I’m Not a Sensitive Black Female.

by Kiana, x-posted from Propertalks.

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

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19 thoughts on “I’m Not a Sensitive Black Female.

  1. Rachel October 13, 2009 at 11:32 am Reply

    My reaction was the same as yours, and I’d summarize the reason as this: Serena looks like she’s naked for her. The ladies on King look like they’re naked for some drooling, half-interested dude.

    • Kiana October 13, 2009 at 12:28 pm Reply

      So that’s what I was trying to say? LOL, I completely agree.

  2. keke October 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm Reply

    I feel you!!!

    When I saw the Serena cover, I was really pleased. I think she looks beautiful. That cover looks tasteful, Serena looks empowered and she looks like she is having a good time. The KING magazine covers were supposed to look sexy but as a black woman, I never felt celebrated. I felt objectified when I saw those mag covers. The women never looked whole to me, they just looked like the sum of their body parts.

    I read Jozen’s article. It provided a glimpse into the mindset of the KING mag crew. Maybe they really believed that they were celebrating the bodies of black women and that KING was a necessary voice/image in the mag world. I don’t agree with this, and I think the magazine objectified black women. I guess we need to hear more male points of view on this.

    • lsn October 13, 2009 at 5:29 pm Reply

      That cover looks tasteful, Serena looks empowered and she looks like she is having a good time.

      I agree. To me she actually looks like she’s got or about to get the giggles, which makes me think she was relaxed about the shoot.

  3. Grump October 13, 2009 at 1:03 pm Reply

    I’d count King’s Birthday suit covers as a celebration of Black Women’s Bodies.

  4. ladyfresh October 13, 2009 at 1:37 pm Reply

    There are nudes and then…there are nudes.

    It can be difficult to explain why some are ok and some aren’t.

    I wonder if the difference is also an appreciation of her figure head to toe as opposed to the parts that delineate her figure… T & A. Her facial expression also helps. Her body of work as an athlete, also helps. Jozen is walking a fine line also blurring it for his purposes which i’m not so sure would be the same as something i can appreciate.

    (Kiana i’m with you btw on the initial reaction to ‘hey look naked woman’ …zzzzz but yes i’ll separate this into the demi moore pregnancy nude section)

  5. Vanessa October 13, 2009 at 7:26 pm Reply

    I love the cover; she looks beautiful. The woman is a stunner. I’ve seen her in the flesh – she stands tall, with a beautiful complexion, great smile – I would be nekked on ESPN if I had a body like her! It’s sexy and exudes personality, making her a woman first, rather than simply an object. Great cover.

  6. Bourgie, JD October 13, 2009 at 10:30 pm Reply

    I saw that photo and made it my twitter avy for a couple of days. I saw that photo and wanted one of myself like that: happy, fit, uninhibited and beautiful.

    I used to look at King a lot because I wanted to see just what it was that men wanted to see. While I thought the women in King were beautiful (for the most part), I didn’t want to call one of my photog friends and see about arranging a shoot. Truthfully, I didn’t feel like Black women’s bodies were being celebrated. If anything, I felt less beautiful because I don’t have those out of this world ass-to-waist proportions King preferred to display.

    Besides, the ESPN cover is in context. They’re honoring the athlete’s body which is a reflection of hard work and a tool or instrument used to win games, break records and thrill crowds. I’d find a difference in Mya semi nude on the cover of King with her booty popped out vs. Mya semi nude in a dance publication for her dance training. Context.

  7. G.D. October 14, 2009 at 10:38 am Reply

    I guess what I find fascinating is the vague distinction y’all are drawing here — that King is objectification, but Serena on ESPN is not — because you find one of them tasteful. Can’t something be less cheesecakey and still be objectification?

    • keke October 14, 2009 at 1:02 pm Reply

      I suppose so. But there is a little more to the distinction than simply tasteful and objectification. Not to get too cheesy but the ESPN cover looks like a work of art to me. It looks like a celebration of the athlete’s body regardless of gender or race. Even though I don’t have a body like Serena’s I can applaud her hard work and I recognize that it is not easy to achieve or maintain her body type. Serena looks WHOLE, she looks confident, she looks like a real human being.

      The KING magazine covers on the other look hand make the women look detached from their bodies. In other words, if the woman has big breasts, than that is what is shoved in our faces, if she has a big butt and a small waist, that is thrown in front of the camera. There is no recognition of an actual person. Those covers look like a body parts thrown in front of the camera. Then to top it off the women tend to have a “come and get it look” on their faces. I assume that this is supposed to be sexy but it just further highlights the detachment of the woman from her body.

      To sum it up, I don’t think black women, have so much a problem with the nude body. It depends on how the body is positioned, the expression of the body that determines our response. Now their may be men and women who look at the cover and respond to it in a sexual manner, and that is just fine, she is sexy. But I think the cover may result in various responses

    • ladyfresh October 14, 2009 at 3:44 pm Reply

      I agree Serena on the cover of ESPN is still on that line. I still find it less objectionable the reasons to find it more objectionable because of her career and it’s current status aren’t there. I don’t feel this is a desperate move, a ploy for attention, the only reason she is admired (see: kournikova) and not a good athlete, her supposedly ‘main’ assets of attraction are not on prominent display and the reasons i mentioned before. It’s not simply nor solely about ‘taste’. No one is drawing the hard and fast line of it is not objectification. It is still on that spectrum but it is definitely not near the other end of the spectrum of King/Playboy/Penthouse style objectification. Maybe it’s the same line between sexuality and sensuality both appeal to baser instincts one is just subtler.

  8. steve October 14, 2009 at 2:25 pm Reply

    for the records… Adrian Peterson >>>>>> Dwight

  9. newcommenter October 14, 2009 at 9:32 pm Reply

    This is going to sound pretty bad and probably TMI, but it gets to the distinction between the ESPN and King covers. The King cover that’s posted here, the woman is obviously displaying herself for a (male) viewer and she looks really bored with it. She definitely does not look to be enjoying herself. When I first saw the King cover it immediately struck me as reminiscient of porn, cheap porn at that. The expression on the Keyshia’s face is almost exactly like what you would find on “actresses” in gonzo porn flicks. In Serena’s ESPN cover, she is on display (oddly enough less blatantly than the King cover even though she’s naked) but she looks to be really enjoying herself. Kind of like she’s revelling in looking good and feeling good about herself and the (male) viewer’s approval isn’t necessary for her enjoyment.

    • G.D. October 14, 2009 at 9:34 pm Reply

      Kind of like she’s revelling in looking good and feeling good about herself and the (male) viewer’s approval isn’t necessary for her enjoyment.

      So what’s important in this distinction between “tasteful/trashy” isn’t that the presumably male viewer is objectifying her, but that she appears to be indifferent to it?

      • belleisa October 15, 2009 at 9:14 am Reply

        You seem to be nitpicking.

        If we remove gender from the conversation, although it is a huge part of the conversation, there are differences between sexual people/images which express these things form the core out of a love of self and appreciation of their bodies and people/images which express those things for the sole purposes of objectification.

        King, and I’ve never read an article because I couldn’t get pass the T&A on the cover, editors may have believed that they were celebrating the black female body, but they were doing so exclusively through the lens of male fantasy.

        And I don’t believe that the difference is between the “tasteful/trashy” is that “she appears to be indifferent to it,” but rather that the presumably male of female viewer isn’t even in the equation.

        I will acknowledge that ESPN mag probably had sex in mind and that if King mag had the status of Vogue this might be a different conversation because presentation matters and also who’s doing the presenting matters.

        • G.D. October 15, 2009 at 9:30 am Reply

          Nitpicking? Come on. Y’all are making this distinction here, so y’all need to explain what you mean.

          and this doesn’t make any sense:

          And I don’t believe that the difference is between the “tasteful/trashy” is that “she appears to be indifferent to it,” but rather that the presumably male of female viewer isn’t even in the equation.

          In her photo, Serena may look like it’s not about the people looking at the picture. But in either instance, the person on the cover of ESPN/KING posed for a picture in a national magazine knowing there would be hundreds of thousands of people who would see it.

          I should say here that I think Jozen’s argument here is weak sauce (but I tend to think that the mere fact that Jozen holds a given position is reason to question its merits). But while KING was pretty damn misogynistic, it doesn’t follow that the Serena ESPN cover isn’t about objectification simply because it’s not KING or that she’s smiling or that her body is somehow more essential to her work than, say, Bria Myles’s is to hers.

          • belleisa October 15, 2009 at 11:47 am Reply

            I never thought you agreed with Jozen’s article.

            My typos aside, I think what I said makes fine sense. While I acknowledge, that the aim of ESPN/KING is still the same, sell magazines using the human body in seductive poses, but when I think about nudity and what I believe to be healthy expressions/images of bodies and sex, I think about pictures like Serena’s not like the ladies in KING.

            And yeah the person on the cover poses knowing that thousands will have access to the photos, but the presentation, the tone, and the intent are all elements, however malleable, which help indicate to me what is trashy and what is tasteful.

          • ladyfresh October 15, 2009 at 2:25 pm Reply

            it doesn’t follow that the Serena ESPN cover isn’t about objectification

            G.D. – who said it isn’t?

  10. t.o.a n October 15, 2009 at 9:01 am Reply

    After trying to understand exactly what objectification is (You all may be much more familiar with this than I, so excuse me if this is simplistic.) I can across a definition that included the following: the thing is treated as a tool for one’s own purposes; the thing is treated as if interchangeable.

    When I look at the King magazine covers and a look at the ESPN the most striking difference to me is the absence of personality in the King covers. If I were to crop each photo and just include the face in each shot it is clear to me that the only photo where I get a glimpse of that persons personality and therefore something to start to imagine who this person is would be Serina and though the other women are famous I have never seen them look this devoid of personality and emotion in any other picture I have seen of them. In that way the faces, and for me some form of personality, of the women in the King magazine become interchangeable and I have to focus my attention elsewhere on the photo.

    The second thing is, even though Serena has less clothes on (meaning none), than any of the other women on the King covers I am forced to focus on her face and therefore I cannot separate her from her body. However, for the women on the King covers, because I am unable to focus on her face I most focus on the most prominent and decorated body part. For Keisha Cole that body part would be her breast as it is decorated, including the black contrasted with the white body suite and white background, as a matter of fact the only other thing that is black on the cover is the word “KING”, my eyes are purposely drawn to it in the picture. Therefore, she becomes a body part and I can see how that would make her, in this picture, a tool for someone else’s purpose.

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