The hyper sexualization of black women’s bodies is nothing new. Seeing black women as just sexual objects began with Sara Baartman who was the first black woman to be fetishized for her curvaceous body.

Figure 1 https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35240987

Posted here is drawing of Sara Baartman. You can clearly see that she was a very curvy woman or a full-figured woman with large breasts and a large buttock. Because of the complexities and how much her body differed from white women’s body at the time, Sara became a fetish for many white men. According to Justin Parkinson, “Brought to Europe seemingly on false pretences by a British doctor, stage-named the “Hottentot Venus”, she was paraded around “freak shows” in London and Paris, with crowds invited to look at her large buttocks. Today she is seen by many as the epitome of colonial exploitation and racism, of the ridicule and commodification of black people” (Parkinson, Justin).

Black Women

Looking back at how Sara Baartman was treated, black women are still experiencing similar unwanted sexual attention. As a result of being sexualized for so long, black women have also begun to internalize it, making it a part of their identity. Thinking about black women’s bodies, it is important to understand that having a curvy body is most often linked but not limited to only black women. It is also important to understand that not all black and African American women have curvy bodies. When it comes to black women internalizing the idea of being seen as a sex object, it stems from the desire of curvy women by white men then black men. From my experience, black women praise other black women who have the body shape that is desired which is seen as being thick in the right places aka the hourglass shape (nice sized boobs, flat stomach, and a protruding butt). As a black woman myself, I do have curves but sometimes I feel like I’m not necessarily curvy in the right places. My experience is probably the same for a lot of other black girls who grew up seeing black women only fulfilling certain roles. As a kid, rap and the music industry played a huge role in my interpretation on bodies and body image. How black women have been represented in the past were mostly in rap videos which has had a negative effect on black girls’ body image (Awad, Germaine H., et al). 

Figure 2 & 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDZX4ooRsWs
Figure 2 & 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDZX4ooRsWs

Above are some screenshots from Nicki Minaj’s music video “Anaconda” where she is glorifying her big butt.  I don’t see anything wrong with body positivity and glorifying her butt however, sending messages like this is what creates body image problems within black women and girls because everyone does not have the same body type let alone a big butt.

Kim Kardashian and Cultural Appropriation

Figure 4  https://www.papermag.com/break-the-internet-kim-kardashian-cover-1427450475.html?rebelltitem=14#rebelltitem14

Being obsessed with the structure of black women’s bodies flows right into cultural appropriation. As mentioned before, black women are known to have naturally curvaceous bodies, like Sara Baartman. Kim Kardashian is not a black woman but has modified her body to mock the body shape of black women and is celebrated for her body. The picture shown is Kim Kardashian on the cover of Paper Magazine back in 2014. To me, she has a “similar” body shape as Sara Baartman.

Conclusion

Looking at how Sara Baartman’s body became a fetish is dehumanizing and inhumane how she was put on display for entertainment purposes. Today, the hyper sexualization of black women’s bodies is still happening but I feel that it can be directly linked to Sara Baartman and her curves. It has gotten to the point where black women have played on this same very thing, most commonly through hip hop and rap; what this attention stems from is objectification and sexualization that has been internalized. 

References

Awad, Germine H., et al. “Beauty and Body Image Concerns Among African American College Women.” Journal of Black Psychology, vol. 41, no. 6, 2014, pp. 540–564., doi:10.1177/0095798414550864.

Parkinson, Justin. “The Significance of Sarah Baartman.” BBC News, BBC, 7 Jan. 2016, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35240987.


Yvonnia Bryant is a 21 year old senior at Old Dominion University finishing up her last semester as an undergraduate student. She is majoring in Communications, minoring in Women’s Studies. In her free time, Yvonnia has a podcast (Melanated Queens), is a LEC tutor, and is a part of the Old Dominion chapter of Queen In You where serves on the E-board as an events planner.