Cultural Appreciation


Bilo is one of the most unique clothing brands in Second Life. In additional to the usual Western style designs, Bilo’s Mayaa Thistle also designs clothing drawn from Islamic fashion aesthetics such as this lovely caftan adorned with a wonderful fabric featuring an intricate pattern that developed from the focus on nonrepresentational figures in Islamic art. It is refreshing to see Islamic fashion represented with respect and accuracy in Second Life. When it is as lovely as this caftan,  it’s doubly rewarding.


Whether in my first of second life, I tread carefully when wearing clothing or jewelry inspired or drawn from cultures that are not my own. I do not want to offend by using some symbol that has a religious meaning or by wearing something that represents some honors that I have no right to claim.

A striking example is Mala beads, a string of beads used by Buddhists for meditation. They are beautiful and many westerners have started wearing them as necklaces and bracelets, oblivious of their sacred context. The Dalai Lama went so far as to request that non-Buddhist not wear them. I remember mentioning this in a book club discussion, not noticing that one of the women was wearing mala beads. Her response was all too belligerent and typical, insisting that she had the right to wear anything she wanted, that she didn’t care what the Dalai Lama said, she would wear what she damn well liked. It’s a common misconception in America that just because we have the right to do and say offensive things that we are under some sort of affirmative obligation to act like an ass.


It is not that difficult to avoid becoming a culture vulture – stealing and appropriating images, icons and designs from other cultures without respect for the traditions they come from or what they represent. In the era of Google, there’s no excuse for not doing some research to discover the significance of the item in its culture. Things that are sacred or representative of high honors should be avoided. Think of how offensive it is for people to wear military medals they have not earned. Until the Supreme Court struck the law down last year, it was punishable by up to two years in prison.  Wearing an Indian headdress is the same offense. The feathers are earned and chosen with ritual and prayer just as medals are earned and awarded with ritual and ceremony.


This gorgeous skin is one of Belleza’s Best Buys for March.

The general rule for avoiding offense is to consider the Source, Significance and Similarity to the cultural icons and motifs that are being “borrowed.” If the people whose culture is represented in the fashions have agency in what is shared, if they create and sell it in their own stores, then you are appreciating, not appropriating. Significance refers to whether it’s sacred or symbolic of some cultural value that would put it off limits for people who are not part of that tradition. Similarity refers to whether its inspired by or simply copied. Using color combinations, abstract motifs that do homage without outright theft is appreciation, not appropriation.

I know it’s easier to assert your right to do what you like and of course, it is  perfectly legal. However, think of symbols that are sacred to you and how you feel when they are disrespected.  Think of the widespread anger when a single crucifix  was placed in a tank of urine for a piece of art. That offense against religious iconography has reverberated for years, now consider how some people may feel about seeing their sacred symbols tattooed on someone’s backside, not once, not twice and but over and over.

Store info at Blogging Second Life
Poses: Adorkable
Skin: -Belleza- Amy Med BBB 0 (Red)
Eyes: Poetic Colors
Lashes: Lelutka
Mani/Pedi: SLink Mesh Hands
Hair: /Wasabi Pills/ Giselle Mesh Hair – Rouge
Clothing: Bilo Rani -Sabah (M) Faerie Night
Shoes: Baiastice_Lira Pumps-purple
Jewelry: Dark Mouse Lapis Lazuli (not available)

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6 thoughts on “Cultural Appreciation

  1. Gillian Galicia

    What a meaningful post! I’ve not heard the description of and ways to avoid cultural appropriation outlined so simply and effectively before. You’ve made me think about SL fashion blogging at a whole other level now. Thank you!

  2. Sandra

    Cultures are not static we all take from different cultures what we find enjoyable improve them change them and give these items our own interpretation and substance which are all equally valid.Cultural Appropriation claims collective ownership of a certain cultural expression on behalf of one group and sets in stone its meaning and purpose.This can take on racist forms like if you are not x you cant wear x and if you do it is insulting to x.Taken to its logical conclusion Non Italians can’t eat pizza non Egyptians cant drink beer non Americans cant wear jeans and so on and so forth.Insult can only ever be given if the onlooker considers the practitioner a sub human.So not only should calls for “respect” and ownership be ignored they should be ignored with contempt.

  3. Cajsa Lilliehook Post author

    You are attacking an argument that was never made. In no way, did I suggest that all cultural synthesis and synergy be avoided. My suggestion that care be taken over source, significance and similarity. I placed particular emphasis on significance, the sacred and symbolic.

    As I said, people have a right to be as offensive as they like, with some exceptions. So go ahead, as I wrote in the post, people have a right to be as offensive as they like.

  4. Monica Querrien

    If you think about it, most major religions have some form of prayer beads, used by members of that faith. If I saw someone with rosary beads, I would assume they were Catholic. If I would ask and they would say, “Oh I’m not Catholic – they just look pretty to me,” I would think it was quite odd to wear something that strongly identifies someone as a part of something that they are not. The woman at the book club seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the beads hold a significant value to a particular group of people. So I could totally see the Dalai Lama restricting such if it seems like a fashion fad to some.

    I do think it’s important to maintain a balance when it comes to learning new cultures. You can’t totally disregard one’s culture and traditions, but at the same time you can’t be so afraid to experience new things that you lock yourself into a box. Also, culture is relative to the individual – 2 people can be from the same background, but have totally different outlooks towards the same culture. Even religion is relative, though people for the most part have a doctrine that they follow.

    Actually, I am more concerned about those who don’t want to learn about new cultures, which can lead to animosity towards anything that’s not familiar with them or a self-proclaimed expert of their own culture. I feel that’s the bigger issue rather than the subset of disrespecting a culture (intentionally or unintentionally), because that comes from lack of awareness.

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