Let's Get Physical: The Commodification of Black Women's Bodies
Usually when I see shit like this, I ignore it, this time I will not. Why? Why white women? Why do you feel the need to post stuff like this? When we, black women, see images and captions like this, we immediately question your state of mind, not perceived inadequacies in us. Why do you think that we that we are jealous of you? I could drag this photo, but I will refrain from doing so. Instead, I will not take a learning opportunity from you. I find it rather insulting that many of you think that we covet features you enhance, the same kinds of features we are naturally born with and have been degraded for, for centuries.
bell hooks wrote an essay entitled, “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” in Black Looks: Race and Representation. In this essay she states, “cultural, ethnic, and racial differences will be continually commodified and offered up as new dishes to enhance the white palate” (39). The other is ‘eaten’ as whites consume aspects of the other’s culture such as music, language, and even the body. For example, let me take you back to 19th century Great Britain where a young South African woman was forced by white men on display for public consumption. Why? This woman, Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman also known as the Hottentot Venus, had physical features common among Khoikhoi women where their labia, buttocks and thighs are a bit more prominent than other women. This right here points out another issue. In the dictionary, the Greek term used for African women with excessive fatty tissue in these areas is “steatopygia”- a disease. For white women with normal waistlines and flat buttocks, the Greek term, “callipygian,” is utilized. History tells us that in order to be considered beautiful, one has to have flat rear ends, a characteristic according to dictionaries, only white women have. However, these terms are outdated now seeing as how many women are enhancing their asses though various means such as silicon or fat injections or by exercising.
In life and in death, Saartjie’s body was highly eroticized and fetishized by white audiences. She was taken from her homeland of South Africa and paraded around and exhibited in Great Britain as a freak show due to her voluminous rear end and elongated genitalia. She was sold to a French animal trainer who also put her on exhibit for the public consumption of French audiences. After death, her pickled brain and genitalia were placed on display at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1974. Suzan Lori-Parks’ 1996 play entitled “Venus” explores how whites have associated black women’s bodies with food. At one point in the play, Venus is given chocolates by her lover who as she eats them, he watches and masturbates. She questions if he thinks her body reminds him of the chocolate.
This association of black women’s bodies as food can be seen in recent examples of public consumption of black women’s bodies. In 2012, Sweden’s Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Litjeroth celebrated World Art Day by cutting and eating a cake of a naked black woman that clearly looks like a minstrel caricature. Responding to the racist backlash, the artist stated that this piece of “art” was to bring awareness to female circumcision. One cannot help but to see the blatant racism in this so-called art as white people stand around, take photos of the cake and then consume it.
After centuries of degradation for our figures, white women feel the need to gloat about their physical features, real and imagined, telling us we are jealous. Trust and believe, we are not pressed. If anything our anger comes from reducing us to our body parts when we are so much more than that. This is not to say we cannot be proud of and celebrate our bodies, we do, but we know that our value cannot be measured by waistlines, bra size, hip dimensions, or thigh thickness. So to all you pressed ass Becky’s with “good hair” (wigs, weaves, and otherwise), try again.