Last week, my cousin showed me the video to Kanye West’s Fade. I had been complaining that, as a music lover, I could not watch music videos in public, because they were too sexualized. In the background, Busta Rhymes’ Make it Clap video serenaded us, while I looked on, shocked, at the sexual images of women on display in his video. My cousin laughed and insisted that today’s music videos are much, much worse. From Rihanna, to Drake to Kanye West, she showed me an obsessive display of sexuality that I could not comprehend, and I began to understand just why the world suddenly seemed so fixated on my butt.
Unfortunately for me, I was born black. My first ever date was with a man who confessed he had asked me out because of my “glutes”. On the street, I see girls staring enviously at my butt as I walk past. I see men of every race staring at me debasingly, as though I did not possess a soul or a mind.
I am labelled a slut, because my full figure pours into my clothing. I cannot escape the attention my tight-fitting gym clothes brings. I am constantly advised to wear more conservative clothes, because of my figure, as though I chose what body measurements to be born with. I am labelled a slut, simply because I have a big butt, full hips and a narrow waist.
The black female identity is going through a revival. We are wearing our hair natural, we are no longer trying to fit the skinny ideal of the 2000s, and we are looking more and more like our African foremothers. This is wonderful, for the world is finally forced to accept our beauty as it is, centuries after the colonialism mentality labelled it ugly. There is just one problem. The echoes of colonialism reverberate loudly, and I watch as people continue to see me as a Sapphire, a vixen, an African goddess.
Although it was very popular, I never saw Rihanna’s Work video as I don’t listen to contemporary music. The only interaction I had with Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda video was the first thirty seconds which we analysed in our lecture on race and identity in the media. Until my cousin took me through it, I was frightfully unaware of the sudden influx of representation of black female bodies in the media. I did not realize that Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, and even British artist Lethal Bizzle had all heavily featured black women twerking in their videos. As a result, I was confused as to why my body seemed ever more on display whenever I was out in public. I did not understand that my body was being oversexualized by other black women in the media.
The problem with the oversexualization of the black female body is a feminist one. Firstly, it places the black woman in a cage that she cannot escape. No matter what I wear, someone is always staring at my body. Strange men are always commenting on my body – black men especially – as though I carried it around solely for them. This has left me stir-crazy, for, every day, someone is trying to take my body away from me; to possess it with their eyes, and their words. And yet, my body is made for more than just the sexual gratification of others.
Secondly, this oversexualization of the black female form only serves to leave women of other races feeling inadequate. Growing up in the 2000s, every woman on screen was very skinny. No matter how hard I tried, I just could never attain that body, and my thighs always stayed chunky. Nowadays, the opposite is prevalent and women of all races are expected to be as full figured as the stereotypical black woman. Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth argued that “women’s bodies are not our own but society’s”. Whether we are encouraged to be thin or full-bodied, we are encouraged to obey a patriarchal society, and not our body’s natural biology.
There remains, however, one difference between the woman on screen, and myself. The woman on screen shaking her butt is often doing it to be possessed visually by the (male) audience. I, on the other hand, refuse to be possessed by anyone. When I walk down the street, I sashay my hips and hold my shoulders high. The world expects me to hide my body for some reason, as though I were to be ashamed of being seen as a sexual woman. I do the complete opposite, and I take delight in my body. It is not my problem that a mini skirt on any other woman is not as sexualised as a mini skirt on me, a black woman. Deal with it, I tell the world.