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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

Something that always enticed me about UCT was the unapologetic self-expression its students possessed. Prior to arriving on campus, I had worn a uniform for my whole life and the concept of expressing oneself through external appearance was new and exhilarating.

During casual or ‘civvies’ days in high school, everyone would dress relatively similar in order to fit into the silent social norms. Now, as university students, my peers have the opportunity to explore their identity through their clothes and accessories – a new right and privilege.

 

 

Whilst at my Humanities orientation, I noticed a significant number of male students wearing nail polish. This is something we have seen the likes of Harry Styles and Timothée Chalamet do on red carpets. After Ansel Elgort made headlines for wearing make up to the Golden Globes, I realised nail polish was just the beginning. And while these cis, straight men receive acclaim; members of the LGBTQ+ community roll their eyes in the background. I can’t imagine the frustration of seeing someone receive praise when you have received nothing but scrutiny for the same action. Marginalised communities always seem to bear the brunt of societies judgemental eyes until white people hop onto the trend for the ‘aesthetic’.

We have to ask ourselves: do things only become socially acceptable when white people (men in this particular case) do it? And do we now celebrate men embracing traditionally feminine habits and praise them for breaking social norms? Wearing nail polish as a woman made you a “girly girl” and placed you in a box. When boys do it, it’s trendy and cool. These are also often boys who use femininity as an insult.

The mere act of expressing oneself is a privilege. And if you are part of a marginalised community, being yourself immediately becomes a political act. The more I stared at this boy’s nails, I started to think: could this be a form of cultural appropriation and is it disrespectful? And when I heard him make a “that’s gay” joke to one of his homies, I realised that this feeling of discomfort was valid.

 

 

The term ‘cultural appropriation’ has been thrown around in the media for the past few years. You may have seen pleas right before Halloween to steer clear of culturally insensitive costumes, or have witnessed Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and virtually every Kardashian-Jenner come under fire over the years. The general trend is that, an aspect of a group’s culture or identity is adopted by someone who holds more privilege. The adoptee then receives praise or credit and the origins and history of what was appropriated are tossed aside. Many do dismiss the term ‘cultural appropriation’ as an overly sensitive, liberal agenda, but recently the topic has been discussed with more sincerity.  

The cultural appropriation debate is, rightly, far from over and is proving to be more complex and nuanced then previously believed. 

At the end of the day, UCT is a space for everyone to express themselves, but I urge you all to ensure you aren’t doing any harm and that your intentions are pure. Let’s leave those parties that exoticize and eroticise cultures, wearing a bindi at music festivals and general disrespect and intolerance in 2019. 

And, while self-expression should not be policed, calling out a poser e-boy is rather satisfying at times.

Aleya is a first year student at UCT currently completing her undergraduate degree with majors in Politics, Psychology and Law. She is an intersectional feminist and avid follower of current affairs with big dreams of making the world a better place.