What Selena Gomez Can Teach Us About Culture

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; but tell that to Selena Gomez who recently received a lot of flak for her Hindu inspired outfit at the MTV Movie Awards.  “The bindi ain’t a tramp stamp” I believe is what one author said in their critique.  Brilliant.

While the author makes a valid point, I find myself empathizing with Selena.  Like many kids from the 90’s I first learned about bindis through Gwen Stefani.  I won’t lie, when I was 13 a bindi was not just a way to be cool, it was a way to cover up whatever newly formed pimple decided to show up on my pubescent skin.  Two birds one stone, I thought.

It wasn’t until my junior year of college, when I finally discovered bindis are more than a fashion statement.  In Hinduism, the bindi represents yourthird eye.  It’s an auspicious symbol associated with enlightenment.  Selena’s mistake was wearing a bindi while dancing to a sexually explicit song.

Whoops.

And while one could just as easily use Wikipedia to cross-check certain cultural references, something I’m sure her stylist is wishing she had done, one thing I’ve discovered from living the past 3 years in Spain is that learning a new culture is messy.  Frankly, you WILL make cultural missteps.  That’s just the reality of things.  Lucky for me, I have a Spanish boyfriend who has no problem telling me when I’m being offensive, which as it turns out, happens about once a month.

At first, I used to be really hard on myself for not knowing better.  However, this quickly exhausted and turned into me yelling at my boyfriend for not being more understanding about my lack of cultural-sensitivity.  I’m a foreigner damn it!  How am I supposed to know?! That’s when I realized-I’m not an expert on culture.  Safe to say, Selena Gomez isn’t either. 

No one is.

Now more than ever we live in a global community where we are constantly being exposed to new cultures.  I for one, think it’s great.  But exposure such as this will likely involve growing pains, which to our dismay, cannot always be solved with the help of Google or your friend who spent a summer abroad there and swears it’s completely fine.

Although pointing out cultural taboos usually makes for uncomfortable moments, these mishaps are a necessary step in the learning process.  For how can we learn from our mistakes if no one ever bothers to point them out? Rather than chastise people, why not use these opportunities as conversation starters?

Unfortunately for Selena, her celebrity status means that everything she does and says is subject to public scrutiny. However, knowing the classy lady that she is, she’ll probably take the criticism in stride and learn from her cultural hiccup.

In short, thank you Selena and celebrities alike for taking one for the team.  Because of you millions more of Americans now know that bindis are not simply an accessory at Claire’s, but a serious religious symbol that should be treated with care and respect.

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