Is Hip-Hop Making the Beauty of Black and Brown Bodies More Digestible to the white Americans? by Trinity Townsend

Illustration by Andrea Miranda

Big Sean and Nicki Minaj described it best when they said “ass, ass, ass, ass, ass” on “Dance (A$$)” in 2011. America is finally in love with big booties. Nicki Minaj, Meg Thee Stallion, and Kim Kardashian are women known for their curvy figures and they have a collective 346.3 million Instagram followers. Although these women are known across the world, their success in the American music and entertainment industry reflects their influence on popular culture in the United States. The success they have gained is not limited to their bodies, however, the constant emphasis on their body shapes in their music and social media posts reflect the growing commercial desirability and acceptance of bigger butts. This popularity is shown particularly in the accessibility and normalization of butt enhancements. But, bigger body types were not always appreciated as beautiful in the United States. 

Somewhere between 1920 and 2020, there was a 180-degree shift in what was considered an attractive female body. In the 1920s slender bodies with minimal curves were considered the ideal body type and presently, curvy bodies are perceived as ideal with the emphasis of a small waist and a round butt. But what is driving Americans to reevaluate the eurocentric models of beauty that have been fed to us for centuries? The rise of the commercialization of hip-hop has gone hand and hand with the rise in the desirability of bigger bodies. This is not to say that bigger women were not desired before. We can see people like Marilyn Monroe being praised as a sex symbol in her era but this didn’t seem to stick in the United States.

The shift here is important to analyze because the politics of desirability affects the way that people subconsciously and overtly treat others and themselves based on their physical appearance. From a young age, people are exposed to what features are considered beautiful and acceptable in the world around them. For centuries, white women were the only representation of beauty in American media. This put white women at the top of the hierarchy of beauty, instilling a system that favored eurocentric bodies and features in the media and professional settings. However, increased access to diverse forms of media has changed the way that the average American sees beauty outside of the standards that have been pushed on us for as long as white supremacy has set standards for the nation. Living in the digital age, the media is the largest contributor to the circulation of beauty norms in the western world and music is arguably one of the easiest forms of media to consume. We listen to music as we drive, shop, work out, clean, and cook so its impact is undeniable. 

Presently, musicians have the liberty to express whatever they want about the lives that they live. Having said that, music is one of the easiest ways to track social and cultural trends through songs’ lyrics and the videos that accompany them. Naturally, the type of music that is popular has the largest impact on the people in society listening to it.  

In 2018, Time magazine named rap music “the sound of the mainstream”. This was a huge shift away from the pop wave that took the country by storm in the early 2000s. Chart-topping artists like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry were now competing with artists like Cardi B and Future. Although this culture shift may have seemed unexpected to soccer moms controlling their car radios, the growth of rap music’s influence has been steady and consistent. The rise of rap music’s commercialization began with the introduction of hip-hop in the 1980s. At the time of its conception, hip-hop was seldom acknowledged or respected by critics and the average (white) American. The rise of hip-hop’s cultural influence is more than a change in the way we consume music from across the world. The rise of rap also represents a shift in the way we live our lives. 

“Baby Got Back” by Sir-Mix-A-Lot circa. 1992
“Twerk” by City Girls ft Cardi B circa. 2019

But even in 1992, the video vixens in Sir-Mix-A lot’s video were slim compared to present-day standards. So what made Americans ease up to the idea of accepting a bigger body type as beautiful? Well, with the rise of the commercialization of rap came the reduction of gatekeeping surrounding the creation of rap music. The genre was birthed by Black Americans experiencing the struggles of racism and classism in America but now non-Black artists like Jack Harlow and 6ix9ine receive recognition and praise from OG Hip-Hop head. I’m starting to see a trend. 

I appreciate the diversity that is seen in music production nowadays, but there seems to be an underlying and chilling theme when analyzing the weight race holds in the normalization of certain trends. Did it take opening up hip-hop’s doors to other cultural influences to make it easier to consume by the average (white) American? It seems like that might be the case. We have seen this phenomenon before with Blues music and Elvis Presley. When the average (white) American sees a white person doing something that has been done historically by Black and Brown folx, they suddenly see the value in it. It makes sense. I guess. 

Bubba Sparxxx, a white rapper from LaGrange, Georgia released “Ms New Booty” in 2006 at the perfect time, before Nicki Minaj got her booty shots but after Kim Kardashian and Ray Jay’s sex tape was released. After that moment, America was never the same. In 2009, Burger King released a commercial remixing “Baby Got Back” to a “kid friendly” spongebob version. I personally remember this, the commercial had children and adolescents walking around singing “I like square butts and I cannot lie” planting the seed for us to normalize a fetishization with big butts in the future. Now there are TikTok trends made to emphasize someone’s big ole booty to a rap soundtrack in front of a virtual audience. 

As we reach the acceptance and admiration of Black and Brown women with bigger body types in a commercial lens, we must analyze how this could be taken as far as the fetishization of the same women who have historically been looked down upon by the mainstream media and the average (white) American. However, this commercialization is giving women the ability to reclaim their bodies in the commercial spotlight without the exploitative nature of the male gaze controlling their content. 

This shift in culture can be analyzed from various angles but I would argue that the role of the arts in this cultural change is the most impactful and the easiest to observe. Art sparks changes that affect our lives in ways that are hard to understand unless we take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The commercialization of bigger bodies is only one example of the ways this shift in culture has affected our daily lives. What are other ways that art changes the way we experience the world around us?

About the Writer:

Trinity Townsend is a 1.5 generation Jamaican immigrant from the Atlanta suburbs currently living in Philadelphia, PA. Right now, she is an undergrad student at a liberal arts college trying to figure out what major would sound the sexiest on a degree. In her free time, she records music, criticizes the world, and tries to dismantle capitalism. @iriejanea

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