A couple of things popped into my head from today’s entertaining discussion about butts and Baartman.
First, when I read the poems from The Venus Hottentot by Elizabeth Alexander in the perspectives of Cuvier and Baartman, it was absolutely ironic when I turned on my laptop, looked through my news feed from TIME, and found this newly-published article: Women Strip, Men Judge Their Bodies on Danish TV Show ‘Blachman’.
To my group members in class today, oops. It was Denmark, not Sweden or Switzerland…
Anyways, the article begins, “A woman stands naked in a room under a harsh spotlight. She’s not allowed to speak, but must stand quietly while two men sit on the couch and assess her physical attributes as a camera zooms in and out on the body parts they are discussing.” (1) (Sound sorta familiar?)
The show’s creator and title influencer, Thomas Blachman, stated that he wants to “stir discussion” and have “men discussing the aesthetics of a female body without allowing the conversation to become pornographic or politically correct.” (2) But, what would make this show so successful when it is just showing the nude female body? What about nude male bodies? Why only male judges, and who are they? Who and why are the women participating in this kind of show?
This was interesting to me, especially as it relates to thinking about the ways in which the first person of Baartmen in the poems spoke of being dehumanized and feeling negative about what is happening to her. [“Since my own genitals are public / I have made other parts private. / In my silence I possess / mouth, larynx, brain…”] (3)
And, as it relates to the first person of Cuvier in the poems, he sounds similar to Blachman, who has a positive tone of articulating his discoveries, his new creation, his findings and contributions to society. [“Everything is beautiful / blown up beneath my glass…Ordinary crumbs become stalactites / set in perfect angles… Few will ever see what I see / through this microscope.”] (4) What do we make of their male gazes? They seem especially fascinating to read through tones from the poems and from the clip above from Blachman.
Part of me feels these two moments, from the far past and the near present, are eerily similar…
Moving on, have any of you seen the season of America’s Next Top Model, where Tyra Banks focused her model contestants on how to achieve what she calls the “Booty Tooch”? Tyra calls this “art,” and reveals to us that the models will use padding on their butts to achieve the round, voluminous booty. But, as shown in the following clip, an androgynous contestant, Azmarie, refuses to use the padding because it is not something she is willing the do. Thus, Tyra dismisses her from this particular training.
Was Tyra going overboard? I personally thought Azmarie was being brave in standing up for not wanting to manipulate her body into something that took away her identity of androgyny. One of the models responded to her with, “What? It looks like a natural butt?!”
So, here we are again with what is natural and what it not. Obviously, the padding is not giving these models a natural butt, but… is Banks trying to promote women having a bigger booty? She calls Azmarie’s booty a “flat tooch,” and the clip my group showed during the beauty pageant segment featured a Miss America contestant who was working out her butt because she thought it was too flat.
In the essay, “Jennifer’s Butt,” Frances Negrón-Muntaner presents the negative notions of having a big butt, which makes the claim that having this feature is not a good thing for a woman’s presentability. [“A big culo does not only upset hegemonic (white) notions of beauty and good taste, it is a sign for the dark… Excess of food (unrestrained), excess of shitting (dirty), excess of sex (heathen) are its three vital signs.”] (5) Especially for someone like Jennifer López, she had to endure challenges and criticisms associated with her butt and her race. So, what is Tyra telling us? Do we hate flat butts now?
Today in class, someone pointed out that maybe people are just born with a big butt, and you can’t change that naturally. Is the media, is Tyra, are we embracing the natural booty or the big booty?
(By the way… the YouTube comments on both videos are fascinating…)
1. Melissa Locker, “Women Strip, Men Judge Their Bodies on Danish TV Show ‘Blachman,'” TIME Magazine, May 9, 2013, accessed May 10, 2013, http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/05/09/women-strip-men-judge-their-bodies-on-danish-tv-show/.
3. Elizabeth Alexander, The Venus Hottentot (Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1990), 9.
4. Ibid., 5.
5. Frances Negrón-Muntaner, “Jennifer’s Butt,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, 22, no. 2 (1997): 189.