“And to all those young girls…guard your bodies and guard the precious miracle of your own life,” spoke Kevin Costner with precaution at the late Whitney Houston’s funeral. As the ceremony came to a closing, I rested still gazing at the television screen as Houston’s casket was carried out of the church. Though the ceremony spoke to the exuberance as well as bereavement often expressed when an icon is lost, Costner’s words hit a core I had not yet physically, mentally, or spiritually acknowledged: the state of my body. Though Costner speaks of Whitney’s body and the ways it was abused and treated by external and internal pressures Houston encountered that eventually lead down an inevitable path of demise, his warning comes from something much, much deeper: the loss of agency women have over their own bodies.
From the recent contraception controversy to the long history of the media’s role in the portrayal of women’s body, women have begun to lose power of their own bodies as they are blatantly commodified and placed under the scrutiny of the public eye. When I was an adolescent in the early 2000’s, I vividly remember my attempt to emulate the clothing, the dance moves, but most importantly the confidence Destiny’s Child oozed during their notoriously named “Bootylicious” music video. It wasn’t because I looked up to the members of the group or aspired to be a singer, but my arguable subservient behavior formed from a desire to practice and mimic the unfamiliar: embracing one’s promiscuity by choice. And to me, this acceptance was seen an alternative form of female empowerment I had not yet been exposed to. The mere idea of these females showcasing their sex appeal as a form of self-expression and liberation excited my inner rebellious spirit as I sought after anything and anyone that was far from what was deemed “appropriate” in my household. Looking back, I see now that my adoration for these females were only temporary as I was to grow and learn more about my relationship to my body within the context of my surrounding socially constructed structures.
No matter how women try to retain their bodies in the public sphere by speaking out against criticism, such as Tyra Bank’s memorable “Kiss my Fat A**” rant (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SQdga4qTF4) or in Nigeria (http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/bibi-bakare-yusuf/of-mini-skirts-and-morals-social-control-in-nigeria) where women’s expression is undermined by the country’s strict policing and censorship, they are continuously subject to the oppressive nature of our patriarchal society. As Loretta Ross firmly states in her work “The Color of Choice: “The regulation of reproduction and exploitation of women’s bodies and labor is both a tool and a result of systems of oppression based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age, and immigration status.” Growing older, I’ve begun to understand the different yet just as explicit implications my role as a black female present in context of my “gendered body”.
The exploitation of black females’ body interlocks with the already complex matrix of white supremacy as it embodies multiple layers of oppression (i.e., racism, patriarchy, anti-Semitism, etc.). From the “dominating cultural historic abuse and exploitation of African-American women’s bodies in the nineteenth century” (Williams, 24) to sexually-driven and misogynistic perceptions most commonly found in rap and hip-hop (http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/hiphop/gender.htm) the pairing of ‘bodies’ and ‘being black’, specifically in America, is inevitably destructive to the development of solidarity among black females. Oftentimes black females cannot just expose their bodies as “females” but rather class and race are mutually inclusive. What I mean by this is that when black women attempt to liberate themselves physically to embrace artistic (http://www.racialicious.com/2010/04/05/window-seat-does-erykah-badus-booty-obscure-her-artistic-message/) or spiritual expression, the act is often used to further promote their defilement in what Williams calls “American national consciousness” (Williams, 28). The only way to disintegrate this obliviousness to the subjugation of black women in American culture is to demolish the double standard all women are held against and to accept the various ways of self-expression.
As I begin to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually, I will undoubtedly be confronted with obstacles that pose a threat to not only my relationship with my body but my experience as a black female.
Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious”-Source: (http://musicjuzz.blogspot.com/2009/08/destinys-child-bootylicious-mp3.html)
Shot from Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” music video (Source: http://hypetrak.com/2010/08/erykah-badu-pays-fine/)