Fem2pt0: “Her Body, Her Choice: Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda”

Nicki Minaj Anaconda

Her Body, Her Choice: Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”

 

Unsurprisingly the revelation of the cover artwork for Nicki Minaj’s upcoming single “Anaconda” was met with shock, debate, and criticism. The picture itself is relatively simple: it features Nicki Minaj crouched down looking over her shoulder. She just happens to be wearing a thong that shows her enviable cheeks. But it’s not as though our culture isn’t already heavily saturated with images people’s rear ends. In fact it’s at the point where white people like Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and Jen Selter have insinuated an ownership over a ‘trend’, without acknowledging that their cultural appropriation reflects a very specific type of oppression. People of colour have been aggressively categorized as Other in a multitude of ways for centuries, and having body types that differ from idealized white bodies continues to be a massive part of that. So what is this really about? Exploitation? Her race? The fact that she’s doing it herself for her own single? All of the above.

One of the most visible reactions is concern over a perceived exploitation. It’s easy for people to distance themselves from her lived experiences by questioning whether or not she’s crossed a line, or talking about how it’s all part of the act to sell records. It is true that her career has involved personas, sexy Instagram photos, and boundary pushing lyrics. Yet that doesn’t mean Nicki Minaj isn’t an authentic part of Onika Maraj. While there’s no way for anyone to know her motivations, it’s outright sexist for critics to ignore her agency. The worry people express over Minaj neglects the possibility that a woman is capable of showing her body for her own pleasure and enjoyment. Even when she is given the benefit of the doubt, her actions are analyzed with skepticism and hesitancy. This continues to occur despite the fact that Minaj has demonstrated awareness of gender in the music industry. Nearly as soon as the gossip popped up she shut it down.

And her response can’t be overlooked. On her Instagram she shared photos of various magazine covers and photoshoots that featured thin white women in thongs. Not only she is highlighting the hypocrisy of what is ‘acceptable’, she’s giving plain evidence of the racial politics that determine which bodies are appropriate and which ones are too much. Minaj is asserting her own confidence and sexuality, but she’s also speaking to other women. With one photograph she is promoting the beauty and power of her black body and demanding respect.

When controversies like this arise I always think of Missy Elliot’s song “Work It”. I listened to Under Construction countless times as a teenager, and without realizing it Miss became a role model for me. The specific line that comes to mind is “Ain’t no shame ladies do your thang / Just make sure you’re ahead of the game”. We all live in a system that constantly subjugates women in more ways than we can count. Society is dominated by the omnipresent ‘Madonna-Whore’ complex that criticizes women for being too slutty one minute and too prudish the next. We just can’t win. As a result there’s always going to be a negotiation between conforming to the norms and rebelling against them. What that looks like for each individual person varies; we all have different paths to empowerment. Nicki Minaj is working the system and enjoying it.

This also speaks to me on a personal level. As a curvy woman of colour I have been treated differently than my white friends for my body. Even the ones who are curvier than I am. Even if we’re wearing the same types of clothes. Since I was a teenager and people realized that I have a sizeable booty, and even more so when my upper half caught up in adulthood, I have been made uncomfortably aware of my distinct appearance. The behaviour I’ve encountered has had a noticeable and sometimes even overt racialized connotation. But like Minaj (and as I’ve written about before), I’m happy to express myself by showing some skin. This summer I’ve been most at home in crop tops and high waist shorts or tank tops and short skirts. I don’t believe I should have to change the way I dress to make other people more comfortable, and I certainly can’t do anything about the how my body looks in the clothes I like. I’m not the problem in this scenario, and neither is Minaj. Seeing powerful women like her stand up for the way they choose to represent themselves is necessary and inspiring. Even more so because the bodies of women of colour are being erased as much (if not more) as they’re being embraced.

People tend to applaud actors for refraining from nude scenes in film, or talk about the ‘elegance’ that comes from a more conservative style. The implication here is that some bodies are wrong, and that there is a ‘right’ way to share and dress them. When we praise some women for their choices and shame others for doing the opposite, we are failing all women.

Update:

My article was quoted in a ThinkProgress piece! I love that site so this is a big deal to me.

Fem2pt0: Iggy Azalea is Empowered at the Cost of Others

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Iggy Azalea is Empowered at the Cost of Others

The first time I heard the term ‘enlightened sexism’ something clicked. There were depictions of ‘empowerment’ (some self-proclaimed, some labelled by others) out there that didn’t quite sit right with me. I’m always hesitant to call something empowering or argue that it isn’t when other people claim the opposite, because what we take from the media and culture we consume is entirely subjective. My favourite example is Sex and the City. There is so much justifiable and absolutely correct criticism of the problematic content in that series. But watching it as an elementary and then junior high aged girl (my grandmother trusted me to watch what I wanted and think critically about it) was incredibly empowering for me. I’d go so far as to say that it was an integral part of my developing feminism, and helped me to see that my blossoming sexuality was okay. For all the problematic things in that series, there were a lot of really positive elements as well. But today I’m not so concerned with Sex and the City as I am with Iggy Azalea’s increasing fame.

I first discovered Iggy Azalea back in 2012 when I was searching for Azealia Banks on Youtube. It wasn’t love at first sight, but I was intrigued by the song “Pu$$y” and loved to hear a song about female pleasure. At some point I went from liking but not really caring about Azalea to following her on Twitter and Instagram and memorizing the lyrics to a lot of her songs. It was once she was upgraded to minor obsession that I started to see the problems.

In one of her early songs, “D.R.U.G.S.”, she calls herself a “runaway slave—master”. Azalea was rightly called out on her thoughtless behaviour, and released a public apology acknowledging “it was a tacky and careless thing to say”. Since then she released a video for the single “Bounce”, which features the shameless appropriation of Indian culture and uses Indian people more or less as props. It’s absolutely appalling, more so because there has been no acknowledgement on her part about how insulting this is. It was not so long ago India was under British control. Azalea takes for granted the fact she is a white woman taking part in an industry built upon a tumultuous history on black politics and culture. She forgets that hip hop grew out of the marginalization of people of colour, and consequently disrespects it.

Unfortunately her foot-in-mouth doesn’t end there. While Azalea personally has been the victim of gendered discrimination, she also perpetuates it. A few days before Halloween she posted a photo on Instagram of someone dressed up a Frida Kahlo with the hashtags #DontJustGetYourPussyOutBecauseItsHalloween, and #iHateHalloweenWhores. This was shortly after a rant on Twitter about a ‘slutty’ Mario costume. I don’t think Azalea realizes that dressing up on Halloween is not drastically different from what she does on stage or in her videos.

By the time the video for “Change Your Life” came out, all I could offer was skepticism. The raw sexuality I once praised began to seem more manufactured, and contradictory to the opinions she was putting out there. Shortly after its release Azalea got #fashiontits trending on Twitter in defence of the nudity in her video, and to show that women should “still feel good” about having small breasts. I wanted to view this as a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough to advocate for the empowerment of some when she feels like it, and then cutting down others when she doesn’t.

Performance art is about creating an image, and so are Halloween costumes. The only difference is that Azalea lives her image. She has the luxury of dressing however she wants every day and defending it as a form of personal and artistic expression. But the reality for the rest of women is our clothing choices are policed 24/7. I always seize the opportunity to wear a ‘slutty’ Halloween costume because it is the only time of year it is socially acceptable for me to liberate myself in this way. While people use the saying “less is more” to instill guilt over modesty in women, I like to subvert it on a personal level to mean less clothing is more comfortable. Azalea does not get the monopoly on revealing clothing, and she does not have the right to dictate what other people’s Halloween costumes mean. The blatant demonstration of internalized sexism and the total lack of awareness surrounding it is cringe-worthy to say the least.

Being a young woman in a genre frequently criticized for misogyny is not an excuse to get away with saying whatever you want. Even more so when there are other rappers out there like Angel Haze and Mykki Blanco challenging the norm and the status quo. It’s not enough to say you’re doing things differently, you have to actually be original. Recycling the same oppressive views is nothing new, nor is it even remotely interesting. Iggy Azalea generated a lot of interest from critics and fans alike with a song like “Pu$$y”. She’s at her best when she’s unapologetic about her sexuality or her come up, not when she’s defending her mindless racism or ‘whorephobia’.

I have to be honest, I’m still going to get The New Classic when it finally comes out. I really enjoy a lot of her music, even though I take issue with a lot of her actions. There are a lot of problematic things in pop culture that contradict my political beliefs but I still enjoy despite myself. That’s something I think most people can relate to. I don’t have answers for how to reconcile that. I can’t change my taste, it’s not as though that’s something we choose. But I do make an effort to be critical about the media I take in, and I don’t plan on letting an artist off the hook just because I like them. You can be a fan without following blindly.

Iggy, as a rising female star in hip hop your voice is gaining lots of power. I hope you consider the criticism you’re getting and learn to do better. If not for yourself, for all the fans you disrespect and hurt every time you say something thoughtless.