So I was hanging with my girl, doing our coffee and fashion mag hang out day. I peeped Marie Claire UK’s article Mothers and Daughters Get Naked from the April 2012 issue. The piece is aimed at examining body image from different generational perspectives, and each mom (or mum, as they say in the UK) and daughter reflect on their confidence, shame, regrets, or goals regarding health, weight, aging, and self-image. The images accompanying the piece were soft, artistic, ethereal, and featured mothers and daughter posing naked. That’s right, they bared it all. Sporting various gaits, sizes, and silhouettes, the duos showcased their figures proudly and unapologetically. While one side of me is encouraged at the freedom these women felt to take it off, and feel empowered in their bodies, my wheels got to turning on whether women of color, particularly Black women, will ever be showcased and celebrated for their femininity and beauty in such a way. In the current media climate, Black women are depicted on polar opposites of the continuum: we are sexless nurturers (mammy) or lascivious sluts (jezebels). They are one dimensional caricatures, reminiscent of the sexual terrorism of slave days. I often explain to my students that the roots of these stereotypes sprang from propaganda justifying slavery and the violent, rampant colonialism that interpreted the nudity of native Africans as promiscuity and asserted that slave women liked to be raped; that their sexual appetites demanded it.
Our bodies are art too. Just as they are. Mainstream only deems our bodies as art if we are in an Alvin Ailey production, or have made the cut to grace a runway. There is a blatant aversion to the black body. If not reduced to sex objects or gratuitous comic relief, society runs from authentic black form like a cockroach when the lights come on. The lips, the nose, the hair; the broader builds and unique carriages that don’t demand, but simply are a presence. Yes, we are more than the filtered expression of white America’s standard of beauty. However, you wouldn’t know that tuning into prime time TV, stopping by a news stand, or grabbing a movie at your nearest theater. The expansiveness of hips and fullness of bellies, the ample and seasoned line of large breasts, hair too coarse to tame, or too short to fasten. Hell, that is art.
I mean, when Erykah dropped this video, people went ballistic. While one could only speculate her motivations, inspirations, and intentions, I have to wonder if Madonna, Jewel, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, or Pink would meet such immediate criticism and dismissal if they released a similar video. Cindy Crawford, Demi Moore and Jessica Simpson were lauded for their magazine covers featuring their nude pregnant bodies. Would this welcome reception, or even the invitation for the shoot be afforded, to Nia Long, Amber Riley, Toccara Jones, or Sara Ramirez?
Art is the beauty of the human form. It is the myriad of depictions of the essence of the human experience. If this is true, and art imitates life….when will I see the lives of all sisters framed in gold, featured in an editorial, or covered in a fine arts survey course? Here’s a little collection that stimulates my artistic side while honoring the art of woman in all of her shades, forms, and flavors:
Please weigh in with your thoughts and comments.
QUESTION: Do you feel reflected in art and/or media? Which artists, magazines, writers do you look to for inclusive and honest depictions of women?