By Sexual Correspondent Andrea Plaid
Did United Statesians electing its first president of color become an implicit invitation for liberal/progressive media outlets to talk about Black and brown behinds?
According to two of them, yep.
Salon started off the conversation with Erin Aubry Kaplan’s essay, “First Lady Got Back,” where she waxes ecstatic about First Lady Michelle Obama’s behind:
“…while it isn’t humongous, per se, it is a solid, round, black, class-A boo-tay. Try as Michelle might to cover it with those Mamie Eisenhower skirts and sheath dresses meant to reassure mainstream voters, the butt would not be denied.
As America fretted about Obama’s exoticism and he sought to calm the waters with speeches about unity and common experience, Michelle’s body was sending a different message: To hell with biracialism! Compromise, bipartisanship? Don’t think so. Here was one clear signifier of blackness that couldn’t be tamed, muted or otherwise made invisible. It emerged right before our eyes, in the midst of our growing uncertainty about everything, and we were too bogged down in the daily campaign madness to notice. The one clear predictor of success that the pundits, despite all their fancy maps, charts and holograms, missed completely? Michelle’s butt.”
As my friend Tom would say, “Stop, Miss Gurl.”
There’s more–infinitely more–to what makes our new First Lady beautiful and a challenge to the white-beauty standard than her boo-tay. If Aubry Kaplan would have delved into the beauty-brains combo she started to discuss (“She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style…”), the piece would have been sort of all right. Nope, just Michelle’s ass.
Then here comes Alternet with Myra Mendible’s “Big Booty Beauty and the New Sexual Aesthetic. Her take on the ass thang:
“We should not underestimate the symbolic value of buttocks. Butt metaphors helped European cultures categorize and describe their others, ascribing bodily differences certain moral and intellectual attributes. Gilman argues that, “Beginning with the expansion of European colonial exploration, describing the forms and size of the buttocks became a means of describing and classifying the races. The more prominent the more primitive…” (Making the Body Beautiful). British culture, in particular, identified the buttocks with primitive or debased sexuality (Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex). Non-Western women were associated with the “lower regions” of the body and characterized in terms of their abundant backside. Similarly, in American culture, the U.S.-Mexico border marked a figurative divide between Northern mind and Southern body, rationality and sensuality, domestic and foreign. This bodily trope culled associations between the lower body and the inferior, more primitive “under” developed “torrid zones” south of the border; it often served to rationalize U.S. military interventions or corporate exploitation of Latin American labor and resources.”
Analytically speaking, what Mendible wrote is what Aubry Kaplan should have written: a more nuanced reflection on the history and meaning of the colored butt in the erotic imaginations and racial and gender definitions of white people and Black men and Latinos and how that loaded image became a policy of exploitation for both groups. In other words, a little intersectionality would have helped Aubry Kaplan’s essay. Continue reading