Grotesque bodies redux

Last year I wrote a post about Miley Cyrus’ use of the trope of large black female buttocks  in her stage performances and the way it referenced earlier images of the “Female Hottentot” in deeply problematic ways. Because it seems we have learned nothing, we again have another white female unknowingly invoking this trope in the interest of furthering her own image of fashion and transgression. I write of course about Kim Kardashian’s latest hijinks in Paper magazine. Because others have written about this, I will simply share their thoughts, which are pretty much my own.

“Kim Kardashian doesn’t realize she’s the butt of an old racial joke” —  http://thegrio.com/2014/11/12/kim-kardashian-butt/

“The Big Problem With Kim Kardashian’s Butt Photos Nobody Is Talking About” — http://mic.com/articles/104188/the-big-problem-with-kim-kardashian-s-photos-nobody-is-talking-about

When I saw Kardashian’s cover, I immediately thought of Saartjie Baartman, and the inspiration photograph made her participation in this egregious history perfectly clear. This time, however, commentary about the historical association actually bubbled up into the mainstream media.  I wonder why? Is it because Kardashian, married to Kanye West, is some kind of racial surrogate? Even then, her image still reinscribes her whiteness, given the salient differences between her clothed (in a shiny black dress no less) image juxtaposed with the original photograph of a nude black woman.

Kim Kardashian and the original inspiration, both by Jean-Paul Goude.
Kim Kardashian and the original inspiration, both by Jean-Paul Goude.

It still reminds me of this:

19th century fashion mirrors the grotesque: "The Grecian Bend," 1868.
19th century fashion mirrors the grotesque: “The Grecian Bend,” 1868.