Monday, September 29, 2008

Thick Women Rock: Venus & Serena Williams and Jennifer Hudson

TwitThis


In pop culture, music, television and Hollywood, the standard size for
a woman is size 4 and 130 pounds, max.
Venus, Serena and Jennifer
defy this norm. They are brown skinned Black women
who are not
size four's and they do not have blond hair. These women aren't
Beyonce, Halle or Rhianna.

Venus and Serena's position in the American hierarchy of beauty
is a little different from Jennifer as they are athletes, and thus are
subjected to these ridiculous claims that they look like men.

Historically, one of the myths used to justify enslaving Black women
is that we were just like the men, so it was reasonable for us to work
in the fields along side them. Being like men, it was okay for us
to pick cotton in 100 degrees sun up to sun down, because it didn't
bother us.

The myth of Black femininity is why the questioning of Michelle
Obama's
femininity wasn't just about Michelle Obama but also about
the history of Black women. We run the risk of being called masculine
if we refuse to be objects and express our opinions or respond
when we are attacked. The idea is that if Black women have have an opinion
and the courage to express it, they have to prepared to have their femininity
card revoked.

Frequently, in pop culture books on relationships state that
one of the reasons why Black men have a hard time dating us,
is because we are "super women", "who don't need a man",
"we talk to much"and consequently are not feminine. In our
culture femininity equals motherhood, but, motherhood isn't
considered work and in addition to working as mothers most of
us have always worked outside the home.
It is clear that we are on the wrong side of the equation in this
femininity algebra problem. Which leaves the question, where
does our femininity come from? My answer is that we define it
for ourselves
.

Questioning our femininity runs long deep. As a result
Venus and Serena are arguably symbols of the myths, albeit
unnamed, that we continue to battle in order to have the right
to be perceived as humans who should be quiet and be pretty.

I have always supported the notion of women playing sports,
especially for young women as it has a tendency to teach you that
your body isn't just something can be sexual, but that it
can be strong and resilient but also fragile and hurt as well.

Which brings me to Jennifer Hudson. While Jennifer's
issue isn't being called masculine per se, she trying to negotiate
her place in an industry that typically writes off women
who look the way that she does. An article in the Sunday
New York Times spoke at length about her career, how down to earth
she was and I kept waiting to hear about how the way she looks
impacts her career. While the article didn't discuss that, it did
discuss the angst around her cross over potential.

It seems that Clive is trying to figure out how to make a Jennifer Hudson
cross over album. She is in an interesting position. She doesn't look
like other R & B stars, she has been in movies
she has won an Oscar,
but as never had platinum album. Based on the article, I am unsure
whether she or Clive knows who her base audience is. It appears that
they are trying to both appeal to the Dream Girls audience and the Sex
and the City audience. In the article Jennifer states,

“I can’t just put out an R&B song and expect that to go over for everyone,” she said. “I can’t do that with a pop song either. On the album there’s a hip-hop song, a gospel-inspirational song for my church base, and then we have to have the big ballads for fans through ‘Dreamgirls’ or ‘Idol.’ And of course I’m black, so we have to have music for African-American people, which is more on the R&B end. It’s a huge fan base, and that was the scariest part, which is where the pressure came in.”
This is interesting as Black music that can cross over has suffered a
variety of fates. If the music is all over the place Black folks may not
buy it. If it is pop, she may develope a wider white base but leave her
leave her Black fans behind.

I am rooting for her. I want her to win. Like Venus and Serena, they
are thick Black women who don't look like the dominant images
of beauty that we are presented with on a daily basis. Because of this,
their successes and struggles symbolize an attempt to create a
a wider definition of beauty and at the end of the day, this is
healthy for all of us.

14 comments:

Vee (Scratch) said...

Who said Venus was thick?
Venus and Serena doesn't have blonde hair? Since when? I recall Serena going blonde. :-)

It's sad that artist still try to craft, calculate and create a CD particularly to reach a wide audience. Fortunately there are some artist that just record songs that feels special to them.

I like Jennifer Hudson's voice. She needs to let the label executives worry about making her record a crossover hit. If anything else, the crossover audience knows where to tune in to listen to "black" music. Besides BET is not difficult to find. Black folks are probably not the biggest consumers of black culture, history, etc.

Last note, I've heard white men utter those same grievances about American women. "super women", "who don't need a man", "we talk to much"and consequently are not feminine." The dialogue and complaints between the genders is truly . . . something else.

Model Minority said...

Venus and Serena doesn't have blonde hair? Since when? I recall Serena going blonde. :-)
=====
Your a dork.

It's sad that artist still try to craft, calculate and create a CD particularly to reach a wide audience
=====
Its not sad, its capitalism.

Last note, I've heard white men utter those same grievances about American women. "super women", "who don't need a man", "we talk to much"and consequently are not feminine.
=======
By american women, I would imagine you mean White women or other women that are not black.
The distinction however, is that our history as Black women here, as the free laborer's who produced more free laborer's shapes the myth in a different way.

Penni Brown said...

i think we as black women need to stop embracing the super woman and i don't need a man myth. yeah, men put that tag on us and its not fair, but alot of us wear that tag as a badge of honor and then say that men are 'intimidated' by our 'strength'. we need to give ourselves permission to be fallible. i know the armor is a defense mechanism but, its 'protecting' us right out of our rightful place in society.

Model Minority said...

Being placed on a pedestal, any pedestal is problematic.

I am working on an essay for my book called Chickenheads, Queens and Bitches.

None of us are any of these. They are terms used to keep us "in our place". There is no sisterhood in me enjoying a dude call ME A QUEEN be Keswhanna down the street is a Chicken.

In many ways it constitutes a Hierarchy of Black womanhood.

Thank you for your comment. You really have me thinking.

Penni Brown said...

i look forward to reading the essay.

i agree with what your saying about any pedestal being a problem. i'm just as annoyed when random people call me queen as when i hear groups of girlfriends calling each other bitches.

while queen may have a more positive connotation, that leaves me no room to be 'normal' and balanced. and i just don't get down with using the 'b' word. to me, that's just not cool.

oh and about the thick girls...i wonder would their feminity be questioned if they were lighter? or, now that i think about it, there really aren't any big light skinned girls in the public eye. so, maybe, in some weird way, they fit the casting. it's harder for someone tiny and brown, like kelly rowland, to get some shine in america. b/c she doesn't fit the mold.

the bigger chocolate girls, fit the stereotype. unfortunately for them, that mold doesn't allow them to be considered pretty, or feminine.

Model Minority said...

it's harder for someone tiny and brown, like kelly rowland, to get some shine in america. b/c she doesn't fit the mold.
=======
Don't get me started about Kelly. She just got C's/D's...me thinks. I always liked the fact that she wasn't "The stereotype" and was grinding it out. Its a hard knock life.

Speaking of being thick and light. Faith had a tummy tuck after her first baby....she made it clear that she had to "keep it tight" while promoting her album and she implied that Bad Boy hated on her going to the Soul Train awards because she was pregnant at the time.

So....yeah...butterscotch, chocolate, butter pecan, coffee....Thick ladies gets little love... or have to work much harder to get and sustain it.

the bigger chocolate girls, fit the stereotype. unfortunately for them, that mold doesn't allow them to be considered pretty, or feminine.
======
Who you tellin'?

Vee (Scratch) said...

Did you ever check out Chickenheads Coming Home to Roost by Joan Morgan, its a cool book.

Model Minority said...

My essay "Queens, Chickenheads and Bitches" is a response to the essay "Chickenhead Envy" and her book in general more or less.

I have read it.
She along with many other people, inspired me.

Aunt Jackie said...

having worked on I.d.o.l. and heard allot of the inside scoops on ms hudson I can say this...she was not in her element on the show, they tried to "dumb her down" for lack of a better word, take that "church" out of her and polish her up for Prime Time. It wasn't the most positive experience for her...but yet she turned around and won an Oscar for that very thing they tried to take out of her.

My bone of contention is that she tried to come out with a Diana Ross type album in 2008. Clive has had some issues with former I.d.o.l.s. which makes me wonder if the folks he has on the pay roll doing the writing aren't still attuned to the listening audience?

And if we're gonna talk about thick and brown what about Jill Scott who holds it down for the chunky but funky?

z.bediako said...

I loved Venus and Serena when they first started playing tennis with those beautiful beads adorned on their natural crowns. I loved to hear them grunt & bring their A game on those green courts meant for white Keds fitted by pale pink feet. Their style changed of course as they grew older. Colorful beads, the quintessential - black girl accessory - were eventually traded for weave. Which, has also in a way become almost like a rite of passage for many Black girls. Yes... they wore blond weave (that I didn't find to flattering)... but hey -- what do you expect from women who aren't removed from the constant barrage of white beauty standards being shoved down their throats. Just imagine being Venus and Serena in a sport that is mostly populated by white girls. White girls whose beauty is praised!
And more importantly, rewarded.


But anyway -- they have grown to be confident, thick, muscular, fit beautiful women.

But I do think that their femininity has been called into question many a times. Which I find problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, I understand Femininity is a gender. I believe that gender is socially constructed ergo a lack of "femininity" does not equal being less of a female/woman. But how femininity is defined is problematic in my book, too. Especially as it is measured for Black women. Am I not being feminine when I assert myself in a conversation? Am I not being feminine when I choose to wear looser jeans? And what does femininity even mean? Is it suppose to be the natural behavior of women or the taught behavior? I was told I needed to cross my legs when I sat down. I was taught that shaving my legs was lady like. Enculturation is so amazing! I especially love how it changes from different groups. It highlights the flaws. For example... a white girl may be taught that her silence will be rewarded while a Black mother by tell her little girl that she better speak up if she wants to be heard.
Which one is right? All of things things are shaped by a power structure that needs to constantly be called into question & criticized.

I think its awesome that you suggest that we define it ourselves. I totally agree with you on that. Thats why I love Patricia Hill Collins who encouraged creating and constructed her own paradigm to study black women by using 'black feminist thought' that already existed and that has been systematically ignored and unvalued until whites they chose to place value on it. (Their eyes were watching God)

Michelle Wallace's Black Macho The Myth of the Superwoman is an excellent source to reference when talking about black women who are "too aggressive". I am so tired of hearing about this... this myth has already been deconstructed by so many Black authors that I don't even know why it is still up for debate.

And as far as Jennifer Hudson is concerned.... the music industry is a joke right now. If I had the best voice in the world I wouldn't want to be famous. I was having this conversation with a friend of mine the other day.... they don't know WHAT to do with Jasmine Sullvan, Jenniffer Hudson or Chrisette Michelle. They have amazing voices but they just don't fit. They can only go so far right now.... I think Badu puts it best here :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92GM851j20k&feature=related

Dart Adams said...

What up, M. Dot? I just concluded my blog series entitled "The Official Handbook To The Bloggerverse" where I did a counterpart/equivalent blog comparing blogs themselves or bloggers to characters in the Marvel Universe. In the end I included almost 90 blogs including some of your favorites (and yours!) in 4 parts. Check it out here:

http://poisonousparagraphs.blogspot.com/2008/09/dart-adams-presents-livications.html
http://poisonousparagraphs.blogspot.com/2008/09/dart-adams-presents-official-marvel.html
http://poisonousparagraphs.blogspot.com/2008/10/dart-adams-presents-official-marvel.html
http://poisonousparagraphs.blogspot.com/2008/10/dart-adams-presents-official-marvel_02.html

One.

Model Minority said...

Thats hella funny dude.

I have a draft of a piece that I am working on right now called, "History of Hip Hop Blogs".

Great minds....

Faith said...

Hmm well Venus has a slender frame. It's Serena who gets the bulk of the mannish defamation, but she lost a lot of weight in the past 2 years. They're 'handsome' women and when they get styled well their beauty really shines through.

Jennifer is hardly ever referred to as beautiful - though she is. It's interesting because she is actually smaller than Queen Latifah but Queen has the cosmetics contract. And Queen hasn't really been referred to as looking mannish (but acting mannish - yes).

Jennifer got 'lucky' in that she managed to have success despite being dismissed initially. I can't help but think of my own Hollywood ambitions 10 years ago and NOT getting the kinds of opportunities she's had. Timing truly is everything.

M.Dot. said...

They're 'handsome' women and when they get styled well their beauty really shines through.
=======
Still doesn't subvert the fact that Thick and Brown does not equal pretty in Mainstream culture.

It's interesting because she is actually smaller than Queen Latifah but Queen has the cosmetics contract.
======
Latifah is lighter and is not an athlete. She also makes a TON of money for Hollywood. What I want is for Latifah to STAR and F.Ck in a movie. Let her/us be a DAMN human. Then they will be doing something. Until then, all that singing shit can kiss my ass.


Jennifer got 'lucky' in that she managed to have success despite being dismissed initially.
=======
Luck and God.

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