The Rise of the Booty; The Demise of Black Female Self-Esteem

Over the years I have struggled with my bottomless figure. I’ve always had more than enough on top; however, I never got the booty gene. Sometimes I like to joke that I don’t have a butt because Jesus knows how much you can bear. And Lawd knows if I had a booty, a lot of things would be different. Think I’m uppity now? CHILE PLEASE!

I first remember lamenting my booty-less figure in middle school--around 1995. I think that’s when booties really came in style and boys at school started to make comments about the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ This has been a major "downside" to the proliferation of black-owned media i.e. video channels and magazines. Black people are now using their own media to promote unattainable standards for black females. And I hate to admit it, but even I am a victim spending several hours of my precious time trying to figure out how to finally get the booty I’ve always wanted.

Mainstream media, which of course is owned by, features, and targets white people, has all but destroyed white female self-esteem. In every study on self image I’ve ever read, white women rate themselves as SUBSTANTIALLY less happy with their bodies than black females. Black women are less likely to have eating disorders and more likely to embrace their body’s imperfections. I work with mostly white females, and you can barely get through a work conversation--much less an office party with food--without weight becoming the focus of conversation. Black women have longed bragged about not having the serious self-esteem issues that white women tend to face.

However recent studies show that black women’s self-esteem is making sharp declines. Black women’s body image suffered dings from being largely omitted from mainstream media’s beauty ideals. Black people are still fighting to be included in mainstream fashion spreads and the like. The late 90s and 2000s marked the development of several black-owned “men’s magazines” such as King, XXL, The Source etc. These magazines began to feature nearly naked black women as a regular part of their magazine content. You think it was odd seeing the “Jet Beauty of the Week” in a bikini dripping wet in a fake rainforest with her alma mater and measurements below her crotch sandwiched between news on Al Sharpton and the latest upperclass wedding between a Kappa and a Delta?? Ha! Neo-men’s magazines took that concept to a whole ‘nother level. Give that same Jet Beauty some ambi, buttshots, low-self esteem, and a drive to be famous, spread her cheeks across a Bentley, load her photo onto a computer and enhance her enhancements and POW! Every man’s fantasy meets body image nightmare.

It’s no surprise that the rise in popularity of these types of magazines coincided with the dawn of the video hoe. No, I’m not going to use the word vixen, not only is it a silly euphemism promoted by someone who actually was, indeed, a hoe, it’s also inaccurate. Rappers largely don’t sing about provocative young ladies, they sing about groupies, hoes, sluts and the like. And if you’re in a video with a rapper singing about getting “Becky,” you couldn’t pick a worse time to defend your actions by saying “well they’re not talking about me.” Videos are a key medium when it comes to female image, cause at some point, all of them became the same shameful skin flick with not a real-looking person in sight. With today’s cinematic technology, females can be digitally altered in much the same manner that they are in photos. Booties can be made bigger, waists smaller, and skin more pleasant, among other alterations.

Fast forward to 2009 and these sorts of images are everywhere. Log onto Twitter or Myspace and all you see is one desperate black female after another falling into the trap of using her digitally (or perhaps medically) altered body for attention, and honestly, I don’t know what else. Many of them aren't even tryin to make it as "models!" Even black women who have real bodies are spreading their provocative pictures around the web. Although many may argue that they aren't seeking attention when putting up their latest beach bikini picture or sexy topless bathroom camera phone twitpic, my response is that, if you're telling the truth that's really sad. In 2009, a grown woman should understand the potential implications of choosing a photo to use on a social media site. If you haven't, that's actually worse than considering it and going with it anyway. The only good to come out of this for women is that you no longer have to have a pretty face for men to tell you that you’re beautiful. Beyond that, it worries me.

It pains me to believe that owning and distributing the very types of media from which we were once excluded could actually be contributing to issues with self-esteem. How regressive! No matter how many times the blogs put up pictures of video 'models' and stars like Kim Kardashian showing that their bodies are nowhere near as ‘shapely’ as the magazines make them appear, you still have men commenting on women’s bodies (on the web and in real life) as though anything less than what they've seen in print is unacceptable. I realize that in the long run real men accept women’s bodies without faux accoutrement. But it’d be nice if urban magazines would occasionally accept them too.

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8 Response to "The Rise of the Booty; The Demise of Black Female Self-Esteem"

  1. smoothpdp says:
    October 28, 2009 10:03 PM

    Nice food for thought, to piggy back slightly off your Couple's Retreat review, I too often see myself as an out of shape schmuck and just expect some woman to accept them. The problem of course is I hardly ever extend them the same courtesy, I don't know if it's the media influence, my personal views/experiences or a mixture of both but I often think I'm much to shallow and demanding when it comes to a woman's looks. But never think about how badly I would fare in the dating game if I was held to the same standard. Perhaps I feel I am, and my criticisms are a form of resentment. Definitely something to think about. (This is Terrysboy by the way).

  2. Christian says:
    October 29, 2009 9:00 AM

    I dont think magazines or TV are to blame for women's low self-esteem. A women with any bit of smarts would know that all of this, fashion, music videos, film.. etc.. are FANTASY.

    All women have insecurities, not just black women, not just white women. It just depends on you, how you let those insecurities consume you.

  3. Halisi says:
    October 29, 2009 10:49 AM

    I strongly agree with Christian. I feel this isn't isolated to race. This is prevalent in every race/culture. Scantily clad women are always favored and should not promote insecurity to anyone with sense. You can only blame "self" for self esteem issues. Great read, nonetheless.. but I don't agree that it is a "black" issue

  4. J Danielle says:
    October 29, 2009 11:21 AM

    I disagree with those who take the Kat Williams-approach to self-esteem discussions i.e. self esteem is esteem of your muthaeffing self i.e. only you bear responsbility. That's not true. The way we view ourselves doesn't happen in a vaccuum. If that was the case, we could say that any black woman with sense would accept her hair the way it is. But we know it's deeper than that. Self-Esteem is not just about how you see yourself as an individual, it's how you reconcile how you see yourself verses how the rest of the world perceives you. I don't think this is limited to black people, I said as much in the article. But on this particular issue, black women had been largely "safe" until we started to promote our own mediums for unattainable standards to be promoted. And the research shows that something is having an impact here. How do you explain the rise in eating disorders, plastic surgery, etc in the black community? If only it were as simple as "love yourself" It's not. It's much deeper than that, and until we recognize it, I believe the numbers of black women who view their bodies positively will continue to drop.

  5. Jara says:
    October 31, 2009 11:18 AM

    Love it, especially the inclusion of photos as supporting evidence of media's fantasy-mongering. The proportions that are promoted in many of these magazines are cartoonish.

    For every woman's shape, there's a heterosexual man out there ready, willing and able to love it.

  6. Akankezuri says:
    October 31, 2009 12:50 PM

    I reapply enjoyed this post and have been saying this for years. I remember when bigger booties became popular, I was about 18 at the time and a serious hip hop head ...I HATED watching videos and even stopped reading XXL and the Source because I felt like those mags wanted to cater to men with all the half naked chicks. So kudos for this post it is a discussion that our community needs to have.

  7. aisha08 says:
    November 2, 2009 11:53 AM

    For years, I told myself I would attempt to support many of these magazines since a) I either grew up with or knew many of the ppl behind these magazines from school and b) I'm all for supporting black-owned businesses. However, I am not in support of black-owned businesses that do nothing but contribute to the demise of black morale. Nothing wrong with appreciating a beautiful black man or woman in a magazine, but good grief... the objectification is stifling. Why can't the sister be in an artistic spread where the focus of attention is not in her crotch or ass crack? Needless to say, I avoid many black owned magazines because I have no desire to be visually assaulted when I glance upon these magazines. anyway...

    In the fight for equality, we as black people, have shot ourselves in the foot in the magazine industry. We demanded black magazines that featured US, for US. In "acheiving" this however, we mimicked the model of some of white America's most demeaning magazines and decided to objectify our women like white magazines do. And in the same manner that Europeans have been fetishizing us and treating our bodies like freaks of nature (Saartjie), we decided to champion these demeaning attitudes and celebrate them as a piece of our identity. Being a black woman cannot and should not be reduced to the size of my bum. Black is not homogeneous. Some of us are shaped like eggplants, others like carrots, and many of us like ripe coconut trees! I am glad I never got around to *celebrating* these magazines & I shall continue to protest their misogynistic objectification of my Black and Brown sisters.

  8. Get Togetha says:
    November 3, 2009 9:33 AM

    This is a great read...will pass on....

    I think having a booty is a curse and a blessing...

    I think it's a little one dimensional to think that having a phat booty = an easier life. Yeah you may get more attention but I could argue for days that the attention is not good and being rendered nothing but a sexual object is a fight of hell and brimstone within itself.

    There are way too many pressures put on women to look a certain way and the only way to combat those pressures are to walk away from them and not make them the center of your Universe.