Throughout western culture, the media has found many ways to sexualize and caricaturize the physical attributes of black women. However, the mammy figure depicts a black woman who has no sexual lure even while still possessing the physical characteristics that are sexualized in many black women. The mammy has a “grandmotherly” or “auntie” like presence, she is often depicted with a white family that is noticeably smaller than her in terms of weight. She tends to be more involved in the caregiving of a white family and not pictured with children of her own race. The mammy is not promoting revealing apparel, rather something like a mumu and a bonnet. This can be seen in the first image I added, the picture of Madea. The physical depiction of Madea herself is an example of what the stereotypical mammy would look like. In the movies, Madea acts nothing like the nurturing or caring mammy that is seen in many historical images. The movie contradicts everything that a mammy “should be” while still giving her the physical traits that she assumes. She has white and styled hair, loose fitting and non revealing clothes, and she is played by a man. Madea is not intended to be sexualized, she is supposed to be seen as a mammy that does not fit the societal norms. Another recent depiction of the mammy can be seen in the movie “Ma” that was released in 2019 starring Octavia Spencer. The plot of the movies depicts an older, and larger black woman who takes in a bunch of attractive white teenagers and allows them to throw parties in her basement. It becomes known throughout the film that the woman, also known as “ma,” has a daughter of her own that she dismisses and places the white children as her priority. Although the intent of the movie may not have been to bring attention to stereotypes brought on to black women, it certainly can be seen throughout the film as there is less of a sexual presence and more of a nurturing one played by this specific character. 

The second image that I have added shows a different kind of sexualization of black women. A black woman wearing a cheetah print bodysuit running alongside a cheetah with the caption “Wild Things” in bold print is problematic. This image may have been intended to be artistic and promote the “exotic” beauty that this model might possess. However there are other messages lying within this image, it removes human quality from this woman and portrays her as an animal. Would the editors of Harper’s Bazaar photograph a white woman in the desert running alongside a cheetah? Probably not. Adding animalistic qualities to women of color dehumanizes them. This can be seen rooted in slavery when black people were not seen as having value as human, rather property. This goes along with the depiction of the asexual mammy. She is not sexualized and seen as taking care of white families because black women would often be forced to take domestic roles during the time of slavery. 

In the third image I added it depicts a black woman in traditional African garment with a white cherub sitting on her large behind. Although this does not confine to the asexual mammy or the direct animalization of black women it does portray the sexualized body parts in black women. Black women are often depicted with large breasts and large buttocks, in this image she is also depicting wearing tribal gear. This adds to the notion that large black bodies are viewed as uncivilized. Tying it back into the root of slavery, black men and women are constantly under the hand of white supremacy. The future for black female bodies is up in the air. There has been little progress in the media to represent black women as powerful and civilized altogether. The lack of representation for the black community is the underlying issue. Instead of portraying black people as “ghetto” or in a underdeveloped society, I believe our western culture will be able to see small changes being made in how black women are represented once they are equally represented with other races.

Caitlin Fitzpatrick is a junior at Old Dominion University. She is majoring in Lifespan Communications and hopes to go into Human Resources. You can usually find her working as the receptionist in the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity or feeding the street cats near campus. She is a big fan of coffee, tattoos, and true crime documentaries.