“It has nothing to do with clothing — black women’s bodies are hypersexualized no matter what we wear” (Bent, 2017). Hyper sexualization of black women is an idea that stereotypes black women to have an insatiable desire, sexually.  This idea holds power as, ideas and notions have the ability to shape minds, and the individual perspectives on how and what people think. This idea is held in high belief particularly for black women because of the assumption that black women are lustful, and live by promiscuity (Esomonu, 2017). An example displaying how black women are categorized as being hypersexual is that between Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda and Miley Cyrus’s performance (Esomonu, 2017). When Nicky Minaj’s music video became public the images of her twerking, dancing and lollipops created sensation. She was criticized being indecent and her video categorized under indecency. While, when Miley Cyrus twerked and performed similar acts on an award show she was seen as a someone who decides for her own body, and choses her sexual freedom to express. So, the bigger question that arises is how these differences occur between two different bodies performing similar acts. Perhaps, preconceived notions of “bodies” could answer this better. For now, let us look at a few different images to see how black women’s bodies are seen and talked about. 

This image (Picture 1), is a picture of women, these are women whose bodies have been policed and sexualized at work, on streets, by people, through social formations. It is said when a curvy woman puts on a dress, it attracts male gaze (Bent, 2017). Hence, women are told to dress appropriately. These women do not dress for your gaze, they dress as they desire for their own bodies. They form their own agencies through their choices, and no one can tell them otherwise.

Picture 1: Women are not for your gaze, nor are their clothes (Esomonu, 2017).

Our assumptions our notions and labels often have roots in history. Black women’s bodies and the existing notion towards these bodies are also flawed from the beginning. 200 years ago, a woman who was nicknamed as “Hottentot Venus”, was taken as a slave from bushmen tribe and paraded around Paris and London in freak shows just so that people could gaze and poke her large buttocks (Parkinson, 2016). Kara Walker’s installation of “The Marvelous Sugar Baby” (Malone, 2014), in Brooklyn, a sculpture of a woman naked except with a headscarf while has other significance- historical and political, also tells a story how black women naked bodies are seen and talked about when they take in public space. While it is a portrayal of the pain that Black women lived and continue to do so, it is also a portrayal of the notion of hyper sexualization that black bodies are looked through. 

  Picture 2: “The Marvelous Sugar Baby” (Malone, 2014).

A woman reporter of WFAA Channel 8 News, Demetria Obilor, was criticized by a woman on Facebook who posted that “She’s a 16/18 woman in a size 6 dress and looks ridiculous,” (Duster, 2017). I wonder if the woman was more interested in the news or the clothes of the reported. She had choices to a. not watch the channel, b. closes the eyes and listen if her eyes had problems looking at Obilor. But what she did not have was a right to comment on someone else’s body and the choice that someone else made on the way they wanted to dress. 

Picture 3: Reporter criticized for clothing (Duster, 2017).

A fourth-grade teacher, Patrice Brown became the talk of social media when she was criticized for her body at workplace. Her clothing was told to be “inappropriate” for school (Mitchum, 2016).

Picture 4: “Inappropriate” Body or Clothing? (Mitchum, 2016)

Brown’s sleeves were over the shoulders, length of her dress on the knees and neckline on collarbone. Even for argument’s sake if “inappropriate” was to be defined, this clothing would not fall into it. If it were a petite teacher, with not much curves, would the clothes still be called “inappropriate”? Much less likely, right. It is not the clothing but the body that is criticized. And this has been happening over and again, through shaming women who are curvy, thick or fat and the way they choose to dress. These shamings seem to have special reserved seats for black bodies!

REFERENCES

Bent, Gender. 2017. “RACE SEX & GENDER”. AFROPUNK. Available at https://afropunk.com/2017/11/nothing-clothing-black-womens-bodies-hypersexualized-no-matter-wear/

Duster, Chandelis R. 2017. “African-American Reporter Takes Stand After Body Shaming”. NBCNEWS. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/african-american-reporter-takes-stand-after-body-shaming-n817621

Esomonu, Udochi. 2017. “Stop The Hyper-Sexualization Of Black Women, PLEASE”. Odyssey. Available at https://www.theodysseyonline.com/stop-the-hypersexualization-of-black-women

Malone, Gloria. 2014. “What Kara Walker’s ‘Sugar Baby’ Showed Us”. Rewire News. Available at https://rewire.news/article/2014/07/21/kara-walkers-sugar-baby-showed-us/

Mitchum, Preston. 2016. “Let’s Be Real: Society Finds Black Women With Curvy Bodies ‘Inappropriate,’ Not Their Clothes”. THE ROOT. Available at https://www.theroot.com/let-s-be-real-society-finds-black-women-with-curvy-bod-1790856743

Parkinson, Justin. 2016. “The significance of Sarah Baartman”. BBC. Available at https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35240987


Astha Bhandari is a graduate student at Old Dominion Universityin the Applied Sociology Program with a concentration in Women’s Studies. She has a Bachelor of Arts in the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies. She also works as a graduate assistant at the Women’s Center. You will find her sitting quietly, passing gentle smiles across the room. She is not too vocal, but she loves to write. She admires the non-binary fashion!