‘Does my bum look big in this?’ For years that was a question that when asked by a woman of a man, had only one acceptable answer – ‘no’. A small pert rear-end was desired, and any item of clothing that made it look any other way was to be avoided. At least that was the case among white women.
But in the parallel universe that is inhabited by Black folk a different aesthetic was in place. Back in 1992 West Coast rapper Sir Mix A Lot released the track Baby Got Back – a song and video in which he paid tribute to the ample posteriors of Black women.
Back then, infact throughout most of the latter half of the 20th century, the western ideal of beauty has been the skinny blonde: not a model that most Black women can fit into (or even aspire to without doing damage to their physical and mental well-being). Appropriately Black popular culture has always celebrated the fuller-figured woman. But traditionally the more robust phenotypes of Black women were looked down upon, or even scorned and mocked by the mainstream.
Remember Caroline Wozniaki – the tennis player who made fun of Serena Williams by stuffing her clothes with towels to mimic Williams’ curves?
But despite the disrespect from the mainstream, the Black camp maintained their campaign, mainly through rappers who’s videos consistently gave prominence to curvaceous hip-hop honies.
Now it seems that this centuary the two camps are meeting. I don’t know if it was down to J-Lo, or Beyonce or Kim Kardashian, but it’s clear now that even in the mainstream, bigger booties are in vogue. (Interestingly, whilst J-Lo tried to play down the interest in her butt as she attempted to be taken seriously as an actress, Kim K (in the absence of any discernable talent other than her body and self-promotion) seems to be accentuating her butt more the more famous she gets!)
There was a time when white women would sheepishly cover their backsides with long shirts or jumpers tied around the waist. Not any more. Now they display them proudly for all to see, sometimes even encasing them in figure-hugging lycra for greater effect.
The mainstream’s new fascination with a fuller behind has even reached the highest echelons of British society. (Remember at the last Royal wedding all the fuss made about Pippa Middleton’s bum?)
Women of ALL races are now sweating in the gym, or even going under the knife in order to get a more shapely posterior. According to a new American Society of Plastic Surgeons report, last year, a staggering 10,000 buttock augmentation procedures were performed in the United States, up 16 percent from 2012.
And thanks to Miley Cyrus you can now enjoy the spectacle of white women with virtually no booty trying to twerk.
Apparently the new fitness craze is twerk-azize, or twerk-aerobics or something like that, though how you can achieve those moves if your back-side is best regarded as a flat expanse of flesh that connects your back to your legs, is beyond me.
When Lily Allen wanted to feature twerking in the controversial video for her last single and couldn’t deliver it herself , she recruited some Black girls to do the ‘booty shaking’ for her.
Not only this, but white women are risking skin cancer in order to maintain a year round tan and even injecting collagen into their lips for a fuller pout.
So is this good news for Black women? Will they now move from being figures of scorn and derision to the ultimate symbols of female desirability?
Well unfortunately it’s not that simple.
While the ideal of female beauty may no longer be Kate Moss, neither is it Serena Williams.
While Beyonce is celebrated for her curves,
she works famously hard to make sure
she doesn’t deviate too wide of the size 10 ideal.
And while she’s happy to display her booty,
we have yet to see her natural hair.
I’ve no idea what Beyonce’s hair looks like in its natural state,
but I’m pretty sure it’s not straight and blonde!
When the super-producer of the moment Pharrell released a new album this year entitled Girl, he chose to adorn its cover with three models. When he faced criticism for not featuring a Black model amongst them, he was at pains to point out that in fact, one of the featured models was indeed Black. But you’d have to look hard to realise, as typically she was of the lighter-skinned variety. It seems that in Pharrell’s version of the United Colours of Benetton of female beauty, Crème Caramel is as dark as it gets.
Rather than the Black female archetype, the new beauty ideal in America is Latino (fittingly since they are that country’s fastest growing ethnic group) and in the UK the new ideal is something resembling mixed-race (appropriate since they are this country’s fastest growing ethnic group). Lightly tanned women of mixed heritage like Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Patton, and Zoe Saldana. Progress, yes, but we have not yet reached the promised land!
There has been much fuss made of new Oscar-winning actress Lupita N’Yongo, who for the last few months has not only set the movie world alight, but the fashion world too. It as though the fashion and movie industries have just discovered that African women exist.
But for those hoping that Lupita will change the perception and desirableness of dark-skinned women, I fear that Lupita will have as much impact for dark-skinned women as previously Oscar nominated Gabourey Sidibe did for the image of obese women.
So Black women can now flaunt their curves with pride, but it will be a while before they are invited to the mainstream’s fashion and media party.