Working on a story recently I interviewed a board certified surgeon (name withheld) via email about buttock implantation and injections. For background, I sent links to stories about Claudia Aderotimi and Miss Argentina, Solange Magnano, both whom died from augmentation complications. When I inquired about the limit to how much silicon should be injected into patients, he answered saying, “It is never about how much volume can be added, but the proportions that make a buttock attractive. The proverbial ‘Ghetto Booty’ is NOT attractive, except to a very narrow segment of society.”
I stared at the screen in disbelief, rubbed my eyes and read the line again. Ghetto booty? I assumed that “narrow segment of society” was code for black folks. I replied, asking what a “ghetto booty” was. Did the women who came in for consultations use that term? He replied that no explanation was needed and went on to explain that “Hip-Hop culture” was to blame, as many of them used the terminology often. To further prove his point, he sent a link to the Google search page for “ghetto booty.” There, on my screen were countless images of women, mostly African-American, scantily-clad and bent over in the infamous and familiar “ass shot.” I was speechless.
Damn you, Sir Mix-a-lot.
I was offended, and I’d had enough. I ended contact with him and decided not to use him as an identified source. In an instant, what was supposed to be a story about the growing trend in illegal butt implants, turned into a probing session on society’s perception of Black women.
I continued to wrestle with my reaction to the surgeon’s response, but in the meantime, I asked a few friends to give me their definitions of a “ghetto booty.”
“It’s big and out of control. No structure, definitely not toned and (it) jiggles.”
“That would be one that is not properly covered….when it should be because it is not attractive.”
“It’s big but not in a cute way…It jiggles when the person walks.”
“One of my marriage requirements.”
My frustration with the surgeon was two-fold. Considering friends’ and my own ideas of the slang term, plus the Google search page images, the proof was in the pudding. The truth hurts, but even more, I was annoyed because a stereotype of black women was pointed out so clearly by a man of another race, as if he was an authority on our bodies. We’re now living in a culture in which women have reduced their self-worth to the size of their derrieres—so much that the obsession has spilled over into other races and cultures (Booty Pop, anyone?). What message are we sending to society about us? Are we to be respected and productive individuals who contribute to society or a just T & A, fit to be lusted after on magazine pages, computer screens and hip-hop videos?
In 2009, black men lamented when KING, a premier urban men’s magazine known for its bootylicious cover models, such as Stacey Dash and Rosa Acosta, folded. Within a few months, the publication made a comeback as The Women of King, serving up bigger bottoms, thus creating a bigger following with a circulation of 255,000, according to Gaebler.com. If you can’t get to a newsstand, just log on to Twitter and check out the avatars belonging to half-naked “aspiring models.” Yes, booty is big business.
That’s no surprise though. Culturally, African-Americans have always been comfortable with, and had an affinity for the “junk in the trunk.” We like our bodies, according to the State of Black Women study published last month by Essence. Fifty-five percent of Black women say they are sexy compared to 27 percent of Caucasian women, and 65 percent say they have a lot of confidence.
Rashanta Bledman, doctoral candidate at University of Missouri was awarded by the American Psychological Association for her research, The Ideal Body Shape of African American College Women. She found 65 percent of participants were satisfied with their bodies, but overall, women wanted to make their breasts smaller, reduce the size of their thighs, have a flatter stomach, have a narrower waist, and have larger buttocks. Does that make for a ghetto booty?
“I realize that there has been a sort of fascination with the Black woman’s body for years,” Bledman says. “As we look at the media now, it often seems that Black women are presented as hypersexualized or seen as nothing more than objects. I think this portrayal can be very dehumanizing and really makes it difficult to feel empowered and validated.”
But there’s so much more to us than our “assets.” According to Catalyst.org’s 2010 African-American Women in the United States report, in 2007-2008, 7.5 percent of Black women obtained a Masters degree and 64 percent held women of color board directorships. Additionally, there are projections for women’s participation in the workforce to increase from the current 6.1 percent to 6.4 percent by 2018.
“If we don’t balance these images with more positive ones, I can’t imagine that, at times, the Black woman’s body is seen as nothing more than a body and not a human being,” Bledman says.
So, this isn’t about ass envy or tearing down the booty empire for all parties involved. The fact is, we will always be celebrated for our curvaceous bodies, and rightly so, but it’s time to re-craft and control the message we’re sending to society, ourselves and most of all, our young girls. The whole is equal to the sum of its parts.