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Skin Deep: Portrayals of the Black Female Body

Spring 2012 WGS 432 Capstone Presentation
by

Sky Sloderbeck

on 2 November 2012

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Transcript of Skin Deep: Portrayals of the Black Female Body

Queen Nefertiti. Limestone and stucco bust. Circa 1345 BCE. "Nefertiti's face is an icon of beauty, and the bust is the ultimate symbol of female beauty." - Dietrich Wildung, Curator, Berlin Egyptian Museum. '[A] delicately carved face in the limestone core of the famous bust suggests the royal sculptor at the time may have smoothed creases around the mouth and fixed a bumpy nose to depict the 'Beauty of the Nile' in a better light." - UK's Daily Mail. If the alteration is true, then this suggests that even in ancient Egypt, a male-defined standard of beauty was in place for African women. The fact that Nefertiti, a light-skinned African woman, is considered "the ultimate symbol of female beauty" is problematic. By whose standard? White men like Dietrich Wildung? ANALYSIS NEFERTITI Movie poster for the 2010 French movie based on the life of Saartjie Baartman. "In 1810, when Saartjie Baartman was in her early twenties, she was persuaded by an English ship's doctor, William Dunlop, to travel to England to make her fortune. However, as a Khoikhoi woman she was considered an anthropological freak in England, and she found herself put on exhibition, displayed as a sexual curiosity." Unlike Nefertiti, a symbol of beauty, Baartman was a symbol of the Other. Her physical features, including her physique and her darker skin color, marked her as "something less than human" by 19th century Europeans. Like Nefertiti, her physical appearance was judged and assigned a certain status (anthropological freak) by white European men. ANALYSIS SAARTJIE (SARAH) BAARTMAN The Western world has influenced everybody's views of beauty, and so, I made this video just to show the cultural and racial diversity in Africa, and the different types of beauty you can find there, regardless of what the Western culture will have you believe. Your preferences are yours alone, and there's nothing wrong with having preferences when it comes to appearance, but I've seen far too many people disrespect others for having darker or lighter skin, different features, different natural hair textures, and so on.

Never be ashamed of who you naturally are; no amount of changes you make to your skin color, eye color, hair color, hair texture or weight will ever fix your insecurity. That will only happen when you love who you are on the inside and out, the way you were born. by YouTube Member, TearsOfNoSubstance AFRICAN BEAUTY Saartjie Baartman Centre Web Site "Native Woman of Sofala." Daguerrotype. 1845. E. Thiesson. "From the first, practitioners of anthropology and medicine saw in photography a good opportunity to generate historical and research archives." Though most photographs of black women had subjects that were fully clothed, the troubling fact is that it was the black woman who was considered of so little value that her body could be exploited for science. It tended to be black women with darker skin who would be photographed "for science." Again, the more physical difference there was between the potential camera subject and the photographer, the easier it became for the photographer to take exploitative photographs. ANALYSIS SCIENTIFIC STUDY (Photography: A Cultural History, Page 35) "In 1896, the first photograph of a 'virginal vaginal outlet' was published [by] John Montgomery Baldy... He saved himself ... from charges of indecency by using a black woman model for the clinical pictures in the text. African-American women were assumed to be hypersexual and without normal feminine modesty." (The Body Project, Page 149) "African American women picking peas." 19th century. Published in Harper's Weekly "[Topsy] was one of the blackest of her race; and her round, shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. ... Her wooly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. ... Altogether, there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance."" During the 19th century in the United States, the images of black women tended to depict them fully clothed, but the covered bodies did nothing to change the mentality that black women were Jezebels. At this point in U.S. history, black women's perceptions of their bodies had generally not reflected a need or desire to adapt to the white male ideals. This changed when black women found that "passing" could help them in the white world. ANALYSIS PRE- AND POST-SLAVERY (Uncle Tom's Cabin. Page 219.) As this video shows, the early twentieth century was when the representations of black women reflected a change in body image among the African-American female population. The popularity of movies and a new technology, television, presented certain characteristics that were considered beautiful: Slender bodies, stylish clothing, impeccable makeup, and sleek hair.

African-American women were embracing the white male ideal of beauty in order to gain mainstream success and acceptance in the media-rich United States. UNSUNG CLASSIC BLACK BEAUTIES OF THE 1930s AND 1940s EATING DISORDERS By 1994, black women suffering from eating disorders surpassed white women. Ten years later, this had changed, but black women still suffer from eating disorders at an alarmingly high rate.
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