What’s in a swimsuit? Well, if it’s got an image of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi on it, apparently a lot. Hindus are outraged after Australian designer Lisa Blue trotted a suit with an image of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of love and abundance, down the runway in her recent spring 2011 show during Australian Fashion Week. In response to the suit, members of right-wing Hindi group Shiv Sena burned the Australian flag, believing that it is inappropriate to use Hindu deities or concepts for commercial usage. Lisa Blue has already vowed that the suit will never be made for sale. “This range will never be available for sale in any stockists or retail outlets anywhere in the world. We apologize to the Hindu community and take this matter very seriously,” said a statement from the label.
“Lakshmi was meant to be worshiped in temples or home shrines and not for pushing swimwear in fashion shows for mercantile greed of an apparel company,” said Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who noted that the apology was “a step in the right direction.”
So, is this an isolated incident in the fashion industry? Hardly.
Consider how cultural appropriation occurs daily in the fashion world — whether of political figures (Che Guevara, anyone?) or religious symbols (myriad Christian crosses, Jewish stars and the aforementioned Hindu gods and goddesses). These images become reinvented outside of their original meanings — as aesthetic decisions, rather than intentional political or religious or social statements — and it’s easy to see why Hindus, or anyone else, might be upset by the appropriation of their spiritual imagery. And yet, we’re probably all guilty of claiming some religious or political symbol from another culture or place as our own at some point; because we feel an affinity with it, or believe it represents some part of who we are, or simply because we think it looks pretty.
Tell us: Have you ever been called out as inappropriate or offensive for wearing a religious or political symbol?