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
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
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
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.