Sarah Baartman was an international sense of objectification. British Library
I “BLACK EFFECT, “A track from Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s collaborative album from 2018”EVERYTHING IS LOVE, ”Beyoncé describes a characteristic black female form:
Stunt with your curls, your lips, Sarah Baartman hips Gotta hop into my jeans like I hop into my whip, yeah
The celebration of Sarah Baartman’s features marks a departure from her historical image.
Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman was an African woman who in the early 1800s was something of an international sense of objectification. She was paraded around Europe, with spectators spotting on her big buttocks.
As celebrities like Beyoncé recognized Baartman’s contribution to the ideal black female body – and with the curved posterior of the curved women hailed on television and celebrated on social media – I wanted to understand how this ideal is viewed by the people most directly affected: Black Women.
So I interviewed 30 black women from different cities in South Africa and the Mid-Atlantic United States and asked them about Baartman. Would her image represent a despised past or a canvas of resilience? Were they proud to have a similar butt or ashamed to share a similar stature?
Hips and history
Baartman, a Khoisan woman from South Africa, left her homeland in the early 1800s for Europe; it is unclear whether she went willingly or was forced to do so. The showmen exhibited her throughout Europe, where there was an embarrassing and inhuman spectacle she was forced to sing and dance to crowds of white spectators.
Often naked in these exhibitions, Baartman was sometimes suspended in a cage on stage while being stabbed, stabbed and groped. Her body was characterized as grotesque, horny and obscene because of her protruding buttocks, which were due to a condition called steatopygia which occurs naturally among humans in arid parts of southern Africa. She also had elongated labia, a physical trait derogatory called a “Hottentot apron. ”
Both became symbolic markers of racial difference and many other women from this part of Africa was traded to Europe for white entertainment. Because they deviated so drastically from dominant ideas of white feminine beauty, Baartman’s traits were exoticized. Her voluptuous and curvy body – mocked and ashamed in the West – was too described in advertisements as the “most correct and perfect copy of her race.”
Of course, black women’s bodies vary; there is no monolithic – nor ideal – type.
Nevertheless, there is a strong legacy from curved ideal, more than in other races.
It persists to this day.
In my interviews, black women revealed how they felt about Baartman’s story, how they compared her to their own body image, and what her heritage represents.
An American participant, Ashley, seemed to recognize how entrenched the Baartman ideal has become.
“[Baartman] was the platform for stereotypes, ”she said. “She set the trend for black women [to] have these characters and … now carry these stereotypes through pop culture. ”
Mieke, a South African woman, described being proud of her proportions and the way they are associated with Baartman, saying: “I am proud of my body because of the similarity I feel it has with hers.”
Exploitation or empowerment?
Today, The Baartman body can be beneficial, especially on social media, where black women have the opportunity to produce content that is socially and culturally relevant to them and their audiences – and where users can monetize their posts.
On different platforms, women take advantage of their looks to get paid advertising or receive free gifts, services or merchandise from various beauty and apparel companies. They are also more likely to gain more followers – and perhaps attract more affluent suitors, depending on their ambitions – by drawing closer to the contemporary Baartman ideal.
So you could argue that black women are taking control of their objectification and commodity in order to make money. They also protest the ideals of white ordinary beauty, seize Baartman’s exploitation and scorn, and rework her as a source of pride and empowerment in places like #BlackTwitter, Instagram and OnlyFans.
On the other hand, it cannot be denied that Baartman’s image is rooted in a legacy engulfed in slavery, undue submission and colonialism. The white gaze that fetishized Baartman’s body as exotic and overtly sexual was the same announced the stereotype that black women were sexually promiscuous, horny, and hypersexual.
Although Baartman may not have been able to keep the cash people paid to look at her, black women today can strive for her body type and make money from it. Once Baartman’s physics was once ridiculed with an insidious white gaze, it is now profitable – as long as these women are confident of being objectified.
But is selling this body type always a form of empowerment? Would someone who had not already been exploited do so?
This may explain why black women today are in conflict when they think of Baartman.
Lesedi from South Africa highlighted this excitement.
“I feel like you find girls like me who are not proud of what they see when they look in the mirror and they just feel like, ‘I have to let it go,'” she said. But she added that “you find other girls who are just so happy that they twerk. … I think Sarah Baartman certainly has an impact, but it’s either positive or negative whether you’re proud to have a butt. ”
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This article was republished from The conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Rokeshia Renné Ashley, Florida International University.
Rokeshia Renné Ashley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has not disclosed relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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