A Bold Beat Forward
Pop Politics

On Jan. 6, 2016, Nicki Minaj won Favorite Hip-Hop Artist at the People’s Choice Awards. On Jan. 7, while double-tapping the picture she posted on Instagram to announce that win, I saw a poorly-worded comment that offended my sensibilities as both a feminist and as someone who likes comprehensible sentences. The comment on Minaj’s celebratory picture essentially said this: that the award should have gone to a more masculine rapper, and that Minaj did not deserve the award because she won it by selling her body.

In less than 24 hours, someone had already posted a rude, misogynistic and undermining comment about Minaj’s success. In the six days since, that picture accumulated 7,000 more comments, and I am pretty sure I do not want to know how many of those are just like the one I saw on that first day — or worse.

There are a few things I take issue with in that train of thought, but what hit closest to home was the last part, which accuses Minaj of “selling her body.” At first I was confused, because, well, she doesn’t — at least not in the traditional sense. After some reflection I realized the commenter probably meant that she was using her body as advertising in order to get attention and sell her music. That method of putting oneself out there may seem like a superficial tactic at first glance — and it is, even though it is a very smart and socially-conscious strategy — but it goes much deeper than that.

Minaj embodies, emphasizes and dramatizes the body type considered stereotypical of black women. As natural as her assets may or may not be, they make her both remarkable and unable to be ignored. Minaj’s body was a hot topic of conversation in pop culture long before the cover art for the now iconic song “Anaconda” was first made public, and the conversation has only gotten hotter since its release. She has received love, hate and everything in between for the way she appreciates and flaunts her body, but in the discussion of her body itself, many people overlook what is special about what she does with it.

Minaj publicly and sincerely promotes body image positivity. That in and of itself is important for girls everywhere, but what makes her brand of body positivity especially important is that it supports black women.

Popular culture — and most of American society — holds white men and women as the standard for beauty. Female celebrities’ workout plans and diets are on the front of every supermarket magazine; natural hair is considered “nappy” and “unattractive”; and all shades of brown skin tones are made as light as a J.J. Abrams lens flare with Photoshop. Black women are either considered too “thick” or are overly sexualized because of their proportions and features. Conversely, those same features are hailed as sexy on other bodies — RIP to everyone who tried the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge. All in all, there is not much room for women who are “little in the middle but got much back” in pop culture outside of music videos or performances at sporting events.

Minaj puts an end to those standards. Not only does she demonstrate her comfort with and confidence in her body type, but also glorifies it, which is hugely significant. There are few celebrities or public figures who uplift the body of the black woman as being beautiful and desirable in a way that is not purely sexual, so to hear a successful, confident woman doing just that — publicly and unabashedly — is a welcome and necessary change from the usual. As someone who, despite being mixed, has struggled with what it means to have the body of a black woman in a society that either sexualizes me or pretends I do not exist, Minaj’s composition of songs that make it sound awesome to be built the way I am was a turning point in the recent development of my own confidence. And yes, “Anaconda” was my anthem in 2014.

You do not have to like Minaj’s music or like her as a person. But you should recognize that she has created an image for herself that is based on confidence, self acceptance and empowerment. By sharing that image with women everywhere, she has truly left her (pink) print on both pop culture and music in our time.

 

Femi Sobowale is a senior in the College. pop politics appears every other Tuesday.

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