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Lingerie company Yandy quietly removes Native American-themed costumes

Dozens of Native American-themed costumes are no longer available online.

 

An Arizona lingerie distributor has quietly removed one of its most offensive costume themes from its website, following years of protest from Indigenous women. Yandy, which is based in Phoenix, had until recently sold nearly 40 types of Native American-themed costumes, which drew sharp criticism from Native communities and activists for reducing Indigenous women to sexual objects, as well as inaccurately portraying Indigenous culture.

“To all the women who were persistent with this, this is a huge victory,” said Amanda Blackhorse, a Diné activist and social worker. Blackhorse was among Yandy’s most vocal critics, and in 2018 she led a group of women who attempted to hand deliver thousands of signatures calling for the removal of the costumes to the company’s offices. Instead of meeting with Blackhorse, Yandy’s chief financial officer, Jeff Watton, called the police.

A spokesperson for Yandy declined to comment on Friday, but a search on the company’s website found that Native American-themed lingerie, which included outfits adorned with items such as leather fringe, beaded headbands and headdresses, are no longer listed for sale.

Amanda Blackhorse protests outside Yandy headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona.
Douglas Miles

The company is still selling some of the same outfits and accessories under new names such as “Dramatic Fringe Duster” or “Beaded Tie Dye Headband.” Multiple follow-up calls and emails to Yandy were unreturned.

[RELATED:https://www.hcn.org/articles/tribal-affairs-stop-selling-costumes-that-sexualize-indigenous-women]

A petition calling for the removal of the lingerie posted on Change.org in 2018 gathered nearly 27,000 signatures as of publication. Despite the petition and vocal opposition to its Native-themed lingerie, Yandy declined for years to stop selling the products. “If it gets to the point where there is, I guess, significant demonstrations or it gets to a point of contentiousness that maybe is along the lines of the Black Lives Matter movement, where you have major figures in the sports world going to a war of words with the president, then it's become too hot of an issue,” Jeff Watton told Cosmopolitan in 2017. He said the Native American-themed costumes were among the company’s top sellers, pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Zoe Dejecacion, a member of the Choctaw Nation who started the Change.org petition, said that in 2018 after promoting a sexy outfit modeled after the show A Handmaid’s Tale, Yandy drew widespread criticism. In response, the company pulled the outfit and issued a public statement. But Dejecacion noted that years of Indigenous women protesting the company’s Native outfits had only drawn silence from the company. 

“I just thought that was a little contradictory considering Native people have been calling out their costumes for years now,” Dejecacion said.

[RELATED:https://www.hcn.org/issues/50.20/tribal-affairs-why-dont-anti-indian-groups-count-as-hate-groups]

Researchers and scholars have noted that the historic pattern of hyper-sexualizing Indigenous women further marginalizes them and plays a role in their much higher than average risk of sexual assault. “What we’re really missing here is the Native voice. We’re not even listening to the Native people, we’re listening to the perpetrators of colonialism,” Blackhorse said. “When I go into Native communities I don’t see Native women dressing this way. We’re looked at through a lens of stereotypes.” In 2018, Blackhorse wrote an opinion piece on the issue for High Country News.

Dejecacion agreed Native American-themed costumes and lingerie present culturally insensitive portrayals of Indigenous people, noting the use of headdresses in costumes fashioned after a stereotyped image of plainswomen, who traditionally did not wear headdresses.

“When you think about the actual culture behind it and these headdresses that are so culturally significant and reserved for people who have earned them, even the craftsmanship, the years it takes to make and the feathers earned to make them, it’s hard to not be offended over something like that.”

While Dejecacion shared in Blackhorse’s sense of accomplishment, she said she is disappointed that Yandy’s removal of the costumes did not include engagement with Indigenous communities. “I am still hoping for some sort of statement or apology.”

Graham Lee Brewer is a contributing editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation.