Exhibited in London Piccadilly Circus as a ‘freak show’ by Europeans who were highly intrigued with her voluptuous figure, I was deeply saddened by the story of Sara Baartman, an enslaved South African woman. Fascinated with her breasts, hips, arse and lips, which were gigantic by Eurocentric standards, she was ridiculed and paraded as a ‘freak’ and commanded to gyrate like a wild beast. Given the stage name ‘Hottentot Venus’, she was placed on a stage, naked and bare, where the Europeans paid to stare. She soon died at a youthful age of 25.
As I read her story, I was not only frustrated by the way the body of an African woman was degraded, but also because this happened in the early 1800s and two centuries later I fail to see any change. Black women in the entertainment industry receive more recognition for their larger than life curves rather than their talent; there is this senseless fascination with the big booty. The media sexually objectifies women in general but I feel as though for black women there is a lack of balance; there are more oversexed half naked type images of black women shoved in our faces in comparison to Oprah type images. Without the balance, it’s very easy for black women to fall into the trap of basing their desirability on the size of their behinds instead of what’s inside their minds. It’s as though our ‘ass’ has become our biggest asset. We stage name ourselves now with so-called ‘alter egos’ and proudly gyrate in music videos. I can’t even go onto Instagram without seeing freak shows on my news feed, young women exhibiting their own bodies. I wish more black men and women knew and empathized with the story of Sara Baartman, an enslaved young African woman who was sexually exploited in a ‘human zoo’ for fortune and fame because the only thing that has changed is that we now happily sexually exploit ourselves.
“Most often attention was not focused on the complete black female on display…They are to not look at her as a whole human being. They are to notice only certain parts.” -Bell Hooks, Black Looks