Ms. Fat Booty

The physicality of the young women featured in Hip-Hop music videos and magazine spreads has evolved over time.  For instance, the proportions of women featured in the Wreck-X-N-Effect – Rump Shaker video (1992) provide striking contrast to the bodies of today’s modern video vixens:  Melyssa Ford, Buffy “The Body’ Carruth, Angela “Lola” Love, and Esther Baxter.  The butt to waist ratio has become increasingly exaggerated over the last several years and I wonder what this phenomena means for the zeitgeist beyond the veneer of celluloid music videos and rap magazines. 

Booty and thickness has always been more valued in the Africa-American community than outside.  The valley girl intro to   Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s booty loving anthem—Baby Got Back—sums this dichotomy up best:

Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big.  She looks like,
one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys?
They only talk to her, because,
she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like,
out there, I mean – gross. Look!
She’s just so … black!

However, the anatomical exploitation of Black women has had a long and more often less humorous history in Western society.  Recall Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman— a Khoikhoi woman exoticized  as the Hottentot Venus.  She was kidnapped and exhibited as a freak show attraction in 19th century Europe, largely based on the physical differences of her body compared to her white female counterparts.   In 1814, she was taken to France, and became the object of scientific and medical research that formed the foundation of Western ideas about black female sexuality.  The image of the black woman as hyper-sexual was cultivated through this kind of exhibition in the past and I would say equally so now. 

The often surgically enhanced bodies that we are seeing in these music videos are influencing how black women perceive, negotiate, exhibit, and even market their sexuality.  However, unlike Saartjie Baartman, the modern video vixens have a particular agency over her exploitation—she chooses to display and eroticize herself for sizable economic gain. 

The introduction of cultural objects likes the now ubiquitous butt pads and the “Body Magic” girdle shaper suggest that we around the way girls are feeling the push  to stack up the “cakes”—as a girlfriend recently put it—in order to imitate these images and also too attract the brothers.   Black women are going under knife in increasing numbers (along with their Caucasian and Latina counterparts) to have silicone or fat removed from their stomachs, thighs, or waste put in their booty.  Yuck.

Aside from being dangerous, much of this behavior is a sad reflection on where we are as a culture.  The exploitation of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman is a national tragedy in her home country of South Africa and beyond.  Will the objectification and commodification of black female bodies today become a similarly sad story centuries from now?




  1. I think that this post expresses the long-held obsession that Western culture has had with the black female body-as a Latina, I’ve experienced a version of this strange Colonialist “attraction”-it involves older White men approaching me and guessing (without any invitation from me) my race. From Hawaiian to half-Black, it’s an odd impulse that I have contemplated many times.

    I still find it very disturbing that it was only within the past decade that Baartman’s bodily remains were returned to her original home. The “Black Venus” trend has characterized the French fetishization of the black female body, and it continues in today’s prolific advertising/entertainment practices and fashion world most prominently. This is discussed at length in her essay (biblo info below):

    Evenlyn Hammond’s noted in her essay that “the politics of silence” have characterized many black womens’ self-representation practices in order to avoid these stereotypical avenues of expression. This is discussed at length in her essay:
    Hammonds, Evelyn. “Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality.” Feminism Meets Queer Theory, Ed. Elizabeth Weeds & Naomi Schor. Boston: Brown University, 1997. 136-156. Print.

    What do you think about this approach and the question of more celebratory practices that seem to “fulfill” these stereotypes?


  2. whoops I seemed to have typed something twice! To clarify, Evelyn Hammond’s “politics of silence” discussion was mentioned in her essay listed at the bottom of the post and not the “Black Venus” fascination.

  3. […] is highly sexualized in hip-hop culture, as Black video vixens are surgically manipulating their bodies to become Black Barbies.  Nicki Minaj—self-proclaimed— Harajuku Barbie is an immediate […]

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