Bottom Heavy


Recently, a young brother at a party informed me that “White girls are coming up in the world these days”. “You don’t say” I deadpanned, already knowing exactly what he was referring to. “Yeah, man. White girls got ass now.” I’ll table my feminist/race woman reaction to that for another time (How dare you reduce White women to that? Is a butt the only advantage Black women had over White ones in the first place? Is this all that women are to you?) and admit what upset me most about this comment:  it reminded me that I am a Black woman sans ass. And it sucks.

When Erykah Badu’s video for “Window Seat” premiered, my intellectual friends were all abuzz debating whether she was courageous or disrespectful or brilliant or a combination of the three for stripping down bare at the site of JFK’s 1963 assassination. People championed her agency and her willingness to bear this body that, in many spaces, is marginalized by beauty standards.  I wanted to be all smart and shit too, but all I could think of was her behind. Look. At. Her Ass. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s there.

I’m Black. I’m a woman. I have a body. Thus, it is a Black woman’s body. But I don’t have the frame that is associated with Black womanhood. But while I am aware enough of the absurdity of even our intra-culutal beauty standards, I cannot yet get past the fact that having a big butt is a ‘Black woman thing’ that I am not a part of. I feel left out and, yes, I will admit that I hate the idea that there is something that Black men have a special appreciation for and attraction to that I cannot bring to the table.

Irony: I am a vocal opponent of street harassment. I don’t mean because I write about it, I mean because on any given day you can actually hear me on the street telling some man where he can go and how he can get there. I hate the survey of my body that I am subjected to on a daily basis. But you know what else I hate? When I see a man checking me out from the front, waiting for me to pass so he can see what’s going on in the backyard. It’s like I’m failing a test I didn’t ask to take (and in many cases, would not even want to pass). How dare you make me feel inadequate when I didn’t ask for your approval in the first place?

I’m a light-complexioned woman with curly hair and, depending who you ask, either mixed looking (per my friends) or traditionally African (according to me, and yes, I mean the polyglot Kwanzaa/Swahili name/dashiki Africa we created in our heads) features. I have benefited on the side of the skewed Black beauty scale that no one wants to brag on. There’s no pride in being rewarded by the tainted- by-Europe standard, but full lips, a wide hips and a large behind? That’s Africa at work! That’s a real Black woman!

Le sigh.

Now, I’m getting grown and I’m at the point where I realize that I’m beautiful because I’m Jamilah, not because of how close I am to looking like a model from Cosmo or King. I don’t expect anyone to cry me a river because I don’t have a huge behind, because for all the other awful metrics people use to reduce a woman’s looks, I’ve faired well enough. But as much as I can intellectualize it and say that a woman’s body doesn’t matter as much as her mind, and that Blackness is not a fuction of hair texture or hip-to-waist ratio…I just wish I had a big ole’ butt.

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  • Susan

    Oh, my love, your post made me laugh so hard! And you will laugh when I tell you that I am a white woman with a “big ol’ butt”. And yes, I spent my youth being made to feel ugly, ugly, *ugly* for my fat ass. I hated it so much, I even had fantasies where I cut it off my body. Then all of a sudden in my mid-thirties Jennifer Lopez makes butts “the new black”, and suddenly men are complimenting my butt, and women are saying they wish it was theirs! I would be flattered if I weren’t so damn frustrated! The REAL frustration? It was only at that point that I started allowing myself to feel good about my butt. I felt a little self-betrayed that I couldn’t have been on my own side before then. Maybe I should just shut up and be grateful for the lucky social-sanction therapy.

    I am very with you on street harassment – I have been shouted at in the street by men all my life(did it affect me prejudicially because most of them were black…?) , and nowadays I make it very clear that I don’t welcome it. My pet peeve is men who shout “Hey! Are you married?!” I shout back, “Why no! Let’s have sex *right now*!” and walk off.

    This is just a tragedy isn’t it? We can spend our whole lives feeling ugly, even if we’re beautiful, and then what good does beauty do us? It seems like such a big waste of time. Maybe we should just stop waiting for diets and running and makeup and clothes and girdles to give us permission, and see what happens when we just start out feeling beautiful from the beginning.

  • Frosted Flake

    Le Sigh. It is irony. And I’m sure you know, sure that almost all women know that men are not attempting disrespect when they notice an attractive Lady. Absent hooting and such, of course. I suppose also it is not a mystery that attractive comes in many forms and in many shades and that feelings about this can be unrealistic and even unfortunate. When we wish we had something we don’t, very often we overlook that we are taking for granted something we do have. Something fully as worthwhile as what we wish for in vain. We must be careful what we think of ourselves, for this is not without power.

    If I May?

    You are what you think. Not what you think you are, just, what you think. That miraculous spark behind your eyes is very much more you than the whole of your body.

    Sit. Close your eyes. Breathe. Observe.

    If nothing you truly see then watch for a while. Try to imagine nothing watching you, but don’t try hard. Is there an end to it? Look to the edge of nothing. Look around.

    This is where you are. You are the only one here. Look around long enough and you will learn to see what it is you are looking around … with.

    Amazing. To me. That each could be as I see myself, if I see clearly. But, then, the way I see it is just the way I see it, See?

    So. What do you see?

  • tai tai

    It’s interesting: you are concerned about not reaching this black-sanctioned beauty standard, whereas I often am measuring myself up to the white standard–a skin physique, slim lips, and a high nose. Anyhow, interesting perspective.

  • Simone

    This was pretty awesome! :-)