve mainly relied on reading posts like yours that break things down into really understandable (for me) language.
    I can’t really remember liking No Doubt much as a child – I think I was still big on the Spice Girls around the time of Tragic Kingdom – but I DO remember buying stick-on bindis. I don’t remember actually wearing them much/at all but my family isn’t particularly politically or culturally aware so I had no idea how offensive it was.
    Slightly unrelated, I’ve been trying to find things written about cultural appropriation in terms of tiki as being somewhat associated with rockabilly and kustom kulture there’s a whole load of tiki themed events, etc. And it never crossed my mind until recently that it’s just as problematic but possibly like the issue you’ve written about, not talked about as much?

    • wow, andi, that’s kind of surreal because i was JUST thinking about the same thing. i was reading about some people of colour who love 1950s vintage, and the discussions around whether a nostalgia for the past inherently means a nostalgia for a time that was a lot more explicitly racist. i think the tiki stuff is a little more complicated, and to be perfectly honest i don’t know enough about it, but there’s something to explore there – maybe ask around a few people who are really into rockabilly and ask how they see it… maybe we could work on a joint post when we are in the same city in the fall?

      • andibgoode

        That is a little surreal! It’s definitely something I think about a lot but I haven’t read much from any people of colour
        I don’t know a lot about tiki etc, either – I know a bit about the origins of the appropriation of it but I might ask around (though I’m not sure what sort of responses I’ll get). And that could be neat!

  17. Sarina

    As a Mexican-American that grew up in the hood, I’ve always been pretty offended by Gwen Stefani’s appropriation of “chola/cholo” aesthetic in her videos (buttoned up flannels with high-waisted pressed khakis & bandanas, Virgin de Guadalupe crop-top, long nails, etc.). I think I heard some half-assed explanation about her loving Suicidal Tendencies when she was growing up, but that still doesn’t take away my gut reaction of “Gross, white girl trying to be a chola” when I saw it in her videos. Watch the “Luxurious” video for a disgusting example of this.

    • Juni

      I’d never seen that video before, but damn. That is seriously creepy.

      There are large portions of “Hollaback Girl” that are similar.

    • ugh! i had forgotten about that. that’s a super important point i didn’t touch on in my post, thanks for contributing!

    • ian

      slim encouraged her to get into that style actually, and the director said it would fit the look the video was headed. she doesnt wear that in public believe me, it’s just a demographic that the company decided was to be appeased to. i find it funny how quick cultural based people are to be “offended” by representation. it’s just as bad as the “OUR ANCESTORS PICKED YOUR COTTON WE DESERVE RESPECT AND THE RIGHT TO DISSENT THE MAJORITY EVEN THOUGH WE’VE NOT EXPERIENCED ANY OF IT”

      • keep your comments respectful and on-point – read my comments policy. people are allowed to be “offended” and express why they feel that way, just as you are allowed to disagree with them. also, can you link me to your sources?

    • shell

      She’s said in many interviews that growing up in SoCal she had many Latina friends, and that is where she got these style influences from. It’s obvious Stefani is someone who sees things she admires, often from people she has relationships with, and adopts them as her own in a sort of tribute to them & probably just from a purely aesthetic standpoint (it’s appealing visually to her). I don’t see why the reaction is to be grossed-out instead of flattered or even just amused.

      People often adopt styles because they like them from an aesthetic standpoint. Regarding an above mention of black girls liking 50s style – maybe they just like the way the it looks? Maybe history is irrelevant to them because they’re modernizing the look & giving it their own meaning.
      The inability to separate a visual element from a previously attached meaning is the problem, IMO, not “cultural appropriation”. This problem limits people, especially artists.

      I personally think the real reason some get angry about this is because it no longer makes them feel as special. It has nothing to do with anything being offensive other than a petty need to fee unique. These are also often people who have chips on their shoulders regarding white people, because they already have paranoia about power issues (real or imagined).

  18. Hannah

    First of all, when the Tragic Kingdom record came out, Gwen and Tony were still going out, they broke up after and the Return of Saturn album was written about the break-up, NOT Tragic Kingdom. So that is where you are wrong. And secondly, Tony’s grandmother gave Gwen a bindi, which is where Gwen’s inspiration came from.

    • Juni

      No, actually- Don’t Speak was explicitly about their break-up, which was on Tragic Kingdom.

    • can you give me a source for that? i’ve read three or four things saying their breakup was the inspiration for tragic kingdom, and the music videos around the release of the singles (namely don’t speak). i’m 99% sure return of saturn is about the breakup with gavin rossdale, who she ended up getting back together with. the lyrics about wanting to make a baby, get married, “ex-girlfriend” were all about wanting to make their relationship a mariage, and his reticence.

      whether or not tony’s grandmother gave gwen a bindi does not change the fact that she, a white girl, made an item from another cultural popular for white girls to use as a fashion accessory. i’m more interested in how the media responded to such situations, not so much where her “inspiration” came from. i’d love it if you could give me more insight into those questions.

      • ian

        Gwen and Tony have such a close friendship that she’s practically been a daughter to the Kanal’s. That’s why when they were about to film and leave Tony’s house her grandmother suggested it and accented her with one which she felt touched and honored by. So she wore it. Do i get mad at people liking Native american things? nah. Do i get mad at people trivializing scotts? nah. I hold both of my heritage roots close and i preserve them as i see them, not how others portray them. Korn wearing a kilt? Hah cool, if it works for him i dont mind

    • Alice

      Return of Saturn was about Gavin…seriously people they have literally done a million interviews about this, its called YouTube 🙂 and I know you used to like Gwen and I get that this is supposed to be about culture but your putting words in her mouth, its not like she wakes up thinking “who can I offend today” lol she’s just inspired by a lot of different things, no one says anything about Bradley from sublime speaking Spanish even though he was white, its just the area he and Gwen lived in, the people who are agreeing
      eeing with you are looking wayyy too into this and so are you. Plus the other two guys in the band are white and no one says anything about them being influenced by reggae…

  19. shell

    Gwen Stefani mentioned in many interviews in the 90s that she got her bindi & Indian style clothing from Tony’s family. I don’t know what interviews you guys were reading, but I hardly read one that DIDN’T mention it.
    The OP is hugely biased, not supported by any facts, but merely impressions based off many assumptions & twisted interpretations of cherry-picked quotes.

    I’m not a big fan of Stefani now for other reasons, but I think backlash along these lines is misguided & silly. “Cultual appropriation” is just a way of close-minded people to criticize those who are not adhering to their neat litte rules & categories about what people should wear, look like, eat, enjoy, etc. They are the ones who are promoting racial & national divisions, by insisting people keep to their “own kind” & “own culture”. They go around saying “my culture” this & “my culture” that as if the own a copyright to it, as if cultures are not fluid, as if there are clear dividing lines to begin with.

    Because Stefani is famous & makes dumb pop music, it’s easy to twist her interest in other cultures & eagerness to embrace aspects of them as something negative. I saw it as positive as a teen, and I see it as positive now.

    I also find the idea of “cultural appropriation” a double-standard. Are Indians who adopt western clothes & accessories committing a similar offense? No… only white people can’t win here, because if they embrace another culture then they’re making it into a frivolous novelty, but if they ignore it then they’re bigoted. It’s okay to “steal” from white cultures though, right?

    I guess it’s not okay for people to wear clothes, listen to music & watch movies they LIKE simply because they like them; no, they must be sure they are not stepping outside the bounds of their own culture. And if you date someone of another ethnicity/nationality, then it’s not okay to embrace their family & their family’s traditions/culture either, then, right? You should firmly keep to your “own”, but of course, if you are white, then they are free to adopt whatever they like from your culture.

    As for Stefani’s comments about Kanal – keep it in context. She rarely comments about their relationship now, so most quotes about it were from the past & not long after their break-up. Most seem a bit humorous and/or bitter, which is an entirely HUMAN reaction to a break-up. Kanal HAS made some nasty comments about Gavin Rossdale too…. Lastly, ALL of Tragic Kingdom was not about their breakup (many of the song lyrics are credited as co-written by Stefani’s brother who used to be in the band). There’s a FEW songs that seem like they could be about it, but as far as I know, “Don’t Speak” is the only one ever acknowledged as being specifially about their break-up/relationship. Again, the OP exaggerates many facts, blowing them out of proportion until they no longer reflect reality. It’s easy to make anyone look bad using such a method.

    Now if you want to discuss Gwen’s awful solo music & how her style became increasingly boring after she started working with stylists & wearing couture, then there’s a discussion I can add to with my criticisms of her.

    • thanks for taking the time to read my post. or rather, should i say, for skimming and selectively reading it. your comment (which is just about as long as my original post) comes off as defensive and uninformed. not because we disagree, but because you clearly don’t care to even attempt at understanding where i’m, or others i quote in this short piece, are coming from.

      for the record, this isn’t the first time i’ve written about cultural appropriation. it is definitely not a “cultural appropriation 101” post. based on your comment, it sounds like that’s more what you’d be interested in if you want to entertain petty arguments like “what about indians wearing western clothes.” if you’re genuinely interested in understanding why it’s definitely not a “double standard” as you put it i can recommend a lot of better articles. also, it is absolutely essential to note that a bindi is not comparable to “western clothes.” it holds religious significance for many hindus and spiritual significance for many others. compairing it to a pair of jeans is just not relevant.

      i’m not even going to respond to your accusations that i am “hugely biased, not supported by any facts.” i explicitly stated that at one point i considered myself a huge fan of gwen stefani, specifically when i was a young girl – this is not a hateful tirade. otherwise, why would i even bother writing about her if i didn’t know anything about her, her music, or her fashion choices? i was part of her target audience when i was a teenager.

      the first part of this article is clearly states that i don’t claim to know everything about kanal and stefani’s relationship – and no one who wasn’t one of those two people would. and of course stefani doesn’t talk about kanal and their breakup anymore – it’s was almost two decades ago. that doesn’t change the fact that her wearing a bindi for a few years ages ago, which has recently resurfaced as a trend (which is why i am talking about it here), is just one of many other examples of her cherry picking from whatever non-white culture tickles her fancy and she decides is the flavour of the month.

      this isn’t a backlash, as you say. my goal is not to make one individual “look bad.” i’m not calling for a boycott of all things related to gwen stefani. i’m simply pointing out some of the explicit ways in which a person who has been, and is, a role model for all kinds of young women has been at best slightly ignorant and naive and at worst completely tokenizing and discriminatory (hiring asian women and making them sign a contract to not speak, and literally using them as props).

      you have zero race analysis and that makes me think you should do some reading before assuming the way an indian, latina, or asian girl might feel about a white girl wearing a bindi or dressing up as a chola (famous or not). read up on basic concepts like white privilege and some history, like say, the way british folks colonized countries all over the world, imposed their beliefs on people of colour deemed to be “lesser” or “savage” or “heathen” and then selectively took things from their culture that they enjoyed. this is a small tiny window into a bigger picture question, which is why i felt the need to write about it.

      if you’re personally more concerned with what looks good on people or how “boring” she’s gotten since hiring stylists instead of looking at the potential political implications of what people choose to wear, this definitely is not the blog for you.

      • So all the non-religious people in America who wear crosses are just awful people and assholes as well. LOL. Get a grip. Quit over-analyzing everyone’s actions and learn that sometimes there are no hidden agendas or deeper meanings. Sometimes people wear something they find interesting and unique, and if you find that offensive, that is YOUR bad. Not theirs. Grow up.

      • Liz0613

        OP, I like how you chose to ignore the fact that the bindi was given to her by Tony’s family. Doesn’t that make it acceptable?

    • You can’t win with this author. She uses flowery wording and stiffly correct grammar as some sort of way to assert her superior intellect, which is highly lacking. Every point you made was solid, but she prefers to dance around it like a politician. Just know the rest of us see her the same way you do- a know-it-all who actually knows nothing.

  20. Jordan

    so you can’t just wear a jewel on your forehead as a decoration and not a bindi? also i looooved the luxurious video she did, a lot of places i’m familiar with give me the same vibe and i don’t find it offensive. the thing with tony is kind of frightening though

  21. usuck

    Okay the whole Gwen/Tony thing was like twenty years ago get over it. If Tony really hated her so much or was feeling awkward then he could have just left the band but he didn’t. In fact, he recently said in an interview how amazing Gwen is and how he holds her in his opinion.

    Also I’m pretty sure the Harajuku Girls could have said no. It’s not like Gwen enslaved them to be apart of her career that’s probably illegal and therefore not a valid point whatsoever.

    And the brass section only tour with them. They don’t do anything else cuz they don’t want to.

  22. Kate

    This is ridiculously stupid.

  23. I LOVE people who form conclusions based on speculation without doing so much as even a half-assed baby-sized attempt at research. Even the most BASIC google search would have EASILY given you access to information such as the fact that TONY CO-WROTE THOSE SONG LYRICS WITH GWEN (yes, even the ones about their relationship), and that SHE AND TONY REMAINED AND STILL REMAIN CLOSE FRIENDS (so you calling her an asshole on his behalf, when he doesn’t even feel CLOSE to that way himself, makes you look psychotic). You make several race-related accusations, and yet the only one who turns out to be racist is YOU. Why? You assume that because Tony’s parents are from India, this somehow inspired Gwen’s over-the-top Stereotypical-Indian fashion fusion…as if all Indians dress that way in the first place?? Tony is a British born American. He was raised in the UK and the US. He’s about as “Indian” as white people in the US are “German” or “Russian,” just because their ancestors came from another country at one point. And although his parents are from India, they do NOT dress in any way that would have affected Gwen’s fashion tastes. Your other racist point: You claim that somehow white bands aren’t allowed to get musical inspiration from other races…HUH???? WTF?!??? Dude, you seriously have issues. EVERY genre of music out there was inspired by another, and there are NO racial boundaries when it comes to music- they all cross lines back and forth ALL OVER the place. Quit looking at people as white, black, indian, and just learn to see PEOPLE. Black horn players ARE seen at their concerts, thank you very much. Right their on stage with them. Backup musicians who aren’t “regulars” are NEVER made as famous as the band- that goes for any group out there. And your point about her somehow stealing the limelight? HAHAHHAHA!!! IN EVERY ROCK BAND THAT EVER EXISTED PEOPLE ALMOST ALWAYS KNOW THE LEAD SINGER AND NO ONE ELSE! Pffffhahahaha go cry a river because we all know Marc McGrath but not the rest of the band, or Courtney Love but not the rest of the band, I could go on for years. AND THIS IS NOT SOME CRIME ON THE PART OF THE LEAD SINGER, IT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS. If you want to be well-known, don’t be a bassist. No one forced him to be in a band fronted by an outgoing attractive girl who was MEANT to be the lead. Quit acting like Gwen who was freaking YOUNG at the time was thinking all deeply with these sinister ulterior motives….she was a KID for God’s sake. Kids experiment with fashion, and they wear their hearts on their sleeves, and they’re experiencing things for the first time, and she didn’t FORCE the public to make her the popular one of the group SHE WAS A LEAD SINGER AND THAT’S WHO IS ALWAYS MOST POPULAR, and for you to sit back and f*cking judge her life and call her an asshole is just completely pathetic and disgusting. Disgusting.

    • PS: Forgot to mention that the Harajuku girls were a fashion and an ART PROJECT- the bringing to life of imaginary friends who idealize the crazy style of girls in Japan’s fashion district, and NO ONE forced those girls to sign up, and that you and others who like to assign deeper meanings to it that were not intended is stupid. Stop looking for meanings that are not there, and quit judging people based on your incorrect assumptions. They were supposed to represent an idea. Representations don’t talk- it ruins the magic. It had NOTHING to do with your racist notion that Asian women are forced to keep quiet. From Stefani herself: “The truth is that I basically was saying how great that culture is. It pisses me off that she would not do the research and then talk out like that. It’s just so embarrassing for her. The Harajuku Girls is an art project. It’s fun!” If Gwen herself did not intend the meanings behind it that you claim, then those meanings do not exist. You assigning it to them after the fact doesn’t change a thing. Ok, I’m done now 🙂

  24. anon

    She’s like the 90’s Taylor Swift and I never even thought of her in that way until the past few years.

  25. Jennifer

    thanks, but I don’t think the world needs any more white social justice warriors screaming about bullshit cultural appropriation.

  26. Pingback: CULTURAL APPROPRIATION ALERT: No Doubt Pulls Offensive "Looking Hot" Video

  27. Pingback: Post-Halloween musings: Fashion and Cultural Identity | Listen Girlfriends!

  28. Elizabeth

    Um so now that No Doubt has pulled their new Native American themed video…have anyone’s thoughts changed around here? LOL.

  29. Jcf

    I remember one of my professors mentioned that Gwen Stefani is very culturally inanpropiate and she felt, as a Asian-American, offended by her choice of clothing. I never thought about it but I remember watching the “luxurious” video and thinking her virgin Mary shirt is just plain wrong and I know many people, like my mom, would be offended if they saw that. I’m glad the new “looking hot” video was taken down. Maybe its a wake-up call for stefani and no doubt to stop playing with other ethnicities clothing! Plus, their music sucks so bad now! Gwen just retire already and keep making your overpriced crazy l.a.m.b. clothes.

  30. Pingback: The Academic Activist | Post-Halloween musings: Fashion and Cultural Identity

  31. Sasha

    Just wanted to say that this was a great post with valid opinions. You showed why you think/how Gwen is appropriating other cultures and how that makes you dislike her. I don’t think it was over exaggerating or anything. People commenting on how you should worry about other matters probably do not understand what cultural appropriation is.

  32. Sophie

    why is it so wrong to wear other culture’s clothing?

  33. Carly

    If you bothered to look up their horn section you would see that they are session musicians for other bands too. When No Doubt aren’t touring they tour with Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins. The internet is wonderful, isn’t it? As far as session musicians go, No Doubt have been pretty amazing to them .. to the point where YOU wonder why they’re not in the band full time? Did you also wonder why Green Day didn’t make Gabe McNair full time member? And perhaps, just maybe, they don’t want to be? Ever thought of that?

  34. I’ve been reading the comments here and there and basically studying people (and again, their responses- from a sociological standpoint) and am interested in WHY people are upset at reading about their “hero” being taken apart here. Here’s my take: when people idolize a person, as many have done and do idolize Gwen, they elevate her to a certain height that they will never be able to obtain themselves. Still, they jack her up to some obscene level of praise so much so that they’re whole identity is tied into it. In the end, it’s not even about Gewn herself as much as “the act of worshipping her” that means something to these people. They will never know her or see her. She could die and they would still have “hero worship” for her, but see, it’s not even about her at all. Their identity is tied directly into the ACT of worshipping her. That’s all, and they really think it’s “her”. But it’s not. So then, when you write an article such as this, you’re challenging their very identities. It makes them very uncomfortable and they think it’s because you said something “about Gwen”, but no- their own identities have been challenged and they suddenly feel “less than whole”.

    Interesting study. :0)

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