The Black Female Body: Object or Art


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One day while I was in college, I was sitting in the library and had a picture of a gorgeous Black model displayed on my computer screen as I studied (probably wasn’t studying though to be honest. Nobody ever gets work done in “Club Clemmons”). Two white girls sitting behind me (assuming I could not hear them since my headphones were on) scoffed at me under their breath, saying “That’s so degrading.”

My first reaction was defensive. Why can’t I admire the beauty of a Black woman without white people, or anyone for that matter, saying she is degrading herself by taking that picture, and that I’m degrading her by looking at it? Would they have said that if I was looking at a Caucasian model? Why can any woman, regardless of race, Google shirtless pics of Channing Tatum and Idris Elba without anyone throwing the “objectification” card on the table? Why can’t I be in awe of the Black female body when plenty of women are tanning and putting implants in their bodies to look more like my chocolate sisters? Why can’t I celebrate their visage in a society saturated with contradictory opinions on their humanity, let alone their anatomy?

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The female body is the most beautiful creation on Earth, and in my opinion, the Black female body is on the top of that echelon. The sensuous curves, powerful hips, the small of their back, mesmerizing lips, elegant skin, hair like outstretched roots or a lion’s mane, and the Earth brown of their eyes. I can’t help but think the Great Author in the Sky wrote in cursive as he scripted out how their bodies were to be crafted. My (subjective) idea of the perfect woman looks closer to a Keke Palmer than a Leeloo from The Fifth Element. And though we all are sexual beings, sexual attraction is not the only thing I feel for Black women. When I see them, I see my mother, my aunts, my cousins, my friends, and possibly my future soulmate or daughter. I see nurturers, warriors, and queens. It’s much deeper than just physical.So sometimes the line between objectification and admiration (hek, maybe even veneration) seems a lot more blurry than we quickly assume.

The Black female body is art to me. It is a painting I don’t ever get tired of looking at, trying to unlock the secret of why I am so captivated by it.

tumblr_n0sb0yVvnp1qasnrqo1_500But I can admit that I’ve often crossed over to the objectification side of the spectrum when viewing it. The aforementioned model on my screen those girls commented on was standing in a bikini, derriere facing the camera. If you ask any of my friends about what my favorite part of the female body, “Josh is a ass man” is the answer you’ll get right away. And a large gluteus maximus is associated with Black women, for better and for worst.

I can’t act like I don’t get a visceral response when I see beautiful Black women. Assuming that anyone reading this is not naive, I wouldn’t dare construe my admiration for their curves and contours as devoid of sexual attraction, like a conscious rapper telling the apple of his eye “they want to make love to your body, I wanna make love to your mind”.

Yeah, I want your mind, but naw, I want your body too.

Does that mean I was objectifying her? If I’m honest with myself, I’d have to lean towards yes, because of the context. Like I’ve said, the Black female body is a work of art, but context dictates how you experience it. Admiring a Black woman for her beauty at church or school in casual wear is not going to render same the feelings as if she was in the club dropping it like it’s hot in booty shorts. The context is dramatically different, which will make the reasons and motives behind your attention just as distinct.

But keeping that line as rigid as possible is not about censoring how you feel. Any man’s reaction to his physical attraction to the beauty of a Black woman, or any woman, will be the same, but we have stay aware of those feelings and monitor our actions. If you’re only appreciating a Black woman because of her body, then you should back off, or take the initiative to get to know the entirety of her. If you can’t do that, than at least be honest about what you’re after, because if you aren’t, you can bet she’s going to put you in check. In this instance, I was objectifying (despite my intention) because the only context the picture placed her in was a sexualized one.

An ill of society is that for the most part, people only want to see Black women in a specific context. And there are times when Black people both rebel against and are complicit in this phenomenon. From Sarah Bartman to Nicki Minaj, society has always had a problematic infatuation with Black Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 4.59.16 PMwomen’s bodies. Some times its a symbol of aesthetic perfection, but most of the times it’s the marker of inherent, subhuman hypersexuality. There’s no doubt that the oversexualized representation of Black women adds fuel to twisted ideas of rape culture, like “She knew what she was doing when she wore that dress in that part of town”. And with the same commodified representation within movies, magazines, and music videos, the majority of the world has only seen and only wants to see Black women as the sum of her body parts.

tumblr_mz1qupPhrQ1rjupavo1_500We shouldn’t objectify Black women’s bodies. And there are some ways in which even venerating it can become very problematic.

Since that experience, I’ve been a lot more conscious of behavior that may objectify women. I deleted the majority of pics I saved through my bored Tumblr excursions in my dorm room. I kept ones that captures the essence of Black women’s beauty in a more holistic context: working, smiling, cooking, praying, everyday activities, etc. But I did leave a few of the pics of them with little to no clothing on. Maybe I should delete them as well. Hopefully my failure to do so is not a failure to confront my own sexist, patriarchal behaviors, but………………

………….I just think the Black female body is Beautiful.

We Out Here,

Josh A

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2 comments

  1. Very interesting! And refreshing… I ask myself a lot of these questions very often. About how my body is perceived and how much control I really have over that. The issue of sexual objectification, or any type of objectification for that matter, applies especially to black women, but obviously it is a problem that all women are plagued with. I love this TEDtalk about the female body as a sex object – and how despite the media’s attempt to convince us that “sex sells”, it truly is NOT empowering– in fact, it is incredibly harmful. I think the speaker brings up some incredibly valuable points that may help navigate that “fuzzy line” between a woman’s body as object vs. art.

  2. PS – shout out to CLUB CLEMMONS! … i never got a thing done, thanks for nada!! LOL

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