According to the male gaze, the ideal woman is lascivious by nature, curvaceous by figure, busty, alluring yet detached, seductive yet professional. This is the Jezebel. She is a sexualized portrayal of a Black woman who has been defined by her opposition to the white woman’s portrayal of modesty and sexual purity. The overt sexualization and dehumanization of Black women via the Jezebel stereotype has directly correlated to the appropriation of the Black woman’s figure.
Recently, Instagram models have been making tens of thousands of dollars per post with their Coke bottle-shaped bodies. They sell everything from fit teas that can lead to explosive diarrhea to waist trainers that move your organs around for that perfect tiny waist, all to imitate the Black female form. There has even been an increase in models and celebrities, such as Ariana Grande and Addison Rae, being called out for blackfishing, a term which Wanna Thompson coined as “the phenomenon of non-Black influencers and public figures using bronzer, tanning, Photoshop, or even cosmetic surgery to change their looks to appear Black or mixed race.”
This imitation of the Black female form is not new. This commodification can be traced back to the kidnapping of a South African Khoisan woman named Sarah Baartman in 1814. She was captured by Europeans and displayed in a freak show due to the objectification of her buttocks. At the same time in Europe, the padding of one’s backside came into fashion in the 1820s and the trend only became more excessive as the years went on. This padding was meant to draw attention to a woman’s rear and the swish of her hips but while Europeans came up with a new fashion trend Baartman suffered. After years of being commodified and ogled at across Paris, upon her death in 1816, there was a cast made of Baartman’s body, and her brain and genitals were pickled and then put on display in museums. She was not laid to rest until May of 2002 in Cape Town, South Africa.
However, the imitation of the Black female form in the 1800s, or even in the 2000s, is not the main issue. It is the violence and erasure that follow this objectification and imitation. Yet, there is no humiliation or violence directed at those who mimicked the Black form, like the Kardashians. They are seen as icons, while Black girls are bullied, assaulted and killed for having the exact same attributes.
The hyper-sexualization of the Black female body leads to violence while the commodification of her body allows for her plight to be ignored. Sexual violence against Black women occurs at exceptionally high rates, and more than 20 percent of Black women will experience rape during their lifetimes — a higher percentage than woman overall. The Jezebel stereotype was created in order to rationalize the sexual assault of African slaves. This has led to the belief that everyone is entitled to Black women’s bodies — to imitate, to take by force or to hold hostage. Black women are going to continue to be battered until society allows them to own themselves.