Lizzo's Nose Ring Chain: Cultural Appropriation or Nath?

lizzo nose ring chain nath
credit: @iwantalexx/Instagram

Earlier this summer, Kim Kardashian and her daughter North West sported matching silver nose ring chains while attending the Jean-Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Fall 2022 show at Paris Fashion Week.

And just last week, Lizzo followed in her footsteps and showed up at the VMAs wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier look, complete with a similar silver chain nose ring.

 

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A post shared by Kim Kardashian (@kimkardashian)

This type of nose ring, also known as ‘nath’, is a popular South Asian piece worn by brides as a way of honoring Devi Parvati, the Hindu goddess of marriage (though it’s now become analogous with mainstream fashion in the region).

As a result of Lizzo and Kardashian’s latest looks, members of the South Asian community, spurred on by Diet Sabya (a play on Diet Prada), were split on whether or not this was cultural appropriation or cultural assimilation. Were these celebrities stealing aspects of a culture without giving proper attribution, or were they exemplifying cultural appreciation to better understand and connect with others cross-culturally?

Historically, the practice of nose piercing dates back to the 16th century, and today, many South Asian brides don a nose stud on either side of their nose connected to their ear by a long chain. So, despite its history and cultural significance, why is mainstream fashion only catching on now?

bengali bride nath nose ring chain
credit: Sumita Roy Dutta/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

I’ve had my nose pierced since I was 15 and worn a small, barely visible diamond nose ring on a daily basis. As a South Asian woman, this is a common practice in my family: my mother had her nose pierced (though she discontinued wearing it) as well as my grandmother and all of my maternal and paternal aunts and female cousins. It’s a customary practice that I always believed was a part of my Indian identity, not a fashion statement.

Yet, when I was both in law school and a newly minted attorney, I was repeatedly told that my nose ring looked unprofessional and not to wear it to work or interviews. In the beginning, I obliged. After all, I was keen on getting the role I was going for and wanted to fit into the otherwise stuffy legal culture. After some time, I tested the waters and put it back on. It was my culture and part of my “look” and I was tired of modifying my appearance to fit into archaic societal constructs. I wanted others to accept it.

I hold immense pride in my Indian culture and the traditions, aesthetics, and customs that come with it. So, when I saw one publication describing the nose ring that Lizzo wore as the “breakout accessory of the season,” I was conflicted. I was not upset by mainstream fashion popularizing aspects of South Asian culture, but rather the fact that it only became “cool” when celebrities did it. When women like me wear the same item, why is it grouped as “other” instead of fashionable?

 

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On the other hand, there was a part of me excited about the prospect that finally, non-South Asians would embrace an aspect of me that I often hid, albeit forcefully.

All I really wanted was cultural appreciation. There is a fine line between it and cultural appropriation, but the distinction is in the amount of respect attributed to the originating source, or at least recognition of where a certain trend or item comes from.

Megha Rao, Founder and Designer of holiCHIC, an NYC-based Indo-Western fusion fashion brand, agrees.

“At the end of the day, we’re all an assimilation and byproduct of various cultures. Seeing a Kardashian in a nath is no different than me eating sushi at a Japanese restaurant or watching a foreign film. Embracing different cultures is a beautiful thing.”

And it sure is. The immersion of cultures, especially in today’s world is inevitable, but it shouldn’t come at a cost to the community it comes from. Just maybe the next trend the Kardashians or another celebrity wear will be both trendsetting and pay homage to its roots.

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Pooja Shah
Pooja Shah is a lawyer and freelance writer from New York City.  When she is not binging a new TV show, she’s actively browsing google flights for her next travel destination or looking up vegetarian recipes she will never actually cook.