A lot of us usually freak out when we see someone wearing a “Pocahottie” costume and start to break out our cultural appropriation speech. So then what happens when a Native American woman decides she wants to dress in a Pocahontas inspired outfit? Recently, Johna Edmonds, Miss North Carolina 2013, came under fire after she posted pictures from a recent photo shoot in which she posed as one of her favorite Disney princesses, Pocahontas. She had plenty of supporters who thought the pictures were lovely, but also those who thought the pictures were in poor taste and hyper-sexualized. One commenter by the name of Danette said, “While I appreciate what you aspire to be, Johna, let’s please, as Native Women, uphold our image and culture in a way to honour our ancestors.”
So what do you think? Were these pictures in poor taste?
On March 18th, Johna Edmonds took to her Facebook page an offered an explanation for the photo shoot and defended herself with the following post:
I would like to redirect your attention for just a moment so that I might address, all at once, the concerns that were expressed by some of the followers of this Facebook page and a few of my own personal supporters, regarding my recently posted Disney Princess-themed photos.
For the purpose of helping an incredible artistic team who have been unbelievably generous to the Miss North Carolina Scholarship Program, capture the essence of their creative vision for this year’s Disney Princess-themed Miss NC program book ad-page, I portrayed my childhood favorite Disney Princess, “Pocahontas.” And what should have remained a proud moment for me as well as others excited to see the outcome of this photo shoot, quickly devolved.
Within a matter of minutes, I had been unfairly accused of “misappropriating Native American culture” and of perpetuating society’s “hyper-sexualization of Native American women.” Given that these assertions couldn’t be farther from the truth, I’d like to take this opportunity to dispel any and all such ideas that have clearly been confused with and conflated as “misappropriating,” when they are actually “celebrating” the beautiful marriage of an artist’s creative vision with my personal interpretation of a modern-day “Pocahontas.”
Without a doubt, beauty and art are political issues. Growing up, I was assaulted with media images that looked nothing like me, and for a long time was convinced that little girls, like myself, without blonde hair and blue eyes could be deemed “beautiful.” My seven-year-old self would have been thrilled to know that someone like me could one day be crowned Miss North Carolina and have the opportunity to even take part in such a photo shoot that would reach so many people. So the suggestion that I have in some way “misappropriated” Native American culture doesn’t hold up, especially against the bevy of well-documented experiences that I have worked tirelessly to amass since I was a little girl as a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
Furthermore, for a person to “misappropriate” a culture, it is implied that they must have a history completely separate from that culture. As such, I clearly cannot be guilty of “misappropriating” a culture with which I have such strong ties. Again, there is a difference between “misappropriation” and “appreciation,” and I have always worked to ensure that my actions epitomize the latter.
Of course it’s wrong to objectify a group’s behavior or history and consume it for entertainment and capital. But it’s so important to understand and consider the context in which actions occur. For example, this photo shoot was based on the photographer’s artistic vision of “Pocahontas,” rather than a real world depiction of a Native American woman. This small but crucial distinction is a testament to the importance of always taking context into account.
So to those who feel that I have distastefully used my sexuality or femininity–which are mine to use–I do sincerely apologize. However, I’d like to also suggest that if all you see is a “hyper-sexualized” Native American woman when looking at these beautifully captured photographs, I would suggest that problem isn’t me, as I never aimed to convey “hyper-sexiness” at any point during this photo shoot. Instead, I really wanted to epitomize and portray the beauty and regal nature of the “Pocahontas” I fondly remember, and with whom I spent the entirety of my childhood captivated by.
So thank you, commenters, for opening up this very necessary dialogue. Your respective comments have only served as a reminder for me how the bodies of minority women continue to be a battleground for so many oppressive forces. And I believe that it is only by naming these forces, and recognizing their ugly reflections in our own lives, that we can begin to see all of our own true beauty.
In love and light,
So her point is that the photo shoot was not looking for authenticity, rather it was living in the fantasy world of a Disney Pocahontas. Johna Edmonds is a former Junior Miss Lumbee 2001, so she knows a thing or two about traditional regalia. However, that was not the intent of this photo shoot.
So after hearing her side of the story, should we still be upset with her photos? Or is this a part of a larger issue we need to address?