From ‘what THEY only show on TV’ series by Jay Katelansky
Black Women’s backsides have been a topic of conversation within mainstream Western culture for decades now, arguably centuries. From the derrière of the Hottentot Venus to the those manhandled on stage by Miley Cyrus more recently, black bottoms have been presented to the public imagination as an exotic symbol of intrigue to be gawped at, groped and speculated about in a negative and extremely Othering manner. In almost every sphere of the cultural life there is a differing presentation of them, their beauty (or lack of it) and their worth (or lack of it). In unenlightened hip hop big bare bouncing booties are ubiquitous, inescapable. On high fashion catwalks they are entirely absent. In academia they are pondered over as a subject of critical analysis, and in social media like Facebook they are the objects of both masturbatory desire and sneering ridicule. Wherever you go, someone has got something to say about Black Women’s backsides and more often than not, it isn’t a Black Woman.
Whether you find a generously endowed derrière attractive or not depends of course upon your own personal preference. It is also says something about where you (consciously or unconsciously) position yourself within the politics of desire. This is true for both males and females regardless of sexual orientation. The prevailing opinion held by most within black communities globally is that big booty is beautiful and womanly, something to be ‘celebrated.’ Whether this celebration takes the form of consuming big booty porn and engaging in the mass media objectification of the black female body; or whether it is manifested in the tender, respectful appreciation of a sexual partner’s body again depends on where you consciously or unconsciously position yourself upon the big booty dialectical spectrum. For women there are further indicators of where you position yourself. Some women choose to cover up and only discuss their feelings about their bodies with their partners and close friends, or no one at all. Others choose to flaunt their physiques by wearing teeny tiny shorts, share selfies with booty enhancing poses and even partake in the watching of aforementioned big booty porn with partners. Many more oscillate between the different behaviours mentioned, taking no defined stance as such and just attempting to enjoy their bodies and the interest that it brings them. White women have also gotten in on the act, deriding or desiring a big backside; wearing butt pads or crash dieting to eradicate even a hint of junk in their trunks.
However you choose to engage with the ‘issue’ of big booty is not for me to judge and cast aspersions about; it is important to note however that whatever you do think or do about it, you are adopting a critical stance of some sort that either perpetuates or disentangles the objectification black female bodies as a site of patriarchal and racist power. The personal is always political. For women whether you are placed within the big booty ‘box’ or not is written on your body. There is no escape from it.
I believe that all women’s bodies are beautiful, regardless of colour, shape and size. As a feminist I wince at the self proclaimed ‘liberation’ of baring cleavage and backside for all to see, as displayed by many celebrities. As a black feminist the constant jiggling of black butts in hip hop and in other arenas makes me sad; I do not see it as progressive or positive for either anti-racist or anti-sexist struggles. Additionally I find the scorn poured upon women who do not possess a big behind and the labelling of them as unwomanly equally worrying for the advancement of radical causes; the ever increasing popularity of butt enhancement surgery (and all cosmetic surgery) is, in my opinion, a feminist nightmare. All of this I can discuss intellectually, rationally. I can form arguments, adopt stances and deploy a critical gaze that aims to contribute to the eradication of racist, patriarchal discourses around the black female body. Consciously, this is what I choose to think and express. But, as a black woman, how do I really feel about it?
Seen as the personal is political I believe it is time to divulge my own personal feelings about my own body. What floats into my mind and informs my sense of self without invitation is a different matter entirely from what I want to think, how I want to feel. And so now I will admit that the spectre of big booty haunted me for years. Beating myself with a big booty stick I was riddled with negative thoughts about my body, about what it meant for my worth as a black woman. I was sick, really sick, with an acute case of Big Booty Blues.
Because, you see, I don’t have a big backside. Never have. While I was defending the right to dignity and respect from misogynistic Othering of those that did and espousing the view that body shape and size was immaterial, I secretly felt envious and inadequate of my more generously endowed sistren. Despite all my feminist theories and right on debates, I inwardly I felt that my lack of bubble butt made me lesser, and this fostered within me a serious feeling of self doubt, even self hatred.
It hadn’t always been this way. For most of my teenage years I had been relatively body confident. This had been easily achieved without much thought on my part mainly because of the fact that due to my slim physique and light skin tone, I more or less fitted into the dominate patriarchal notion of what constitutes a ‘good’ body. My main source of anxiety during those years was my hair (which I now view as a wild curly afro crown to be worn with pride). The Big Booty Blues crept in during my late teens, at the beginning of a series of relationships with unenlightened men, coupled with exposure to racist/sexist media. I’d never before given much thought to my backside but all of a sudden I was obsessed with it. Was it big enough, fat enough? How did it compare to other black women’s, other white women’s? What did it look like in this pair of jeans, that pair of knickers, from this angle, from that angle, how many inches did it measure, what was my butt to waist ratio? I spent hours pouring over internet sites that claimed to know the ‘secrets of getting a bigger butt’ and gave my partners the Spanish Inquisition about what they really thought about it, how much they wanted it. All of this took place during my transformation into a radical feminist, while I was reading bell hooks and writing essays about the need to dismantle white supremacist misogyny. I saw the disconnect in my thinking but was unable to do anything about it. I was utterly gripped with self doubt, and all because of my backside; the gluteal muscles I use to get from A to B. The padding of fat that I sit on. It may seem laughable but it was real and it was terrifying. I was articulate, bright, passionate about my causes and confident about the rightness of them, of the need for them and in my ability to be a warrioress in the struggle. But the minute my slimness was remarked upon or big butts were mentioned, or glimpsed on a TV screen of magazine page, inside I’d crumble. I took it as further proof of my inadequacy, of my ugliness.
Thankfully nowadays I am over it. Big Booty Blues tipped on out and I happily I now possess a feeling of ease within my own skin, upon my own backside. How much of this is to do with the fact that, post-baby and age thirty, I am now bigger all over I’m not sure. I’d like to think that is more due to my own personal growth; an increase in consciousness and a rejection of internalised sexual objectification and relationships with unenlightened men. Either way, I hope that my confessional serves as, if nothing else, a cautionary reminder to all women, especially younger women, to be more open and honest with themselves about what they really feel about their bodies and about their own feelings of self worth. Be vigilant about what you expose yourself to, what you let creep, uninvited, into your subconscious. Negative self doubt surrounding the body, especially the black body is seemingly infectious and is transmitted by osmosis through exposure to damaging mass media and sexist/racist societal attitudes. In our struggle to uplift consciousness about these issues we spend a lot of time looking out at media representations, public expression, visual images. These are critiqued, unpacked and examined. I think we should at least from time to time cast this critical gaze inwards, into our selves. What lurks in the quiet shadows of your mind, what feeds your self doubt, and what are you doing to exacerbate or exterminate it? Accepting that you have swallowed a toxic patriarchal pill that is souring you from the inside out is the first step along the road to ridding yourself of it, of truly being free. All around I see feminists who, for example: won’t leave the house without inches of make up, others who feel inadequate as women if they don’t have a man, those who are viscerally obsessed with fashion and beauty, and those who defend misogynistic porn. I am not judging you – do what you want, there are many paths to salvation. But just be sure you aren’t beating yourself with no sticks though – if you are, they were placed in your hands by a sick society, but only YOU can let go of them.
This was originally posted on The Body Narratives here: http://thebodynarratives.com/post/64671201412/personal-narrative-big-booty-blues-by-isabella-quox