From Boobs to Buttocks

Take a magazine, you know, like Life, Vogue, Paris Match, Elle, from the 1950s and look at the first photo of the star of the day, it will have been taken from the front giving all the importance to the lady's breasts. Take these same magazines half a century later and look at the photos from the beginning of the 50st century, unlike the photo from the XNUMXs, the photo of the star of the day will have been taken in three-quarters, giving all its importance to the curves of the lady, especially those of her buttocks.

Believe me, getting there was a long road! Giving any importance whatsoever to Madame's buttocks, leaving the obsessive presence of her breasts was not an easy task.

There was a heavy past known as slavery and colonialism.

Unlike the Caucasian populations where the slender silhouette predominates, among the African and Afro-descendant populations it is rather the curved silhouettes that predominate without being general. Think of the Fulani, the Maasai for example. Still, with slavery, colonialism and the racism that underpins them, generous curves and in particular a large buttocks were one of the criteria defining the black race, one of the signs of its inferiority. Slavery had to be justified. This was done by Pope Nicolas V then his successors, Callixtus III then Sixtus IV.

At this point in my boobs and butt story I would like to tell you about Sarah Baartman. Her name means nothing to you, but if I say "The Hottentot Venus", it may mean something to you! Still, I would like to talk to you about Sarah Baartman. For me, his story is the most exemplary and symptomatic and best illustrates the drifts that inevitably lead to violence, oppression and slavery, and all that through a story of buttocks.

Sarah Baartman was born in 1789 in South Africa in the Eastern Cape Province. From her early childhood, with her six brothers and sisters, she was placed in slavery on a ranch. This is where it becomes Sarah Baartman, named after its first owner. In 1810, a friend of the rancher, Dr Dunlop, surgeon at the Cape Slave Fort, seeing Sarah Baartman's buttocks thought there was money to be made by displaying her body to the curiosity of Londoners . He convinces the owner of Sarah Baartman to partner with him in this business. At that time Sarah Baartman was 21 years old, she had already given birth to two children, both of whom died during their tender childhood.

In 1810, she was taken to London in the company of her owner, Doctor Dunlop and two young slaves, handymen. The business flourished and the two men with their fairground animal and their two slaves lived in Duke Street, St James, at the time the classiest and most expensive street in London. It was at this time in London that Sarah Baartman became known as "The Hottentot Venus". She is presented as the missing link between "the beast and the man" just that! From now on, the big buttocks are associated with the black woman, one of the characteristics proving the inferiority of the black race compared to the white race, the proof that the black race is indeed an intermediate species between Homo sapiens and the other Homonines.

Four years after her arrival in London, and after having enriched Doctor Dunlop and her owner, in 1814, Sarah Baartman was sold to a certain Jean Riaux, a French animal tamer, who took her to France and showed her in the fairs. She was literally treated like a fairground animal and died a year later, in 1815. She was 25 years old.

But this does not mean that the exemplary story of Sarah Baartman stops there, far from it! Imagine that during his short stay in Paris one of our great scholars, still as illustrious today as yesterday, I mean Georges Cuvier, knew Sarah Baartman. It is precisely following observations, among others, on Sarah Baartman that Georges Cuvier writes:

“The Negro race is confined to the south of the Atlas, his complexion is black, his hair frizzy, his skull compressed and his nose crushed; its protruding muzzle and its thick lips clearly bring it closer to monkeys: the tribes that compose it have always remained barbarians »

And it is in the name of science that Georges Cuvier will have the power, after his death, to appropriate the body of Sarah Baartman. Once again it changed owners. This body that Georges Cuvier had already examined and measured, always in the name of science from every angle during his lifetime, he will now be able to legally dismember it. In the name of this "science" whose conclusions are summarized for us with all their precision and clarity in the quotation above from the work of Georges Cuvier entitled Le Règne Animal dating from 1817.

The work will be done. Georges Cuvier will scientifically and meticulously dismember the body of Sarah Baartman. He will keep and preserve three parts, namely: the brain, the genitals and the skeleton. Following this scientific dismemberment, Georges Cuvier gave a lecture to the National Academy of Medicine in Paris entitled: "Observations on the corpse of a woman known in Paris under the name of Venus Hottentote".

These three organs of Sarah Baartman: the brain, the genitals and the skeleton will be kept at the Natural History Museum from 1817 to 1878, the year in which Sarah Baartman's skeleton is transferred to the brand new Museum of Ethnography at Trocadéro. In 1937 the skeleton landed at the Musée de l'Homme in the same Trocadero. But the story does not end there.

In 1994, for the first time in South Africa, blacks, who represent more than 80% of the population, had the right to vote. This is Nelson Mandela's Republic of South Africa. Sarah Baartman becomes a national cause and South Africa wants her remains returned to their land of origin and given the honors that were denied her but are their due. In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president. He officially asks France on behalf of the Republic of South Africa to return the remains of Sarah Baartman. France took eight years to accede to the request and in 2002 the remains of Sarah Baartman were repatriated to her native valley of Gamtoos.

Why did I want to share what I learned about Sarah Baartman? Because I find that his short life illustrates once again that reality can surpass fiction. Imagine what this person has experienced during her 25 years of existence, this woman from a culture where the presence of ancestors is daily and where we owe them respect; this woman whose body, during her lifetime as after her death, suffered the worst outrages!

On the other hand, I had to share this story of Sarah Baartman because she is an essential link in what precisely connects the breasts to the buttocks, and that is what we are talking about today. The way the West has conceived, imagined and experienced its relationship to the buttocks, the female buttocks of course, has been deeply influenced by slavery, colonialism and Sarah Baartman.

Remember Doctor Dunlop, the surgeon at the Cape Slave Fort. In addition to his official position as a servant of Her Gracious Majesty, when he first meets Sarah Baartman, he has an unofficial position that is more lucrative than his official position as a civil servant: he is a dealer in exotic animals. He ships them mainly to England but also to other European countries. In addition, Dunlop knows the buttocks of African women, he sees hundreds of them when he inspects the Fort of Slaves in the Cape. But those of Sarah Baartman are something else! He is a connoisseur and he knows the market.

For Dunlop it is clear: Sarah Baartman is a gold mine! Imagine, not only is he ready to resign from his administrative position and leave for England, but he also manages to poach Hendrik Cesars, the new owner of Sarah Baartman, and convinces him to leave with him. In 1810, the two men and their cargo embarked for London.

Dunlop knew that big butts in England were both objects of repulsion and attraction. Isn't this the characteristic of what is precisely any object of fair? Doctor Dunlop was his job, supplying England with fairground animals. Until then he was in: lions, giraffes, rhinos, pythons and other boas, monkeys of all kinds, you know the kind! Fascination and repulsion guaranteed! But there, with Sarah Baartman, he went to a higher level. She was a fairground item, yes, but on another level. Sarah Baartman was not going to be exhibited under fairground tents, but on Duke Street, in St James, in the salons, the most exclusive salons of the British nobility in exercise. Doctor Dunlop and Cesars leave South Africa to make their fortune.

A lion is not bad, a tiger why not! But in a salon of the powerful and rich English nobility, Sarah Baartman and her buttocks are something else.

On the one hand, Sarah Baartman was black and enslaved and everything she was characterized by, especially the prominence of her buttocks, was living proof that she was a specimen of that missing link between animal and human. . For nothing in the world in 1810 would a good chic good kind Londoner have wanted to look like Sarah Baartman and even less like her buttocks. So there is this enormous revulsion in the face of Sarah Baartman's buttocks.

But on the other hand, the elegant and distinguished gentlemen of the London nobility do not remain insensitive and indifferent to the erotic charge of Sarah Baartman's prominent buttocks. What is the noble white Londoner who, somewhere, did not envy his cousin owner of sugar plantations in Jamaica who can copulate whenever he wants with the slave of his choice? And all the more so when one remembers that if, following this copulation, there has been fertilization, it is all to the benefit of the gentleman. He was the legitimate owner of the product of this copulation. Is there a more intoxicating and enticing alliance between business and pleasure?

This is why, for the London nobility of 1810, to see Sarah Baartman live in a living room in the most well-meaning way brings such a feeling of repulsion but also, just as powerfully, a feeling of attraction. Torn between these two extremes, it happened that the spectator lost the north, a state of great enjoyment.

Soon, London high society was all about the buttocks of "The Hottentot Venus", as Sarah Baartman was now called. To have seen and examined it was in good time. So much so that there were not only the nobility in these salons. The artists rushed up and painted him the portrait in all colors. It was the visual of the time, no photography and even less screen, but paintings, lithographs, caricatures…. At the same time as the artists, the scholars approached it, examined it, measured it. As a result, in London, England and beyond, few were those who did not see, look at, or examine the portrait of Sarah Baartman. Each at his own level experienced his tension between repulsion and attraction. And today, this tension is still present. The buttocks were the buzz and since then they have never stopped doing it! And if there is one person who marked and continues to mark this story of buttocks, it is Sarah Baartman.

Today this story of buttocks is played out again and again, and as in the past, between Africans from here and elsewhere and Caucasians from here and elsewhere. Until the 2010s, having shapes and buttocks, in the mainstream and dominant French culture with strong bourgeois roots, was not only not valued but was simply vulgar. And for a good part of the French, even today, having curves remains vulgar. As we have seen, this vulgarity comes from afar. It is directly linked to the history of slavery and colonization.

But on closer inspection, today, in 2022, it looks like the butts are getting their revenge.

Of course there is still the risk of turning on the TV and falling on a fashion show where all the girls are 36, far from what looks like me.

But on the other hand, there is that in plastic surgery, in Paris, at the moment, what these ladies want the most is an increase in the volume of their buttocks. Would Caucasians get in there? Looks like it to me!

Today, for many people, big buttocks are a symbol of fertility, beauty and eroticism. The biggest shows of recent years worldwide have headlined Shakira, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Jennifer, Britney and more, so many women who have shapes and show them proudly and who loudly proclaim "Shake that thing Babe!

So much so that there are women today who take charge and impose their prominent buttocks. They assume their buttocks, and not only do they assume them but they move these buttocks, they move them to release their traumas and leave room for their creativity. It's in no way a matter of ego, it's "I show my butt!" Full stop”!

These women tell us that our buttocks are part of our body, that they are not there to please or displease others, that we should not be ashamed of what we are, we do not have to judging by the ideals of others, you don't have to justify yourself. Women who tell us that before being subjected to the outside gaze, our buttocks are the source of sensations and joys that belong to us. They show us that our body is the source of our well-being, that it is our responsibility to inhabit it and with it to assert our power.

Recently I heard the boss of a Parisian modeling agency say:

“I have a model who just graduated from surgery, neurosurgery please. On Fridays she's in the block, on Saturdays she twerks for a cli


“I have a model who just graduated from surgery, neurosurgery please. On Fridays she is in the OR, on Saturdays she twerks for a women's rap clip. They are independent business women who work. Sexy women, nothing to do with sex. A butt is not necessarily a sexual object, any more than the legs of Cyd Charisse in Singing in the rain. They are artists who express beauty through their bodies, through dance, just like Cyd Charisse! Today round and full buttocks are the criterion of beauty par excellence. This is to say that women's bodies and the models that impose themselves evolve according to the times. »

And this is where I ask myself the question of whether this release of the buttocks is not becoming the new avatar of sexism and patriarchy? Is it just another fad, yet another edition of how to put pressure on women? Will the acceptance of the buttocks generate in its wake a permanent anxiety as it has existed since, ... manifesting itself each time one does something, that one speaks in public, that one is simply practicing his profession, that we are doing something completely banal in everyday life? Is it simply the replacement of the breasts by the buttocks in the same patriarchal domination?

It would become hopeless!

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