Thursday, August 24, 2006

Becky Got Back:
The Age of White Girl Booty Bling




















Oh my God
Becky, look at her butt
It is so big
She looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends
But y'know, who understands those rap guys?
They only talk to her

Because she looks like a total prostitute ('kay)
I mean her butt, it's just so big
I can't believe it's so round
It's like out there
I mean, it's so gross
Look, she's just so black …

-- “Baby Got Back”
Sir Mix-A-Lot

According to celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com, Jessica Biel is the new J-Lo – and she’s got the goods to back it up.

Black women are still reeling that Jennifer Lopez was crowned Booty of the Decade – a title they felt had been hijacked from swarthier contenders like Janet, Serena or BeyoncĂ©. Now comes the news that a white B-list actress is redefining bootylicious. To some, that’s almost as blasphemous as plastering Jessica Simpson’s dimpled mug on a box of Dark & Lovely.

“White women with butts like black girls” is a relatively new cultural phenomenon, and some may say – cheekily – fashion statement. In recent years, booty bling has been the must-have accessory to rock from the clubs to the red carpet. Balenciaga bag? Check. Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals? Check. Booty bling? Double check.

Rasheeda has been none too thrilled about Becky bum rushing an anatomical arena largely deemed the province of black women. Sisters still shudder over Bo Derek’s wispy braids and the "Parisian pout" being sported by many non-blacks whose French is limited to Moet et Chandon. Hair, lips and the bootay are racial signifiers, visible symbols of blackness that the larger society has historically viewed with derision. Some wonder which body part will be co-opted next and elevated to high fashion – the nose? According to bell hooks, “Separated from a political and historical context, ethnicity is being reconstituted as the new frontier, accessible to all, no passes or permits necessary.”

So back to the booty. Why all the hatin' on Becky’s newfound butt muscles? "Fat bottomed girls make the rockin' world go round," as Queen informs us, so shouldn’t every woman want to hit the StairMaster or Pilates studio? For many sisters, the issue is larger than simply wanting to look good in a pair of Seven jeans. Bootyjackin' is reminiscent of Elvis Presley "stealing" black music then being credited as the originator of it – cultural appropriation at its finest. Another viewpoint is that sisters struggle with issues of invisibility and marginality, while simultaneously being hypersexualized in everything from Cognac ads to your garden-variety rap video. As author and journalist Lisa Jones writes in Bulletproof Diva, "Black women don’t have faces or souls, just big ol' butts."

The posterior is political. Black women have had junk in the trunk for centuries, yet mainstream America has never given them accolades on the level of La Lopez, and now Biel. Quite conversely, the black female butt has been the subject of ridicule and revulsion throughout the ages. In her essay, "Venus Envy," Jones explores the majority culture's reverence/repulsion toward the booty. She gives the example of Saarjite Baartman, a young South African woman who was displayed naked in a cage in London during the early 1800s. A British doctor brought Baartman from Capetown to exploit her big butt, and she was publicly exhibited for over five years. After her death, the "Hottentot Venus" was dissected, and her genitalia preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. Jones muses that young Saarjite’s preservation "was used to support almost a century’s worth of myths of white racial superiority." Those Londoners who shelled out big bucks to sneer at Baartman’s buttocks would be rolling over in their graves to know that some white women now shell out big bucks to rock that same "primitive" look.

Several questions arise out of the renewed interest in the black booty aesthetic: What defines blackness, and can race be appropriated? As a modestly endowed sister (some would say gluteally-impaired), I've got my own issues with the revered/reviled rump. My tiny tush has always made me feel like less of a black woman. Growing up, my proper English, lack of double dutch skills, and flat butt nearly qualified me for white womanhood. So, the irony is not lost on me when I see my perky freckle-faced Pilates instructor sporting the equivalent of double Ds in the back of her spandex pants, and when I tell said instructor that I want a "butt like hers." Not like Beyoncé or Janet, but like Becky. It's almost as if she has more soul than I do, that she has membership in an exclusive club I've been trying to join all my life. But as she grabs a handful of heinie, and commands the similarly endowed white women in class to do likewise and "Give the booty some love!" I realize that having a curve-free butt doesn't make me less soulful than she, and a plump tush doesn't automatically enroll her in the nationalist club. Even though others may see Becky as the total package, I'm not in competition with her. In a room full of booty blinging white women, I found my own shine. To paraphrase Ntozake Shange, I saw the bootylicious goddess in me and loved her fiercely!

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a black woman, it never ceases to amaze me how Becky can jack our style and be declared the next best thing while we're treated like the red-headed stepchild! It's funny how our features (full lips, curves, beautiful skin tones) are considered exotic and sensual on everybody BUT us!!! IF those are Jessica's real "assets", then more power to her, but (no pun intended)she has NOTHING on us sistahs that have been "bootylicious" since the cradle!

Monique

Anonymous said...

actually i think beyonce and serena have both reclaimed the title in the eyes of black men. j-lo is soooo 20th century.

Sita said...

First, whites wanted deeper tans (even risking skin cancer to achieve one), Next, the braids (ouch), then the lips, and now the booty (double OUCH). It's hard to imagine that a race that has professed hatred of blacks for centuries now aspires to resemble us. Are they bored with their looks, or is it that age old demon, envy? Wouldn't it be a joke if the Becky's altered themselves out of their race?? Hey, I gotta go and call Stephen King!!!!

Wendi said...

At the end of the day and after many conversations and observations, I got one thing to say: *what* sisterhood?

Once more, thanks for delving deeply with a keen and humorous eye; for quoting beautifully; for taking the time to tie it together while leaving room for comment.

Mainstream culture, whatever the genre--fashion, body image, music, art--will always appropriate. It's a way to make a buck, to make a mark, to appear hip. As soon as something is deemed hip by Big Culture, it's already old news on the street--and, by extension, as your essay suggests, to the culture that gave it rise...on the DL.

Power thee forward....

wendi said...

p.s.

What were we talking about other day? Why should people be so surprised when decades before, during Jim Crow if memory serves me, Coco Chanel returned home with a tan and--presto!--darker equaled better heeled in the eyes of my freckled kin [easy with the freckles, though--Creoles will take offense! ; ) ]. FYI, I'll believe in a sisterhood when all of these issues become celebrations instead of platforms for ridicule, disdain, and self-deprecation.

Visions of Vida said...

To my light-skinned sista Wendi:

You said: FYI, I'll believe in a sisterhood when all of these issues become celebrations instead of platforms for ridicule, disdain, and self-deprecation.

Some black women feel marginalized and dehumanized by white women on a regular basis – whether it’s being ignored at the cosmetics counter or being talked down to in a board meeting, or being told that we’re "articulate" when we speak proper English instead of Ebonics. Maybe we’re paranoid, too willing to believe that "Becky" has it out for us, or we’re still struggling with our own issues of self-hatred and lack of self-worth. So when a white woman chooses to rock a tan or lip implants or butt implants or braids, or any other racial signifiers that black women like to lay claim to, it’s like, "You hate me, but you want to be like me."

So where does sisterhood begin? Can Rasheeda and Becky be friends? Will we learn to celebrate our differences, instead of seeing cross-cultural hijacking at every new trend? I’d like to think that a white woman with a big booty is not my enemy. To paraphrase Rodney King, "Can’t we all just get a thong?"

Anonymous said...

Do you think Victoria's Secret will start selling booty padded panties? Mandy

Anonymous said...

99% of these "bootys" on these women are not real, period. It's a new hype, don't fall for it. Reveal the lie, don't spread it.

Anonymous said...

"First, whites wanted deeper tans (even risking skin cancer to achieve one), Next, the braids (ouch), then the lips, and now the booty (double OUCH). It's hard to imagine that a race that has professed hatred of blacks for centuries now aspires to resemble us."

In the mean while, these women also want black men and they are getting them too. Why? most black men have no racial pride. shame

Anonymous said...

My post is two years late and I don't know if anyone will read this, however...I will state that I'm a white woman with booty. I have an all-natural hourglass shape and I know I look good at 36 years old.

I'm aware that some white women are indeed guilty of "cross-cultural hijacking". Some black women are too...esp. the ones who wear straight blonde weaves and blue contacts. Most black women don't have these features naturally, just like most white women are built differently from black women. I see black women as beautiful. I appreciate the unique beauty of black women. The hair textures, pretty smiles, and rich chocolate skin of various shades is gorgeous.


This does not mean that I (or most white women) want to be or to look black. Before my comment is misinterpreted as racist, I would like to say that I've learned to be content with myself. My husband, who is also white, likes my figure the way it is. White men tend to like women who are both slender and curvy. Most like perky boobs and a nice shape. They don't like women who are too heavy or too thin. I've never had braids or tried to copy a black woman's style. I see what you're saying. Black women's looks are often unappreciated until some Hollywood star makes it "hip". This is very true.


I've never tanned in my life because (this might sound odd to you) I love being pale. Brown skin is only beautiful to me when it is natural, as in the case of black/Latina/South Asian women. I believe that white women and black women (as well as other women of color) could have a sisterhood if we acknowledge our differences AND similarities positively. I prefer my thin lips and fair skin on me...no tanning or plastic here. I believe women of all colors feel insecure about their looks at times and no one is an exception. White women aren't the enemy and we aren't out to steal anything from black women. The only women who would do that are most likely very insecure people anyway.

I'm pretty confident within myself and I realize that all women, no matter what their race, want to look/feel good. White women don't all look the same. Some have full lips, curly hair, and olive complexions as well as naturally voluptuous figures...these tend to be white women of Southern European/Mediterranean background. There are blacks with "white" features sometimes and whites with "black" features sometimes. As women, we should uplift one another despite racial or physical differences.

Anonymous said...

Women of a given race tend to have rounder butts than men of the same race. Roundness of the posterior is a female anatomical trait.

African women on the whole have the roundest rears of all women.

Therefore, as far as the butt goes, African women are the most feminine looking.

I make the same observation regarding the relative hairlessness of the female body as compared to the male: men are relatively hairy and by comparison women are smooth.

African women are less hirsute than Europeans, Arabs and South Asians (e.g. Indians and Pakistanis).

As far as sparseness of body hair goes, African women are again among the most feminine looking.

It's good to be African, as if anyone needs to be told...

Anonymous said...

Well, Black women were bless by the man up stairs to have killer leg, round butt,full lips, GOD just took a little more time to create his masterpeace and we are the real made in HEAVEN WOMEN-SO sisters lighten they wanted our men now its our bodies,What can I say!?

Anonymous said...

Well, Black women were bless by the man up stairs to have killer leg, round butt,full lips, GOD just took a little more time to create his masterpeace and we are the real made in HEAVEN WOMEN-SO sisters lighten they wanted our men now its our bodies,What can I say!?

Anonymous said...

You should probably watch out who you call "becky" white girls are likely to whoop "shaquita's" as over a slur like that.