Good News, Kendall: Ballerina Culture Can’t be Appropriated


Kendall Jenner made controversial headlines when she posed as a ballerina in a recent issue of Vogue Espana. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Kendall Jenner made controversial headlines when she posed as a ballerina in a recent issue of Vogue Espana. (Courtesy of Flickr)
Kendall Jenner made controversial headlines when she posed as a ballerina in a recent issue of Vogue Espana. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Margarita Artoglou

In a recent photoshoot for Vogue Espana, Kendall Jenner was outfitted in ballet apparel and pointe shoes. Some ballerinas around the world were very upset about her appearance, going so far as to accuse the magazine and Jenner of appropriating ballerina culture on social media. For example, Twitter user @_acushla, wrote “The shoot was wrongfully appropriated.” Another user, @macjohnson131, said, “Kendall Jenner’s ballet photo shoot is literally SO offensive you can’t just put on pointe shoes and go for it oh my god [sic].”

The fashion industry is no stranger to accusations of cultural appropriation. This past Fashion Week brought with it indictments against Marc Jacobs for having white models with dreadlocks featured in his show.

The Kardashian-Jenner clan also frequently comes under fire for similar missteps: Khloe Kardashian’s Native American headdress at Coachella a few years ago and Kylie Jenner’s cornrow braids have both made controversial headlines.

While all those instances deserved the resulting backlash, the latest controversy surrounding the fashion world and Kendall Jenner is completely unwarranted.

As a model, Jenner’s job description is to wear whatever the photoshoot director tells her to wear and to pose in it. Jenner did just that. Whatever qualms people have with the photoshoot should be taken out on Vogue Espana, instead of Jenner herself.

The bigger problem where the photos appeared is not that people are lobbing their accusations at the wrong target, but that this incident has become a controversy at all.

Accusations of cultural appropriation are serious. Cultural appropriation — real cultural appropriation, which occurs when someone takes an aspect of an oppressed people’s culture and uses it outside of the context of that culture — is harmful because it can perpetuate demeaning stereotypes.

There is nothing to “appropriate” here. Ballet is a hobby for some and a profession for others, but it is not a culture. By accusing Jenner and Vogue Espana of something so serious for such an asinine offense, social media users have undermined the severity of the issue of cultural appropriation by giving doubters a great example of political correctness gone too far.

Sticking a girl who cannot correctly point her toes in pointe shoes is laughable on the part of Vogue Espana. As someone who trained in ballet for 10 years, I can see how bad Jenner’s feet look, and her lack of technique is painfully obvious. Most dancers must first have a few years of experience with flat ballet shoes under their belts before they are even allowed to buy their first pair of pointe shoes, and Jenner clearly does not have that.

This was a photoshoot, not a dance performance or music video. While I agree Jenner looks a little silly in the photos and videos from the shoot, I do not think it was unfair of Vogue Espana to hire a model for this shoot instead of a real dancer.

This may seem like a trivial matter, but it is important to discuss because superfluous accusations of cultural appropriation detract from the gravity of actual cultural appropriation that harms oppressed groups. If those protesting this photoshoot on social media truly cared about the issue of cultural appropriation, they would focus their energies elsewhere.

Some social media users pointed out that the magazine could have hired a real ballerina, such as Misty Copeland, for the shoot. This may appear simple as to asserting that similar to the complaints of those white actors should not be cast to play ethnic characters. However, those assumptions are not the same. The entertainment industry is lacking in cultural representation, which is harmful to minority groups because it perpetuates the idea that being white is the default. On the other hand, there are no actual societal harms from a lack of true ballerina representation.

The existence of these complaints in the first place is bad publicity for people who struggle to have their causes taken seriously. This frivolous claim of cultural appropriation only validates critics of Americas so-called “PC culture.” When someone who already doubts that cultural appropriation is harmful reads about young dancers who think that Kendall Jenner in ballet shoes counts as cultural appropriation, they are bound to think that so-called PC culture has gone too far, and dismiss the movement against it entirely.

For the sake of groups that are truly oppressed, people need to exercise caution before crying cultural appropriation.

Margarita Artoglou, FCRH ’18, is a communication and media studies major from Queens.