Unless you've been living in a cave over the past few days, you may have come across Kim Kardashian's bum "breaking the internet". Predictably, the public's reaction, for the most part, was of shock and not awe. Why would it be? This is Kim Kardashian. She's 'known' for being cheap. Tacky. Tasteless. Plus, she's ethnic and she has got a huge ass.
When someone like Keira Knightley, thin, white and fragile, poses naked to make a statement about photoshopped images of women in the media, as she did three months ago, we accept her statement and regard her pose as political and beautiful. The idea that Kim K's pose could also be a political statement has not even been considered.
Why does the black and ethnic woman with the huge ass still shock us? Why is it still seen as so vulgar, so erotic, so strange, so foreign- that we complain that Kim Kardashian should put some clothes on, she's a mother for God's sake, that she's not setting a good example to young girls?
This white, western reaction echoes the same response of those two white girls at the beginning of Sir Mix-a-lot's 1992 hit 'Baby Got Back':
"Oh my God, Becky- look at her butt. It's just so big. She looks like one of those rap guy's girlfriends. I can't believe it's just so round, it's like, out there- I mean, gross! Look! She's just so... black!"
Now find a similar reaction to Kelly Brook's hourglass curves. Or Christina Hendricks' ample chest. Try and find the same shock and horror surrounding Nigella Lawson, Scarlett Johannson, Marilyn Monroe.
You won't. When someone like Kelly Brook poses naked, she is praised for 'celebrating her curves'. She's a beautiful, sexy, 'English Rose'. Christina is 'the perfect role model'. The body of Marilyn is constantly used alongside these relentless 'real women have curves' quotes. Nigella is 'wholesome'. Scarlett is 'classic'.
Sex appeal is acceptable when it's white, western and not a threat. Sex appeal is okay when it's not foreign. Meghan Trainor's message in 'All About That Bass' is that it's fine to have curves because "men like something to hold on to at night". The song is about self-love, sure, but the idea that you should keep your curves for the arousal and titillation of men is also clear. How is that message any different from Nicki Minaj's: "He can tell I aint missing on meals, he loves my sex appeal"?
The message is not different. But the reactions of these two songs are worlds apart. Meghan is praised for her self-love, her confidence, her 'real woman' curves, her 'healthy body image message'. Nicki is seen as 'disgusting', 'vulgar', 'gross'. These two women, just like their videos for these two songs, of course, are different. Meghan's 'All About That Bass' video pops with good-girl pastel colours and she's wearing clothes you may very well wear to tea with your grandma. Nicki's 'Anaconda' video, meanwhile, is set in the jungle and she's pretty much naked throughout. Nicki's erotica, sexuality and ownership of her body, "I come and fuck him in my automobile" is threatening. Meghan ownership of her body, "cause I'm all about that bass" is cute. She's white and from the suburbs. She's covered up. So implying that it's fine to have curves because that's what gets men (straight men, I should add, but that's another story) hard is perfectly okay.
Credit: Audrey Xavier Brulu
Kim Kardashian's pose could be interpreted as political in that she is highlighting the ridiculous , out-dated "ugh- look at her!" rather than a "wow- look at her" reaction to a black or ethnic girl's body. The argument that women such as Kim, Nicki and Beyoncé are reclaiming the hyper-sexualisation of their black and ethnic bodies in the same way that some African American rap artists reclaim the use of the N-Word in their lyrics is hardly ever discussed.
The top YouTube comment on Beyoncé's song 'Partition' is from Bianca Armani, posted 1 month ago with currently 405 thumbs up:
"This is disgusting, she rants on about empowering women when really, this is just her acting like a sex kitten with no respect for herself! Satanic stuff."
The comment speaks for itself. Black and ethnic sexuality, even in 2014, is linked with the Devil. Beyoncé received a lot of stick for that video, in which she asks the driver to "roll up the partition please" and displays herself as an erotic performer with hands touching her and Jay-Z looking on. The entire video is set from a point-of-view angle, we are watching Beyoncé as spectators. There is so much about this video which is open for discussion. Is Beyoncé a slave? Are we now slaves to her sexuality? Has she flipped what it now means to take ownership of black nudity? By asking her driver to "roll up the partition" is she suggesting that a curtain must now be closed on the colonial voyeurism of a black woman's naked body?
This is never really talked about. Instead, we are disgusted. Or, we challenge the sex appeal. Nicki and Kim's bums are continuously prodded and poked, in the metaphorical sense, for being either 'fake' or 'real'. Look at how this compares to the treatment of Saartjie Baartman, a South-African woman who was exhibited as a freak show attraction in the 19th century. She was regarded as "wild and savage". She was "abnormal". And her body received a reaction which probably bares the most similar resemblance to how we react to Nicki and Kim's bodies now: "Is it real or not?"
Meanwhile, the sexy curves of white, western women are never challenged. Even if Kim Kardashian didn't pose for this intention, her sex appeal has revealed how we still, in 2014, will criticise and recoil in horror at the abnormal and strange exhibition of black and ethnic female sexuality.