What’s the controversy surrounding ‘spa water’ on TikTok?

·3 min read

A TikToker tried to pass off a trendy new drink as “spa water.” Then came the backlash.

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The drama began when influencer Gracie Norton shared a “spa water” recipe. She touted the drink as an anti-inflammatory full of antioxidants that can also aid in digestion. The only issue is that the so-called “new drink” dates back to the pre-Colombian era.

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What happened with Gracie Norton and “spa water”?

Norton has since deleted the original video, but in it, she described “spa water” as a drink made with blended cucumber, water and sugar. In this clip, the user @strawberrryc0ugh reacts to Norton’s video by cringing.

What was the main criticism about Gracie Norton’s “spa water”?

“They are now gentrifying agua fresca,” a user said in a stitched video by @itsdonutshole. “They’re calling it spa water.”

The cause for the controversy is that spa water is actually just agua fresca, a classic Mexican drink with Aztec origins. Norton’s video received enough criticism for her to remove the clip and apologize. That’s likely because her behavior is not in a vacuum.

There has been a long history of white TikTok creatives rebranding non-white peoples’ centuries-old traditions as new trends. Taking something from another culture — especially something that would be dismissed, belittled or stigmatized if a person of that culture presented it — then rebranding it to monetize it or elevate your own social status is the epitome of cultural appropriation.

“This is the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation. If you want to appreciate this culture, you share it, share where it came from, call it by its name, don’t give it your own white name that you decided,” @itsdonutshole said in a TikTok.

What is agua fresca?

Agua fresca is a drink popular in Mexico and other Latin American cultures. The drink typically blends, fruit, sugar and water to create a light refreshing beverage.

According to New Mexico Magazine, “The Mexica (Aztec) muddled the first aguas frescas from fruits gathered while paddling along the waterways of Tenochtitlán, now the bustling concrete monolith of Mexico City. They then added ice from the dormant volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl nearby.”

The drink became a staple in Mexican and Guatemalan homes. In the 1940s, agua fresca was exported to the U.S. via street vendors.

Gracie Norton issues an apology about the “spa water” controversy.

In an Instagram Story, Norton addressed people’s concerns

“Recently I filmed a spa water series, which I titled incorrectly. The proper name for this drink is agua fresca, and the origin belongs to the Latin community,” she said, according to The Sun. “Many of you have let me know that you would feel most comfortable if the videos were completely removed, so that is what I have done.”

“A majority of my content is about celebrating the many ways we can show our bodies love through trying new recipes, and I am aware that it is my responsibility to continue to educate myself on the origin of those recipes. I sincerely apologize to the Latin community and those of you that I have offended.”

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