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Cultural appropriation has become a hot button issue in today’s world. It’s good news since the dialogue is essential for the growth and development of society. It also means the line between what is cultural appropriation and what isn’t cultural appropriation can be somewhat blurred at times.

This leaves people, especially those in the public eye, vulnerable to criticism, even if they didn’t mean any harm. Rihanna recently ran into this problem when she posed for the cover of Harper’s Bazaar China.

Rihanna | Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images For Fenty

The internet lost it over Rihanna’s cover photos

Stunning photos of Rihanna dressed in traditional Chinese attire, shared by Harper’s Bazaar China on Instagram, were dragged through the internet mud-pile when users accused the star of cultural appropriation. The photos are set to appear in the August issue and, as the publication explained on Instagram, were supposed to show what happens “when western style icon meets eastern aesthetic.”

But even though the concept was fully explained by its Chinese creators, reactions online were still split, with many viewers being very upset. “Love Rihanna but we can’t accept everything she does cause it’s her,” one Twitter user wrote.

Contrary to what you might expect, internet users in China mostly praised the photos. According to CNN, on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, the reaction to Rihanna’s photo’s was mostly positive. They loved the look and thought it complemented her well. 

On the other hand, internet users in the Western world were quick to point the finger of cultural appropriation. 

What is cultural appropriation?

The definition of cultural appropriation has become muddled, and that’s part of the problem. When the idea was created, the intention was to discourage creative industries from stealing ideas from cultures, without giving credit or respect to the original value system that created it. 

Unfortunately, today the idea is often placed on any person who borrows from another culture other than their own, regardless of the intent behind it. Fans were upset that Rihanna dressed in a Chinese fashion because she is not Chinese herself.

Why Rihanna’s 2015 Met Gala appearance was praised

The 2015 Met Gala was themed “China: Through the Looking Glass,” and Rihanna attended, wearing a beautiful yellow gown with Chinese style embroidery. She showed respect for the Chinese culture by going straight to the source, and hiring Chinese designer Guo Pei to create the dress. At that time, fans agreed that she was honoring the culture. The situation is similar to the one she is in today, but at that time, fans recognized her positive intentions and weren’t as quick to slap the label of cultural appropriation. 

Why Rihanna’s cover is not cultural appropriation 

The Harper’s Bazaar cover was designed by a group of Chinese artists for a Chinese audience. Because of this, it was created with the utmost respect for the culture. There was no malicious intent, or attempt to pass the ideas off as her own. Rihanna gave credit to the Chinese designers and was respectful of the culture. The artists who created the cover gave her permission to use their culture, and the country who it was created for, loved the cover. 

For all these reasons, it becomes obvious that this is not a case of cultural appropriation. Internet users want to defend other cultures, but this isn’t the correct example of what cultural appropriation means.