I absolutely love Serena William’s photo for ESPN’s “Body Issue.” Not nearly as much as I love Dwight’s, but it’s definitely worth a spot on my refrigerator door. I’m hoping it will deter me from all things fried. Okay, maybe not all things fried since Serena looks like she knows how to befriend a Twinkies or two.
Aside from the obvious touch ups (where’s the cellulite? Hello Beyonceweave) the good folk at ESPN did a good enough job to stop me from bemoaning yet another magazine cover with a half nekked (yes, we say nekked ’round these parts) woman.
ESPN did well, though I won’t go as far as former Vibe and KING Magazine editor, Jozen Cummings, and hope that larger magazines with a predominately male, and white, demographic publish more covers like this one, or KINGs, for men such as him to appreciate, whatever that means.
I agree with Cummings, Black women should be celebrated in the mainstream more often, but there’s something about this article that has irritated me since last week. It isn’t his quick dismissal that the cover is no Saartjie Bartman or how he does not acknowledge the fact that Black women have been subjected to years of sexual exploitation. Rather, the thing that bothers me the most about Cumming’s piece is that he used KING magazine to defend the celebration of Black women and our bodies, when KING magazine did none of that.
When KING flopped, I was happy to see it go. KING was able to provide an alternative to the mostly white, mostly skinny women who grace the covers of most men’s magazines, but that doesn’t mean it was any less misogynistic, sexist, chauvinistic and all those things that made it controversial.
I know that KING wasn’t made for me, but as the type of woman the magazine claimed to celebrate (I am both Black and curvy; in college Angela and our friends referred to my butt as if it was its own entity: The Kiana Booty) I never felt a connection or a sense of pride when I saw the magazine on newsstands. In short, I never felt celebrated.
Instead I felt the women on display were cheapened, used, and angry (peep the photos of KING magazine in Google Images and you’ll be hard pressed to find a cover with a woman smiling).
It annoys be that Cummings can write that Serena’s ESPN photo is no Venus Hottentot but presumably ignores the reality that that sad tale was all up in through KING.
Through and through KING was hip-hop, and word to Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr’s “I Use to Love H.E.R.” we all know how the genre has treated its women. The magazine was always more about boy’s toys (cars, rims, clothes, accessories), sex and smut than the celebration of Black beauty.
Not that sex isn’t beautiful. Serena’s ESPN cover is very sexy but no one on KING ever looked as liberated as Serena does there. To the contrary, women on KING usually looked bored and stiff – like chocolate covered blow-up dolls.
There is a difference between Serena’s cover and say, this, besides the obvious: the women who appeared on KING usually had on more clothes than Serena.
So why then do I flinch at a KING cover and not nekked ESPN? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I do know that anytime I hear about or see an instance of a Black woman stripping down I instantly get angry and have to talk myself through why the picture may or may not be okay. Rightly so, considering the myriad of images of Black women dropping it like its hot and demanding that a ring be put on it.
I spend so many moments of my life trying to prove that I am more than my thighs or my ass, or my face or my hair, dot dot dot, that it’s easier for me to say to hell with nudity in order to save myself from unnecessary confrontation. But the truth is, like Serena, I want to embrace my body and have the world think my curves are both luscious and magnificent without feeling like chattel.
I wish I could get to a point where I could see a naked Black woman and not want to hurry to cover her up out of fear of exploitation. But mostly, I wish men like Cummings could see that images like the ones on the now defunct KING did nothing good for women like me.i