Dressed in White: The Media’s Assault on Black Women’s Humanity

March 28, 2009 § 2 Comments

I wrote this thesis paper on the media’s sexist and racist objectification of Black women for my Junior Inquiry research class last semester. It’s 12 pages of what I hope is feminist and anti-racist empowerment so please continue reading below the fold if you’re interested. Enjoy!

Introduction

 

We live in a time when innocent eleven year olds turn on MTV to find Justin Timberlake belting out his own words. They do not notice the back up “dancers,” wearing their own skin plus a piece of fabric or two, humping the floor. We live in a time when nutritionists and doctors see Oprah as the plague due to her fluctuating weight. They do not refer to her success as an independent woman, a rape survivor who has gone on to become a philanthropic celebrity and build schools in Africa. We live in a time when the music industry is managed by a cluster of well-connected White men. Most fail to notice that the majority of people who make the music to fuel the industry are Black. We live in a time when the term “ho” is said next to the race “Black”  repeatedly by teenagers on the New York City subway. Spectators fail to analyze the sexism and racism that belies this colloquialism.

We come from a time when Black women slaves were raped by White masters for the purpose of breeding. The U.S. government failed to realize these women were human beings, rather than horses it could manipulate for more efficient production. We come from a time when Black girls thought White dolls were more “nice-looking” than Black ones. These Black girls failed to notice their own beauty. We come from a time when Black women were not allowed to participate in beauty pageants. We still fail to realize what it means for a Black woman to have a presence, to take up space, to be recognized for her actions.

The portrayal of Black women’s bodies in the commercial media is a result of sexist and racist objectification. This inquiry will explore the sexism and racism that objectifies Black women, starting with the publication of Gone with the Wind in 1936 and extending to the role of Michelle Obama’s body in the 2008 presidential election. I am focusing on this time period because Black women have been objectified in American society since slavery. Just because slavery is over does not mean that objectification of a race and sex is too. Rather, Black women are still objectified, though how they are objectified has changed over the years. This objectification is much larger than sex and much larger than race. Through this inquiry, I will trace the combination of racism and sexism in the portrayal of Black women’s bodies in history and in the present. Then, I will use this history and analysis to expose how the media contributes to inequality. From that, I will provide for you, my reader, ways to reclaim the media and your understanding of it in order to create a more accepting portrayal of our society.

In addition, I will be referencing many terms that aid in the comprehension of my inquiry. To reference these very important terms and their accompanying tangents, footnotes are provided. These are meant to enhance the significance of the objectification of Black women’s bodies as both an anti-racist and feminist issue. I highly recommend that you reference these footnotes as a background guide to the feminism and anti-racism that are relevant through this inquiry. Understanding these non-sequiturs can greatly aid your understanding of the body of this inquiry and its mainstream applications.

 

Mammy

All her life, Mammy lived on Tara, a vast Southern plantation. She had “a lumbering tread [that shook] the floor of the hall” (Mitchell 24). Self-sacrifice was love and pride on Tara, and Mammy had to make the lives of the O’Haras the sole focus of her own. She didn’t have any White blood, but she was resourceful with what she had—her first master’s lessons in etiquette, the threat of being whipped if she disobeyed, admiration and curiosity of the White life. Her appearance was of “a huge old woman with the small, shrewd eyes of an elephant” (25). A caretaker of her masters, she radiated happiness and matriarchy everywhere she went. You could be keeping a secret from her and the “mystery was enough to set her upon the trail as relentlessly as a bloodhound” (25). Scarlett, her ward, asked for advice, shared her secrets. Those who worked in the fields feared her reprimands. White boys who came to court Scarlett were wary of her protective body used as a shield.

Mammy was not a real person. She was a figment of Margaret Mitchell’s imagination when she wrote Gone with the Wind in 1936. At this time, Black women were segregated from both White society and White-dominated media. This Civil War novel was published 71 years after the war and a mere sixteen years after women got the right to vote. During this controversial time when America was so racially divided, Mammy, a fictional character, was one of the only Black women portrayed in the popular media.

In Gone with the Wind, Mammy was a foil for the protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara. Mitchell created her personality and physicality to contrast that of Scarlett’s. The beginning of the first chapter of the novel contains a vivid description of Scarlett O’Hara’s beauty. Mitchell describes her as having a “seventeen-inch waist, the smallest in three counties, and the tightly fitting basque showed breasts well matured for her sixteen years” (5). Then, in the beginning of the second chapter, Mitchell vividly describes Mammy’s presence.  She details Mammy as, “a huge old woman with the small, shrewd eyes of an elephant. She was shining black, pure African, devoted to her last drop of blood to the O’Haras” (25). Mammy’s role was that of protector of the O’Haras. Her life is only mentioned in light of theirs. When she is mentioned in relation to the other slaves, she is said to bring them terror. “Mammy was black but her code of conduct and her sense of pride were as high as or higher than those of her owners” (25). She was the enemy of her fellow slaves and the protector of her White masters.  She loved being a slave because she loved her masters, living vicariously through their White beauty.

Mammy’s love of slavery and White life served to make the Black woman happily inferior. Patricia Hill Collins, through her writings on the Black feminist movement, describes Mammy best:

The first controlling image applied to the African American women is that of the mammy—the faithful, obedient domestic servant. Created to justify the economic exploitation of house slaves and sustained to explain black women’s long-standing restriction to domestic service, the mammy image represents the normative yardstick used to evaluate all Black women’s behavior” (71).

Collins portrays the image of the Mammy is like that of a lapdog: loyal and willing to be subservient. Mitchell created her character to belittle the vitriol against slavery through making one slave happy to be treated as subhuman. Because she was the sole representation of the Black woman slave at the time of publication, she was viewed as the normal Black woman. Those struggling with civil rights in 1936-on used mammy, not just in the plot of Gone with the Wind, but as a comparative figure. She is the exaggerated embodiment of what a Black woman should look like to please her White oppressors: large enough to serve as a shield and to intimidate her fellow slaves and yet she is unattractive enough so as to oppose and enhance White-normative beauty standards.

In the fields of Tara, Mammy acts as a “middleman” for slave disputes, always siding with her White masters. Meanwhile, in the bedroom of Scarlett O’Hara, Mammy is a dresser, makeup artist, and confidante as she provides visual contrast for the reader. Next to Mammy – an obese aging Black woman with gold teeth and a headscarf — Scarlett’s beauty is even more exaggerated than when she is with White characters. Mammy serves the White woman by safeguarding Scarlett’s purity and not being a source of competition. She is the subservient Black woman playing the role of caretaker for her White oppressors.

Mammy is not hypersexualized. She is not a “fat-in-all-the-right-places” Black woman shaking on the dance floor. Through the subservient role she plays in Gone with the Wind, Mammy is asexualized, never once having a romance of her own, not mentioned as ever having children. In this revolutionary classic, Mammy is the asexual, happy, uneducated, and maternal slave. Through Mitchell’s vivid description of her physical appearance, she emphasizes that these qualities are all linked to Mammy’s fatness.

Mammy is seen as this maternal figure that does not have any romantic or sexual encounters. If this was written years before in vitro fertilization occurred or adoption was an available option, please explain to me why this maternal-asexual dichotomy exists. Mammy is too fat to compare with White Scarletts “seventeen-inch waist,” thereby opposing White beauty ideals. However, Mammy is constantly meddling with Scarlett’s clothes until Scarlett resembles a White paper doll Mammy lives vicariously through. The archetype of Mammy, which continues to be the vantage point from which various media views and portrays Black women, is not threatening to White patriarchy. She is the White person’s Black body ideal because she does not interfere, but enhances (enjoys!) being oppressed. By not conforming to White body ideals she makes an image that does not assimilate and favors the oppressor.

 

The Mammy Inheritance

The Mammy stereotype lives on today. In a society where women are objectified for money, a patriarchy-run media over-sexualizes the Black woman to compensate for her asexual portrayal as the Mammy figure. Mammy lives on today as a source of shame for the Black woman. This shame first comes from the White ideal for a Black woman to be subservient. Second, this shame comes from the representation of the Black woman’s body as “fat” and sexually undesirable.

Talk of this Mammy figure is clear in A Different World, Bill Cosby’s show set on an all-Black college campus that commemorates African American culture. At a celebratory gala, Kimberly, a Nubian princess mistaken for Aunt Jemima at a costume contest, confides in coffee shop owner Mr. Gaines about her insecurities:

Kimberly: I look in the mirror and I see Kimberly Reese, always getting straight A’s, always polite, always smiling, but I guess that’s just a mask.

Mr. Gaines: Do you know why Mammy is smiling? Huh? Because she knows the treasure she’s got inside. You know what I see when I look at you? I see a beautiful Nubian princess from Columbus, Ohio.

This episode, “Mammy Dearest,” reveals the shame Kimberly felt at being called Aunt Jemima, a figure she thought akin to Mammy and her large bearing. Society made Kimberly think her essence, her good grades and positive outlook on life was a mask that hid her Mammy-like appearance. She was ashamed of her appearance for having the negative connotations of Mammy’s. This shame leads to avoiding the asexual Mammy stereotype whenever possible. Shame and embarrassment can be best avoided when fully negated. If the shame for Black women is asexuality, the negation of that shame is portraying Black women as hypersexual.

 

An (A)Sexual Dichotomy

Throughout media history Black women have either been portrayed as asexual (Mammy) or hypersexual (the scantily-clad speak-nothing music video dancers). When portrayed as asexual, they are usually “fat” or they work in service positions for their White oppressors. Kimberly Springer, in her essay “Queering Black Female Heterosexuality,” describes the sociological connection between Mammy and the “black lady.” The “ideal of the ‘black lady’ is what black women have to achieve if they want to avoid undesirable labels like ‘bitchy,’ ‘promiscuous,’ and ‘overly fertile.’” Springer goes on to cite where the “black lady”            stereotype is applied in the commercial media:

The nonsexual black lady has become a staple in television and film. She wears judicial robes (Judges Mablean Ephriam and Lyn Toler ofDivorce Court), litigates with stern looks (district attorney Renee Radick in Allie McBeal), is a supermom who seems to rarely go to the office (Claire Huxtable of The Cosby Show), delegates homicides (Lieutenant Anita Van Buren in Law and Order), and ministers to a predominantly white, middle-class female audience (Oprah Winfrey)…. The black lady would appear to reflect well on black women as proper, middle-class, professional, and even-tempered (80).

Examples of the Black lady range from judges to working mothers to television psychologists. All of these archetypes of Black women reveal that they may only be successful if they are not sexual. This sexist and racist double standard serves White women featured on similar television shows – like Amy, the dating, sexually active judge on Judging Amy – by making them superior. In the media, White women can be both sexual and successful while the Black lady can only be sexualor successful.

What a civil rights laden media fails to see is that the Black lady does not represent true progress. For the Black woman to be asexual in order to serve others is still objectification. The television judges Springer mentions are public servants for privileged White couples seeking publicity for their messy divorces. Supermoms like Claire Huxtable have to work night and day in order to be viewed as powerful while their husbands, like Heath Cliff Huxtable, go to the office, have their wives cook them dinner, and nap their way out of parenting. And Oprah? On a vain and superficial level, she is the modern billionaire Mammy for so many White women struggling with death, disease, and disorder. She is a celebrity for helping others, yet her own personal life is unbeknownst to the public. And, like Mammy, what the public knows of Oprah’s personal life is her weight and dissatisfaction with her body.

The women mentioned as Black ladies conceal their own bodies as a way to offset sexist objectification and racist bigotry. But they further the dichotomous categories for Black women as “asexual and therefore successful” or “hypersexual and therefore a whore.” There is no gray area in the commercial media. The Black woman is either pure-and-white or sexy-and-black (pun intended).

 

Music Industry Mayhem

The hypersexual (sexy-and-black) side of the dichotomy can be best seen in the music industry. Continuing in her essay  “Queering Black Female Heterosexuality,” Springer speaks of Black women featured in music videos.

They wear very little clothing (it might be generous to call a thong “clothing”). The camera shots are either from above, (for the best view of silicone breasts) or zoomed in (for a close up on butts)…these black women are pliable and willing to serve as props in music videos (81).

This observation of the portrayal of Black women’s bodies as sexy and submissive comes as a shock to Mammy’s desexualized subservient body. Nonetheless, the same purpose is achieved: both examples make the Black woman’s body serve as a prop to White masculinity. This prop usage makes the Black woman (the oppressed) inferior in order to make the White man (the oppressor) superior. This is done through objectifying the Black woman by putting her in the background of the music video as a possession of the White man. This White man may be the rapper though he may also be the music producer. Because a predominantly male population manages the industry, success is measured less and less through the perspective of a Black woman. Rather, success is measured in terms of what the male music professional deems desirable. Too often, this is based on sexual desirability over mellifluous talent.

When Black women in the music industry use their bodies for self-expression on their own terms, they rebel against this prop usage because they are their own center stage. Meanwhile, this rebellion makes the independent, consensually sexual Black woman a “whore” or “slut” to the commercial media.

Aretha Franklin, for example, sees her own voluptuous body as a source of sexual expression. She uses her body, in conjunction with her spirited voice, to convey a message of empowerment to her audience. In The Embodiment of Disobedience,Andrea Elizabeth Shaw describes Aretha’s controversial appearance on The Tonight Show when the directors “asked that she change her dress because it exposed too much cleavage; she refused, citing the novelty of her appearance—a black woman with huge breasts—as the show’s real issue” (111).

Aretha Franklin’s exposure of her body was a call for sexual power and a desire to be seen on her own terms. She was listened to for her potent voice, but not recognized for her powerfully large and curvy body. This desire to be seen was cultivated by the White man stripping (pun intended) the power of the Black woman. The yearning for recognition is ridiculed by White patriarchy. By ignoring Black power, White patriarchy is actually the original cause of this desire to be sexually seen.

Overall, the portrayal of Black women’s bodies in the music industry is a mixed blessing: it offers both a way to rebel against oppression and a way to perpetuate it. It rebels against oppression because the music industry was one of the first opportunities for Black women to gain recognition for their beauty. Until 1970, Black women were banned from the Miss America pageant. Now, a Black girl cannot turn on MTV without seeing someone from her race represented. Simultaneously, it perpetuates oppression by objectifying the Black woman’s body in both racist and sexist media.

 

I Like Big Butts?

Of all the body parts for the media to fetishize, the butt is definitely at the peak of cultural critique. The media does not just like every butt; it likes the big (narrow, but round) butts of stereotyped Black women. However crude, I feel J.D. and Turk fromScrubs describes this phenomenon best:

Turk: Dude, the only difference between a black girl and a white girl is that when a black girl asks you if her ass looks big?

J.D.: Uh-huh?

Turk: You say, “Hell yeah!”

To me, this phenomenon does not make sense. Why should there be different body ideals for Black women and White women when skin does not dictate shape? In her personal essay, Erin J. Aubry deconstructs this phenomenon, mixing race, sexuality, and objectification into her reasoning:

…not fitting—literally and otherwise—has always been a fact of life for black women, who unfairly or not are regarded as archetypes of the protuberant butt, or at least the spiritual heirs to its African origins….the stereotype is less concerned with body shape than with the sum total of black female sexuality (read: potency), which, while not nearly as problematic as its male counterpart, still makes a whole lot of America uneasy (23).

The Black woman’s butt works as a symbol of sex and race. The fact that Black women could hold sexual power in their bodies scares this patriarchal society we live in. Thus, society tries to claim women’s bodies through objectification. If the media can possess the butt to be used as a prop for male sexual potency, the power of an individual has been transferred to the patriarchy for the purpose of oppression.

Perhaps the most powerful sexist exposure of the Black woman’s butt lies in “Baby Got Back,” a 1992 Top 20 song by Sir Mix-a-Lot, a Black rapper whose music videos include the previously mentioned objectified back-up dancers. Written by a Black man, the Black woman’s stereotyped voluptuous butt serves him by providing pleasure via objectifying the body. There is no talk of the Black woman gaining pleasure for herself. Some may say that this song represents the acceptance of a new beauty standard, one that can beneficially cater to an oppressed race. Samhita Mukhopadhyay, editor at feministing.com, expresses in reference to this song, “…it is imperative to push the boundaries of our racist structures that determine what is beautiful. But something about the unapologetic ‘booty’ gazing…rubs me the wrong way.”

Mukhopadhyay’s critique reveals that a hypersexual portrayal of a Black butt challenges White normative beauty standards. It allowed women to believe that their voluptuous shapes could be viewed as sexy. Simultaneously, it also objectifies women for their physical characteristics, as evidenced by “booty gazing.” I believe that this song perpetuates the viewing of the Black woman’s butt as a commodity for men like Mack Daddy. The risk of  this widespread objectification outweighs the progressive new beauty standard formed.

 

Michelle Obama Sexist Racist Scandal

During the historic 2008 election, current first lady Michelle Obama’s butt was used to epitomize the physical characteristics of her race. The mixed portrayal of Michelle Obama in the media represents the aforementioned (a)sexual dichotomy. When fashion magazines and political  pundits simultaneously critiqued her the identity politics of her butt, they hypersexualized the future first lady of the United States.

However, when her race was ignored, hushed, or not mentioned in conjunction with her body, she was portrayed as the “black lady” or, as her title deigns, the Black First Lady. In “Queering Black Female Heterosexuality,” Springer says, “The black lady would appear to reflect well on black women as proper, middle-class, professional, and even-tempered” (80). And, for much of the population, this was what Michelle Obama represented. The media shot this down when emphasizing her butt, a stereotype for Black women and their cultural heritage of being the American oppressed.

The reactions of the feminist community to the sexism and racism at play when her butt was publicly discussed were widely divided. Erin J. Aubry (previously mentioned in her personal essay on her butt from Body Outlaws) wrote a controversial Salon article soon after Barack Obama won the election article entitled “First lady got back,” a pun on Sir Mix-a-Lot’s hit. She writes of the first lady’s butt as a historic monument.

She has a coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and – drumroll, please – a butt…. Michelle rose up like Venus on the waves, keeping her coif above water and cruising the coattails of history to present us with a brand-new beauty norm before we knew it was even happening….while it isn’t humongous, per se, it is a solid, round, black, class-A boo-tay. Try as Michelle might to cover it with those Mamie Eisenhower skirts and sheath dresses meant to reassure mainstream voters, the butt would not be denied.

To me, this interpretation by a proclaimed feminist of the significance of Michelle Obama’s butt is sexist in its objectification of the first lady’s body as a symbol for her entire race. Although seeing their body represented in the media as a beauty standard can be empowering for a Black woman, deciding to focus on Michelle Obama’s physical features rather than on her intellectual assets is degrading. Tamara Lomax from RH Reality Check analytically critiques Aubry’s enthusiasm,

So, if Michelle Obama’s booty makes us proud, why not shape our enthusiasm with a critique of the status quo, which continues to treat her as an object by fragmenting her to her parts? Obama is a subject – more than a body, and, more than a butt. Inscribing her with words without carefully evaluating their operation first is beyond distressing. It is death dealing. Not just to her, but to all women.

It objectifies Michelle Obama, a socio-politically representative figure, to comment on her body.

And that’s the problem: the media portrays Black women with words and images without first envisioning their operations in a developing society. To make a part of someone’s body be representative of who they individually are has serious social repercussions. Michelle Obama and so many Black women that have been demeaned before her are victims of sexism and racism. Though we have made progress in civil rights and the fight against racism, this progress is no excuse to ignore the subtle discriminations of society and the media.

 

We have journeyed far.

We are recovering from a time when Black women were raped during slavery as a means of breeding. Through this recovery, Black women are objectified as hypersexual as a means of making money. What we must do now is to reclaim all women’s bodies to be vehicles of self-expression, rather than vehicles of patriarchal desire. The only way we may free the bodies of Black women from the media’s ownership is to expose the media’s sexism and racism.

 

Conclusion: Exposing the Media

A “Society-Help” Guide:

1. Objectification v. Empowerment: The antidote to the poison of objectification is empowerment. It is time for society to empower Black girls and women for their intellect and personal strength rather than their bodies. Magazines like People seek solely to objectify women like Beyonce for their unconventional beauty as they treat their bodies as sexy vehicles for expensive clothes. To treat this objectification, I propose that you move from the “trashy” magazines on the Barnes & Nobles race and head toward the empowerment aisle. Though it unfortunately is not labeled the “empowerment aisle,” if you see the titles Ms., Bitch, or Mother Jones, assume you are in the right place. Read about Black women escaping victimization in science fiction films for a refreshing change.

2. Stop body bashing: Too often, I hear girls as young as seven openly hate their bodies. They develop eating disorders, confide in their friends that they think their thighs are too big, and wish they could morph into a Seventeen cover girl. A product of my generation, I am one of these girls. We must not forget that we are constantly subject to the influences of society. Studies note that “body ideals for females vary according to cultural standards” and these standards are dictated by what we see in music videos and magazines. We must fight the media in this war over its right to our bodies.

3. Become media literate: Courtney E. Martin, a writer for social change, writes of media literacy, “Most young people are hip to the fact that the news is often subjective…But for all our twentieth-century savvy, we are still swooning, celebrity-entranced teenagers” (146). We need to get out of the media and into ourselves yet this is hard to do in a commercial-saturated society. Martin continues to write, “It is exhausting to be constantly critiquing and filtering the contradictory media and advertising messages through a media-literate lens” (147). Yes, it is exhausting to view society’s subtle expectations as unjust profiting propaganda all the time. But we must try. We must try to engage in media literacy so that Black women can be freed from the media’s tight hold. We must try so that Mammy stays a fictionalized character, not source of intense shame for a race and sex. We must try so that Black women are portrayed as neither asexual nor hypersexual, but as people. We must try so that Black women are no longer music video props, but center-stage artists, appreciated for their mellifluous talents over their bodies’ sexual connotations. We must try so that the first lady is not demeaned to her body parts, but accredited for her actions. We must try to criticize the media so that we, the consumers, are in control of what it dictates.

We must fight the commercial media’s objectifying sexism and racism through empowering feminism and activism.


Footnotes

 It is difficult to define “media” in only a few words because the media is unnaturally personal and each consumer’s definition reflects their own interactions with it. Yet it is also difficult to talk about how Black women are portrayed in the media if we do not have a standard definition in mind. “Media” commonly refers to a medium of communication. This, however, is not the case when discussing how a consumer of “the media” is affected. Consumption of the media is akin to inhaling a bowl of beef chili without looking at what you are eating, just to realize an hour later that it was in fact beef chili you were eating and that you are a vegetarian. In a media-world, a world based in a stereotypical semi-fictional reality, the characters we may perceive as real people are in fact embodiments of cultural standards and assumptions. The media I am describing will take the form of television, magazines, fictional literature, and the internet. These are all forms of monetary business, a way of making the consumer feel inferior in order for an industry to make money based on their insatiable fantasies. The media is a public portrayal of society, be it accurate or inaccurate.

 

 Oxford American Dictionaries: objectify (verb): degrade to the status of a mere object

 

[3] I define sexism as discrimination against women based on the fact that they are indeed women and somehow thought to be inferior and objectified in relation to men. Solely for this inquiry, I define racism as the oppression of Black people based on the fact that their skin pigmentation is not “white enough.” The intersection of these two forms of discrimination results in the sexist and racist ideals of media culture. If we think mathematically (trust me, if you treat my definitions as the expanded forms of the terms in this equations, it won’t be too hard): Put the media, body ideals, fat, racism, and sexism together and we discover that the media’s representation of Black women creates body ideals that result from sexism and racism.

 White-normative beauty standards are seen in the ads and actresses most prevalent in the media. The demand to be thin, narrow, and blonde, were ingrained in society as far back as Scarlett O’Hara’s time. When Margaret Mitchell described the size of Scarlett’s waist, she conveyed a message of White female superiority through physical attributes.

 For some arcane objectifying reason, “fat” is considered sexually undesirable to mass media culture. A three-letter word that holds so much meaning, I define “fat” as a body that is criticized by not conforming to an ideal based on weight standards. I interviewed Leanne Magee who is writing her dissertation on body image, cosmetic surgery, and social anxiety. When I asked her about the origins of body ideals, she responded from an evolutionary-scientific perspective:

Body ideals have dramatically changed over time. It used to be ideal for a woman to be large with a lot of excess fat on her because it would mean that she was wealthy and came from substance. Then, what was and is desirable was for women’s bodies to be the strongest for reproduction. Typically, if a woman had a certain body, they were more likely to carry a fetus to term. This body showed ideals of health: clear skin, wide hips, thinness. They represent youthfulness and a resistance to disease. Cross-cultural studies show that a lot of what we find attractive now is shaped by extreme versions of this reproductive ideal.

Yet the negative connotation of “fat” has gotten stronger as the media has become more influential. Through personal experience and as a daily consumer of media culture, I have viewed the term applied mainly to women as an insult. A common body ideal for men is to bulk up, to be muscular, to be broad, to take up space. Women, however, are encouraged to literally give up space by being super-thin (a prerequisite for the modeling industry), narrow, tight, and toned. Some Black women have different experiences (see “The Butt”) through being encouraged to be “fat in all the right places.” This additional pressure to have a big/small butt, a small waist, large/small breasts, a precise BMI, skeleton-thin, strong and toned, curvaceous, are characteristics the media has told women they have to have in order to be worthy. Worthy of what? Worthy of fantastic life: the boyfriend, the car, the good job, the loving family, the Barbie dream house. This insecurity, a feeling of unworthiness that so many women have about their bodies, is a direct result of objectification. These women feel unworthy because society has dictated that they need to look a certain way in order to be sold, or to sell into, the dream life, that they need to exhibit a certain body type in order to provide (to be a reproductive mule) for the next generation.

 The term “black lady” was originally coined in Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Sexual Politics.

 What is considered sexual to the media is what is considered sexual to the beneficiaries of the media: White men. What is considered sexy is the exposure of what is otherwise covered. Butts, like breasts, are fetishized because it is considered proper to cover the two up with clothing. The objectification of women allows a patriarchal society to claim a right to what is concealed.

 

 Especially by those who did not support her husband in the election, her butt was used as a means of “proving the Bemis’s Blackness” when they otherwise possessed traditionally White attributes (financial security, political power, social location, etc.).

Bibliography

 “Real Facts About Hip Hop.” African Events. April 2007. 16 January 2009 <http://www.africanevents.com/Essay-Pearljr-RealFactsHipHop.htm>.

White corporations, though cultivated and created by a mainly Black population, economically control hip-hop.

 

[ii] “Novel Expert in Federal Rights Litigation.” The American University Law Review. 1995. 17 January 2009 <http://varenne.tc.columbia.edu/class/common/dolls_in_brown_vs_board.html>.

The doll experiment is examined in a legal lens as its usage in the Brown vs. Board of Education is reexamined in light of recent internalized racism in the schools.

 

 Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. New York: Macmillan Company, 1936.

Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a Southern plantation owner experiences the repercussions of the Civil War on the South and in her world where she takes slavery for granted, as well as her primary caretaker.

 

[iv] Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc., 2004.

Black women have been categorized and stereotyped throughout history. These stereotypes continue today, affecting how Black women are perceived in a sexual context.

 

[v] “Mammy Dearest.” A Different World. Writ. Glenn Berenbeim. Dir. Debbie Allen. NBC. 5 December 1991.

Kimberly Reese believes she looks like Aunt Jemima because of her race and weight.

 

[vi] Magee, Leanne. Personal Interview. 28 November 2008.

It is greatly damaging to confuse body image with body ideals because body image reflects personal experiences that cannot be generalized while body ideals reflect greater social values that stem from a long history.

 

[vii] Springer, Kimberly. “Queering Black Female Heterosexuality.” Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A World Without Rape. California: Seal Press, 2008: 77-91.

Heteronormative White supremacy creates a dichotomy of the Black lady versus the jezebel in the sexist way Black women are portrayed in the media. The only way this can be remedied is by queering (questioning and changing the way people look at) Black female heterosexuality.

 

[viii] Shaw, Andrea Elizabeth. The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.

Black women display their fat bodies as a rebellion against a thin White society that tells women to be submissive. Fatness has been away for Black communities to counter submissiveness.

 

[ix] “My Hypocritical Oath.” Scrubs: Season 4, Episode 15. Writ. Bill Lawrence and Tim Hobert. Dir. Craig Zisk. NBC. 1 February 2005.

J.D., in his attempt to date a Black girl, thinks there is a difference between how Black and White girls react to men’s comments.

 

[x] Aubry, Erin J. “the butt: its politics, its profanity, its power.” Body Outlaws: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity. California: Seal Press, 1998: 22-31.

The butt is a way for women to have power in their bodies that, though stigmatized, is also linked to race and the exoticness of racial culture.

 

[xi] Sir Mix-a-Lot. “Baby Got Back.” Mack Daddy. Nastymix, 1992.

A large curvy butt equals sex for a horny man who likes a specific type of racially connoted body type.

 

[xii] Mukhopadhyay, Samhita. “Michelle Obama: Disrupting normative standards of beauty?” Weblog entry. Feministing. 25 November 2008. 25 November 2008 <http://www.feministing.com/archives/012368.html#more>.

Although the representation of Michelle Obama’s butt in the media creates new beauty standards, it also emphasizes the prioritized importance of bodies over actions.

 

[xiii] Aubry Kaplan, Erin. “First lady got back.” Salon. 18 November 2008. 25 November 2008 <http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/11/18/michelles_booty/print.html>.

The talk of Michelle Obama’s butt in the media is a call for pride for Black bodies.

 

[xiv] Lomax, Tamara. “Is It Wrong to Talk About Michelle Obama’s Body?”Alternet: RH Reality Check. 22  November 2008. 25 November 2008 <http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/108103&gt;.

It is controversial and touchy to openly discuss Michelle Obama’s body because on one hand it shows the progressiveness of society to incorporate Black culture into beauty, but on the other hand, it is offensive to degrade a powerful woman to her body parts.

 

[xv] Helford, Elyce Rae. “A Galaxy of Our Own: Searching for black women in science-fiction film.” Bitch Magazine. 2001.

There is a shocking lack of Black women in science fiction and film, while Black men have wildly succeeded in this arena.

 

[xvi] Cohen, Sara B. “Media Exposure and the Subsequent Effects on Body Dissatisfaction, Disordered Eating, and a Drive for Thinness: A Review of the Current Research.” Mind Matters: The Wesleyan Journal of Psychology 1 (2006): 62-63. 14 November 2008

http://www.wesleyan.edu/psyc/mindmatters/volume01/article05.pdf>.

Black teenage girls are also affected by the media’s insinuations as to what a body should look like.

 

 Martin, Courtney E. Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

Too many young women have developed eating disorders as a result of dissatisfaction with their bodies. This epidemic has developed out of society’s rigid discriminatory values.

 

 

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