The media’s captivation with Jennifer Lopez’s butt seems pretty standard for women of color in the media. And it isn’t something that ended in 1998, either. The relentless commentary and ogling that follows women of color in the mainstream media goes on today. Even if we just limit ourselves to the media’s obsession with the butts of women of color, the list continues on (Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, Shakira…). The posterior in particular is an object of fascination. And, in fact, there’s a strong historical basis for that in Sarah Bartmann, the Venus Hottentot. Images of women of color with their rear to the camera are evocative of what scientific illustrations made of Bartmann make explicit: she is exhibiting lordosis behavior and ‘presenting herself’ to the male.
This dehumanizing portrayals of women of color, dressed up in photoshoots on glossy magazine covers, is rooted in a historical tradition of white fascination with the bodies of people of color. Susan Bordo wrote about the Western body/mind dichotomy and how the body is portrayed as the slow, stupid, shuffling animal that the mind controls. The body is a savage to be tamed. With this framework in mind, it’s not terribly surprising that people of color (particularly women of color) are so closely associated with the body. It is also unsurprising that an emphasis is placed on the ‘otherness’ of the body of a person of color – it’s framed as uncontrolled, uncouth, obscene.