(Before you read: I am aware that women in general are sexualized from a very young age. But this discusses the experiences of black women.)
When they announced that the new Iron Man would be a black, teenage girl, I was excited. I was excited, until I saw the new art for Riri Williams. She is now a few shades lighter. and her hair is no longer kinky. Riri’s crop top is shorter, her pants are lower, and her waist is now defined. While I was upset that her skin was lightened (I will discuss this in another post), I was also upset by the way she was dressed. It’s actually quite disturbing the way they made a fifteen year old girl look. She was inspired by Skai Jackson, a fourteen year old actress. Is that how fourteen year old black girls are seen? Seeing this art, reminded me of how black women’s bodies are hypersexualized in the media. And what we see in the media, becomes apart of our daily lives.
The hypersexualization of our bodies goes way back. During slavery, black women were stereotyped as being “promiscuous” to justify the sexual abuse they endured from their slave masters. The slave masters weren’t held at fault for raping these women. The women were blamed for “seducing” and “tempting” them. This is where the Jezebel stereotype originates from.
In the 1800’s, there was a Khoisan woman named Saartjie Baartman who was famous for her large buttocks. She was paraded around Europe and used as an attraction at freak shows. She was called the “Hottentot Venus”. When she died, a plaster cast was made of her body. Her genitals, brain, and skeleton were also put on display. She was treated like an object. Her body was disrespected. It was if her body didn’t belong to her, and it belonged to the public.
I grew up during the era of hip hop where every music video had video vixens in it. I saw curvy, black women dancing around half-naked like props in rap videos. I still see this in rap videos now. These videos cater to the male audience, to what men want to see. Some people actually believe this is an accurate portrayal of black women. We’re just video vixens. We only serve one purpose: To please men.
When I was around sixteen years old, my body started developing. My breasts were bigger and so was my butt. My body was garnering attention from men and women. I’ve been groped multiple times by boys at school, even by some girls. Some strangers have even been bold enough to grab my butt. People would make comments about my body. My lips were described as “DSL”. Other students would assume that I was sexually active just because of the size of my butt. I had often been told that I was dressing “slutty” and being “fast” because of the way my clothes fit. As if I had any control over how my body looked. Men have honked their car horns at me, shouted vulgar things about me, and even followed me. No one cared that I was underage. No one cared that I was uncomfortable. I didn’t have a say in it.
Many black women have heard the ignorant statement, “Black women better watch out! White girls are catching up!”or “White girls getting butts now too!”. It insinuates that the only thing that we have is our bodies. That our bodies is all our worth. It honestly disgusts me. These negative images and messages can be damaging to one’s self-esteem. We are not just our bodies. Our self-worth does not comes from how our bodies are viewed. It comes from within.