Is the Evil Eye Cultural Appropriation? (Tattoo & Jewelry)

As much as we love fashion and style, the term cultural appropriation is the reason why many celebrities are currently called out and canceled.

The Evil Eye is a symbol associated with several ancient civilizations and cultures. As a result, it could be considered cultural appropriation to wear the evil eye.

However, it appears that there is little evidence that people have been offended by the wearing of the evil eye (as a tattoo, jewelry, or decoration).

This may be because it’s associated with ancient rather than contemporary cultures.

What is the Evil Eye?

The Evil Eye is one of the oldest symbols of protection that was surprisingly widespread in various parts of Asia, Africa, and even Latin America.

The symbol is made of four circles that come in white, two shades of blue, and black. In some cases, it’s the actual symbol of an eye.

People wear the Evil Eye for protection from evil spirits. In the Middle East and North Africa, the Evil Eye symbol is associated with warding off Nazar or a curse that someone casts to envy someone else.

For this reason, in several parts of the world, the Evil Eye is more than just a decorative item as it’s considered a potent token of protection.

This is why people wear the Evil Eye, draw it as a tattoo, and hang it as a piece of decoration in their homes and cars. As a result, several celebrities like Janhvi Kapoor, Meghan Merkel, and Gigi Hadid wear the Evil Eye symbol in several pieces of accessories they own.

The Evil Eye is still part of everyday modern culture, especially in the Mediterranean region, North Africa, and the Middle East.

People usually hang it in their shops to increase sales, over the beds of newborns to ward off evil spirits, and around the house to maintain peace and harmony among family members. 

Sometimes, the Evil Eye symbol is associated with another symbol, the Hamsa. The Hamsa, the Hand of Miriam, or the Hand of Fatima, represents an open hand, where it’s called the Hand or Five in some regions, as it refers to the five fingers.

This symbol is usually drawn with an Evil Eye in the middle to revoke Nazar and other evil curses and spirits. Both symbols are particularly popular in the Islamic and Jewish faiths, so they usually represent part of traditional jewelry.

Thanks to its popularity, the Evil Eye symbol was introduced to smartphones as an emoji that people use in various contexts. It’s also printed on several outfits.

Why it Isn’t the Evil Eye Cultural Appropriation?

1. It’s Not Used to Offend or Coopt a Culture

Cultural appropriation refers to showing disrespect to a certain culture through the inappropriate adoption of a famous element by someone who doesn’t belong to the same culture.

In the case of Evil Eye, people don’t wear it to offend the culture but rather to celebrate it.

People often accuse others of cultural appropriation when they see a sacred or important element in their culture worn or used in an inappropriate setting.

Some elements are even distorted, to the point of offending those who belong to a certain identity or culture.

Yet, with the Evil Eye, it’s hard to tell whether someone is wearing it for protection or for fashion.

Likewise, it’s difficult to determine whether the person who wears the Evil Eye symbol actually believes in its power or is simply trying to follow a fashion trend.

Since the Evil Eye is popular in several cultures, it might be possible that one of the person’s ancestors actually belongs to that culture, and in this case, there will be no cultural appropriation.

2. It’s from an Ancient Culture

The practice of gatekeeping was never an issue in ancient humanity, and it’s the reason why knowledge traveled from one part of the globe to another.

On the hand, those who believe that this is a form of cultural appropriation feel deeply offended when they see that a cultural symbol that means so much to them is being used out of context by people who don’t appreciate its meaning or significance.

Unfortunately, some western fashion designers will use a lot of cultural symbols excessively.

Not only does it make an outfit look weird, but it also shows that the person doesn’t understand the meaning of the symbols used.

The same goes with tattoos, as some people can have contradicting tattoos inked next to each other.

In other cases, some people will be strictly against the use of any cultural symbol out of their culture.

How to Wear the Evil Eye Symbol Without Offending Anyone

Someone might not belong to a certain culture but feel deeply connected to it.

A lot of people are fascinated by the Evil Eye symbol and would still wear it or draw it as a tattoo, but at the same time, they don’t want to offend anyone. Here are some tips to follow.

  • Make sure that you’re not wearing the symbol in any way that would offend someone, like wearing it with a contradicting symbol.
  • Don’t modify the symbol by changing its design or color.
  • Ask for any cultural significance regarding this symbol so you don’t end up wearing something that looks funny.
  • In the case of a tattoo, ensure that the artist knows the exact dimensions and any script drawn around the symbol. You don’t want to end up with a tattoo that says something totally inappropriate in a language you can’t understand.


Being accused of cultural appropriation is a serious accusation that we all want to avoid at all costs.

Yet, wearing a symbol like the Evil Eye isn’t necessarily associated with cultural appropriation. However, you need to do your research to make sure that you’re not offending anyone or making yourself look silly by wearing contradicting symbols.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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