Having, I guess, somehow missed the last million Native American appropriation controversies in the fashion industry, Heidi Klum recently had contestants on Germany's Next Top Model travel to Utah and pose as sexy/high-fashion stereotypes of indigenous people. Sigh.
Like all "Native American-inspired" fashion shoots that feature non-Native people pouting seductively in stereotyped indigenous-themed costumes, this has resulted in a great deal of criticism and accusations of cultural insensitivity. At Last Real Indians, Ruth Hopkins writes:
Natives are not costumes one can take on and off. When people dress up in stereotypical 'Indian' garb, they're not only denying the existence of 566 distinct Tribal Nations, they're mocking an entire group of human beings based solely on their race and heritage. Natives haven't lost touch with what's sacred either, and we do not take kindly to ceremonial objects like the pipe being used to hawk your wares, nor garner publicity for your second rate reality TV show.
There's a lot wrong with this specific photo shoot. As Hopkin notes, it's ridiculously and offensively reductive: there are currently 566 nationally-recognized Native American tribes, none of which are accurately portrayed in this bizarre, costumey, misrepresentative fantasy. It also depicts Native Americans as a primitive and mythologized people of the past, which is a patently and malignantly untrue media narrative. Furthermore, it contributes to the hypersexualization of indigenous women — who are 2.5 times as likely to experience sexual assault when compared with other races. So, yeah, it's pretty much gross and bad and in horrible taste.
Accordingly, the feedback on Klum's Facebook page is overwhelmingly negative. A sampling: "These images are disgusting, degrading and demonstrate your total ignorance of of Aboriginal Culture," wrote one user; "What disrespect to Native Americans. You knew it was wrong and you still did it. That makes you wrong. Stop using Native culture as fashion for your own agenda," said another. Someone else put it more succinctly: "Two thumbs down!!!"
As of now, Klum hasn't issued a response.
Images via Facebook.