Native Americans on TikTok and Instagram are putting hairstylist Sam McKnight on blast for cultural appropriation after he posted a TikTok in which his staff styled a model’s hair to resemble a traditional Diné (Navajo) bun, or the tsiiyéél, and called it the “Balmain Vertibow.”
In the TikTok post from Scottish-born stylist @hairbysammcknight, multiple stylists surround a Balmain model whose blond hair has been pulled back into a tight ponytail. Two stylists hold curling irons, while a third stylist wraps a section of hair around each of the devices and uses them to create a “vertical” bun. A fourth stylist wraps a hair tie around the middle to secure the look.
“The Balmain Vertibow. Inspired by Balmain of the 50’s and 60’s subverted into the next century. Vertical hair bows finished with black elastic for a sporty utilitarian feel,” the caption reads.
‘It’s giving culture vulture’
Native TikTokers, Instagram users and allies, however, begged to differ.
“He really said colonizing. chefs kiss,” wrote Diné TikToker @kaanathemartian.
“It’s giving culture vulture,” powwow dancer Adrian Stevens (Northern Ute/Shoshone-Bannock/San Carlos Apache) wrote on Instagram.
“I think every Pueblo/Hopi/Diné relatives should be chiming in and we should ALL rock our traditional hair style this weekend share it. These people are making money off and appropriating OUR styles,” @78_vixen (Hopi/Haaku/Lakota) wrote on Instagram stories.
Diné TikTok creator @beshrezzyinthecity even stitched the post with her own, saying, “Your Diné hair bun is very beautiful” in the Navajo language.
The tsiiyéél predates the Balmain Vertibow
The traditional Navajo hairstyle, and similar styles worn by the Hopi and Pueblo tribes, predate the 1950s and even the Balmain company. It’s worn by both men and women and begins with the hair in a ponytail. After the hair is folded on itself multiple times, it is tied with yarn.
“I always watched my Masani make her own bun,” TikToker @chantsokew writes in a caption while she ties a tsiiyéél. “I had to learn to make my own bun as I got older. Now, I teach my kids about how sacred our hair is and how beautiful they are when they wear their traditional bun.”
According to Diné tradition, “the hair represents the rain,” YouTube elder Frankie Davis, aka Navajo Grandma, explains. “And when you brush your hair, your hair is a symbolism of your wisdom.” Taking it a step further, she says, when you put it in a bun, you are holding your wisdom and “clasping it to your head.”
Cultural appropriation in the fashion world
Native American appropriation in the fashion world is nothing new. In 2012, Victoria’s Secret dressed model Karlie Kloss in a Native headdress, “buckskin” fringe and turquoise jewelry. In 2021, Minnetonka apologized for appropriating Native American culture for its moccasins. Aviator Nation was also called out for selling clothes that drew heavily from Native culture.
In response, Native people have shared why appropriation is harmful to the culture, including how it contributes to erasure and stereotypes. Many use the phrase “My culture is not your costume” to emphasize the point further.
“It’s bad enough we are fighting for our lands, our dignity, our waters, our women and men, and our future generations against this colonial system — but to continue to educate over and over again that our culture isn’t for sale is getting exhausting,” Indigenous Peoples Movement told Lakota People’s Law Project.
In The Know by Yahoo reached out to both Hair by Sam McKnight and Balmain, both of which have not responded at the time of publication.
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