Hottentot Venus or just a Big Booty Magazine Cover Model?

hottentotThe facination and adoration of big, large, oversized, african american “booty” is fast becoming a phenomenon. Sad to say, the display and promotion of photos and centerfold spreads of women with huge backsides makes me think of the Hottentot Venus.


“Saarjite Baartman, a young Khosian woman from Southern Africa whose body was the main attraction at public spectacles in both England and France for over five years, is perhaps the most infamous case of a Khosian body on display. Baartman, who became known as the Hottentot Venus, was brought to Europe from Cape Town in 1810 by an English ship’s surgeon who wished to publicly exhibit the woman’s steatopygia, her enlarged buttocks. Her physique, particularly her steatopygic appendage, became the object of popular fascination when Baartman was exhibited naked in a cage at Piccadilly, England. When abolitionists mobilized to put an end Baartman’s public display, she informed them that she participated in the spectacles of her own volition. She even shared in profits with her exhibitor. The spectacle of Baartman’s body, however, continued even after her death at the age of twenty-six. Pseudo-scientists interested in investigating “primitive sexuality” dissected and cast her genitals in wax. Baartman, as far as we know, was the first person of Khosian-descent to be dismembered and displayed in this manner. Anatomist Georges Curvier presented Baartman’s dissected labia before the Academie Royale de Medecine, in order to allow them “to see the nature of the labia” (Gilman 235). Curvier and his contemporaries concluded that Baartman’s oversized primitive genitalia was physical proof of the African women’s “primitive sexual appetite.” Baartman’s genitalia continued to be exhibited at La Musée de l’Homme, the institution to which Curvier belonged, long after her death.” – human exhibition/ This is of course a very brief description of this woman’s exploitation and overall journey…I’d encourage you to search online for more.

The value of this woman, the reason why she was exhibited, was her large behind and large vaginal lips.  Not her beauty, but her strangeness.  She was not meant to be looked upon as a great beauty, just as the average video girl will not be on the pages or Vogue or walking the catwalk for Chanel.  She inspired the bustle design in dresses of the day, just like big booty Latino and African American girls influenced the rise of Low Rise Jeans.  The other comparison is that the video models and big booty models are (for the most part) not in control of the industries that employ and use them.  They don’t shoot hip hop videos.  They don’t own men’s magazines or own model casting houses.  They have to wear what they are given to wear for videos…even if they think the outfits are tasteless.  These women, like the Hottentot Venus, are facinating novelty items that please the eye of the beholder.

Serveral video models make me think of the Hottentot when I see them in videos…Buffie the Body and Lola Luv especially.  There porportions of these women are extreme, just like the Venus.  There is a video on youtube of Buffie clapping her butt cheeks that I just know would have fit right in in a turn of the century freak show.  Black slaves and newly freed blacks were exhibited as oddities in circuses and freak shows, even in Barnum and Bailey shows.  Just because we are not in chains at the whim of a master, and we are choosing to allow ourselves to be treated as an object (and paid), doesn’t mean it’s not exploitation.  If a allowing your large behind to be on display is the best way you can find to make money, then I could understand.  Is it easy money…some would say no.  Is it all about the money…ask the Hottentot Venus…I’m sure she knows.


Filed under african american, angry, black, booty, celebrity, culture, hip hop, hottentot, opinion

42 responses to “Hottentot Venus or just a Big Booty Magazine Cover Model?

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I will do more research on this fascinating topic.

  2. Great post! There is a novel on Saarjite Baartman. It was an interesting read, Hottentot Venus: A Novel by Barbara Chase-Riboud. It is a fictionalized version of her story, but it gives insight into who she might have been, her life, and her physique. Check it out.

  3. Cami B

    I read the book Hottentot Venus. It was very sad the way she was treated. This book will really hurt your feelings. She was treated like an animal, a side-show freak. But very informative as it relates to the way Black women are objectified today.

  4. Do you have a sense of how she might have influenced the bustle? It seems that since she died about 60 years prior to – do you think some form of media (widely displayed artwork) might have kept the image alive?

  5. wow that has opened my eyes up!
    but it will only make you go mad to see things from that angle. i mean if these women want to clap their ass’s it is up to them. it is a bussiness. my wife does not do that, my sister does not do that, my mother does not do that. and also remember eurpeans are animals, they saw a next race and were so facinated that they explored it. that is their nature. as long as it is not happening now like it was then, then it is business. like prostitution started because armies that invaded and won would take the women and all have sex with them. the women knowing that their men were not around to protect them meant that they would be raped. so they made it entertaining for the soilders. that has evolved into what it is today.

    things evolve. so to look at is as a race thing is only blocking you from evolving.

  6. Clifton Crais

    It has been very interesting reading these posts. I have written with a colleague a book, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography, which is coming out with Princeton University Press next year. The book is based on years of research, including with some of the descendants of Baartman. We have discovered that many of the most basic things most people (including for a while us!) know about Baartman are not in fact correct, beginning with her age.

  7. I actually bought a book titled “The Black Female Body: A Photographic History”. I recommend it, I saw it in a black museum in Harlem, forgot the name though.

  8. carole

    this is very interesting i didnt know about this lady till today its sad but very interesting and shocking how black woman ALLOW themselves to be exploited.where are there so called parents when they do this? our body is surpose to be the temple of God not the temple of snoop 50cent etc..respect youselfs girls thats why your being labelled whores,bitches etc.

  9. tennille

    This is such a sad story, but its true what they say “history repeats itself”, in the days of Saarjite Baartman, we as black woman didnt have a choice in how we were depicted by white individuals. But today in 2008. We are still being depicted because some women choose to show themselves in a way that truely makes you think “GOD WHAT ARE OUR FORE FATHERS THINKING”. This is the information that needs to be embedded in our childrens mind. So that we as adults can get the REVELATION, we are worth so much more.

  10. latoya

    Very intresting story. They don’t teach us those type of things in school. I will be looking up more info.

  11. Great insight to take it back to Hottentot- The story of Venus in an Intro Anthropology course when I was at FL State changed my whole game… Our uncaring attitude and disrespect for our bodies as African Americans starts in our homes and in our communities. That’s why idot above could dismiss the blatant prostitution of body image as “business”. Black people, some things were not meant to be not be for sale…. New Commandment: Have not faith in money- it will most certainly kill your Spirit in the end…

  12. This makes me so sad for women and African- American women especially, I pray we all wake up to the fact that we are all one, and what ever you DO, SAY, BE, CREAT,MOTIVES etc you are contributing to the whole (human race). So it’s never just business it’s death, and it does not give life to anyone on any level, it just takes it! Let’s all wake up, pray for a way to give back to one another. That’s why we are here…

  13. Excellent post… interesting how many black women voluntarily place themselves into this level of objectification. On one hand the acknowlegment of the power of black female sexuality can be appreciated .. yet it perpetuates the notion of black women as more beastial and less “feminine” than any of their other counterparts. …

  14. In todays society money is the driving force for pretty much everything.This happens to include how we put ourselves on display for others to see. I will admit that there is no greater beauty than that of a black woman. This does not mean that we have to subject ourselves to such degrading circumstances. Once we learn to respect our inner being without any thought of what others may think of us, then and only then we can begin to move in the direction of positivity. Black women I challenge you to accept nothing less than a man that’s positive in all you wish him to be, starting with BLACK MEN and then going outside of your own race!

  15. scarlett onion booty queen

    i think that white boys dont like big booty mamis coz theyve got small dicks and the big booty intimidates their small dicks!

  16. scarlett onion booty queen,
    What a thought provoking contribution to this discussion, lol.

    Stop with this hypocritical racist ish, because you know damn well if someone had said something similar but switched the race roles, you’d be shitting bricks.

  17. Drea

    The question that comes into play is, why do black women and women of color allow themselves to be exploited? I would conclude that generations of poor education, lack of self-worth, and consistent, unrelenting poverty within the black community would contribute to these behaviors. It’s our responsibility as women and MEN to educate, empower, and uplift those around us.

  18. Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography. C. Crais and P. Scully.

    Displayed on European stages from 1810 to 1815 as the Hottentot Venus, Sara Baartman was one of the most famous women of her day, and also one of the least known. As the Hottentot Venus, she was seen by Westerners as alluring and primitive, a reflection of their fears and suppressed desires. But who was Sara Baartman? Who was the woman who became the Hottentot Venus? Based on research and interviews that span three continents, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus tells the entwined histories of an illusive life and a famous icon. In doing so, the book raises questions about the possibilities and limits of biography for understanding those who live between and among different cultures.

    In reconstructing Baartman’s life, the book traverses the South African frontier and its genocidal violence, cosmopolitan Cape Town, the ending of the slave trade, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, London and Parisian high society, and the rise of racial science. The authors discuss the ramifications of discovering that when Baartman went to London, she was older than originally assumed, and they explore the enduring impact of the Hottentot Venus on ideas about women, race, and sexuality. The book concludes with the politics involved in returning Baartman’s remains to her home country, and connects Baartman’s story to her descendants in nineteenth- and twentieth-century South Africa.

    Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus offers the authoritative account of one woman’s life and reinstates her to the full complexity of her history.

    Clifton Crais is professor of history at Emory University. He is the author of The Politics of Evil. Pamela Scully is associate professor of women’s studies and African studies at Emory University. She is the author of Liberating the Family?


    “Crais and Scully have produced a definitive study of Sara Baartman and the many lives of the so-called Hottentot Venus. This is a wonderful book that has both intellectual interest and emotional power–I think it will be established as the authoritative account.”–Elizabeth Elbourne, McGill University

    “An eloquently written story demonstrating meticulous archival research, this book makes an important contribution to scholarly debates about biography. Using a range of previously unrecovered sources, Crais and Scully apply their theoretical insights about ‘heterography’ to the life of Sara Baartman, moving well beyond her role as the Hottentot Venus by reclaiming her life in the fullness of lived experience.”–Kerry Ward, Rice University

  19. angry

    As I read your article, I am under the impression that you are implying that this women enjoyed being on display. As a matter of fact, she did not. While being kept in a cage and on display, she covered her hands and her feet to keep them private because all of her other private body parts was made public. She was captured like an animal and taken away from her home. This is the first article that I have ever read that said she was paid to be put on display, and as a student at a prominent black college, we are required to research this woman thoroughly.

    My point is that Hottentot Venus should not be compared to the video girls because she was sexually exploited against her own free will, and the video girls have a choice. I think your analogy between the two are way off and kind of tasteless

  20. Angry,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I think you have a problem with a quote from Emory. I’ve provided a link above…perhaps you should contact them.

    In my opinion, the comparison to Video Models is more than obvious. The focus of what I’m saying is exploitation and the focus on “extreme” body types.

  21. Nubian Goddess

    I agree with Angry. Who in their right mind would want to be naked and on display in a cage.? Nobody not even a slave which is what Saaritje Baartman was during her day. It is quite obvious that she was not being paid money. Food, very little clothes and very little shelter along with alcohol to help ease the pain which is how she was reportedly killed. Video girls and exotic dancers usually have extreme body parts but I don’t see it as exploitation on anyones part except their own, based on how much she will show of herself, how much she will be paid and how much she values herself. It’s considered an extreme form of beauty and this is the reason for the fascination and fixation on the large posterior of most African-American women. It is also in American culture to degrade African-American women in the media while glorifying and advertising on television, books and magazines about the highly over-sexual women of other races such as Caucasians and Asians. Thereby, bending the attention toward women of other races who are deeply not satisfied with their smaller posteriors. Many of them who can afford it and have the audacity to pay plastic surgeons to enlarge their lips, breasts and buttocks to look like the Hottentot Venus. Also, requesting Black men to fulfill their unsatisfied sexual needs based soley on the fascination of the Black man’s larger penis. After many Black men have made children with Black women and have been raised by Black women, they run to women of other races because of the advertisement, requests and verbage about what they will do with and to the Black men and all men for that matter, sexually.

  22. Skrappy

    I agree the the comment by Angry. A women being take from her home and land, which was more than likely by force of some kind itself was immoral but even worse keeping her caged and displaying her like some sideshow freak is inhumane as well. What that poor woman went through, and what the trashy women in rap videos and strip clubs do, which they do on their own accord, is not even remotely similar.

  23. L.

    I looked up Saartjie Baartman a year ago after reading a lot about her in black feminist critical writing. There has obviously been a resurgence of interest in her story. I don’t think we should be asking whether she allowed this to happen to herself, or whether women in rap videos of strip clubs ‘allow’ themselves to be viewed the way they are. The issue lies in the conditions of society, and the responsibility lies with the viewer. It is indeed a shared responsibility between women AND men, blacks AND whites to give ourselves and each other greater respect. I do believe that society is preparing to change for the better, and I hope to be a part of that change. Peace and Love yo!

  24. I attended a play on her life a couple years ago. Very moving story.

  25. michael

    I am fimiliar with the story of the hottenot venus and she was actually viewed as a sexual object not just an oddity the sexual perversion that existed at the time is not a very investigated subject. What i think we do the least is concentrate on creating and establishing our own images of beauty and stop being offended by our images. We were taught by the larger society that our very structure is perverted and nothing could be further from the truth we have to learn to celebrate these beautiful women and despite the fact that they may never grace the cover of Vouge they possess a beauty that is unique to us as a people.

  26. JLaurel

    Black women were, from the beginning, characterized as being oversexed, Jezebels, if you like. As such, all sorts of acts were justified as being necessary to keep these women “on a leash”. It took the Civil Rights Movement and the eventual choice of Rosa Parks as an icon (no offense here at all!!!) to reverse that. The fact that these same black women are willing to sell themselves this low into the business is absolutely disgusting. However, the fact that it is the black performer mostly who is allowing that, is doubly so.

    “If there were no buyers, there would be no sellers”, an ex-slave said one day. How about you guys doing something about it?

    As a woman, I’ve grown into not waiting for anything coming from men. So, it’s up to us girls. Do not sell yourselves into the system. Enough is enough.

  27. monique

    No one ever considers that the women in these videos actually like being on display. Some people derive their self-esteem from exhibitionism, why don’t we see that as a viable option? Our general reaction to the onslaught of these images is another story. It doesn’t seem to be a problem for the men, in fact, that’s why the images are there for the men so why would they want to change that? How can we counter these images? I’m not sure there is any way to do it considering the dominant age old idea of woman = sex object.

  28. Alex

    As a white man of eastern European origin I have always been attracted to beautiful black women. I dated a black women for two years but sadly neither her family nor mine could ever accept our relationship. This was in the 80’s. I think things would have been different today in 2009.

  29. Revelationship

    Let us be real, it is not only black women on display. All manner of women are being exploited at alarming rates. I love people, particularly black folk. Our lives are not independent of eachother. What happens to one of us has an impact on us all. We can all change the climate of our lives for the betterment of all. Two cents given.

  30. Jocyleen Cox

    ThAt is sad how they treated her, and it really pissed me off…. this just goes to show just how stupid those people were who treated her and other blacks like animals…. I don’t even know what to say….. How could they treat people like that???? This world is crazy…. Then for people to put up lil dumb shit and actually joke about it is sick….. This makes me hate white people and everything that they have done to other races….. I know that it was a long time ago but there’s still people like this living today…..

  31. Jocyleen

    Why are people trying to make it look lke it’s just black women who sell themselves???? White women, Mexican women, latino women, etc… There are women of ever race that do it… So don’t just say that BLACK women are the only ones…. Men also do it too…. I’m tired of people thinking that they are better than others just because of their race… We are all created equal and no one is better than anyone… God made us all the same just alittle lighter or a little darker than the next person, but that does not make you better…. And to those who think that they are better kiss my ass and go suck a d*** cause in the end the only opinion that really matters is gods and he is the only person who can judge us…..

  32. laromana

    This post SPECIFICALLY focuses on the Hottentot Venus and how it relates to “big booty” magazine cover models who are ALL BW.

    For those who question the emphasis on the exploitation of BW when “women of other races have also been exploited”, keep in mind that, from day one, unlike women of ANY OTHER RACE, BW have been portrayed as SUBHUMAN, OVERSEXED CREATURES for the SOLE purpose of justifying DISRESPECTFUL,DEMEANING, DEGRADING, and CRIMINAL acts of RAPE, ABUSE, and VIOLENCE against BW/Black girls.

    In America, BW slaves had NO LEGAL protection against being raped, sexually abused, or being sexually exploited by ANYONE and NO ONE was expected to respect the HUMANITY, DIGNITY, and FEMININITY of BW.

    To add insult to injury historical ANTI-BW RACISM/HATE in American culture has been used as a tool to promote ANTI-BW LIES, MYTHS, and STEREOTYPES that preserve/uplift White beauty supremacy.

  33. She lives today. I am built just like her and am treated like a circus freak by some. I nearly came to blows with a female co-worker from Laos who felt it her duty to smack me on the butt at least once a day despite my telling her not to. This happened in a PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS OFFICE! Thank God I had the sense to walk away but I told her supervisor and mine that she had one more time to even act like she was going to smack it and I was going to smack her! Then there are the men who look at me with ambition in their eyes like they want to conquer the mountain! One white girl at work proudly told me at the elevator how she’d seen something on the Discovery channel (or some channel like that) where an entire tribe in Africa had a butt like mine. I stared at her blankly. She got the hint and shut up before she got hurt. The white trainers at the gym give me all of these exercises to do to get rid of my super, extra-large derriere and thighs but all they do is tone. Yes, I have dropped some weight but the shape remains. The struggle is that the smaller I am the harder it is for me to find clothes. I end up wearing 3-4 different sizes depending on the garment. When I stay in the larger plus sizes everything seems to even out better. I only have to wear two different sizes. My African American brothers and sisters are no better. Their comments are ignorant and cruel. If I hear one more, “You need to…” When I learned of the Hottentot Venus I was actual relieved that I was not the only one to ever walk the earth looking like that and it actually made me feel better about myself.

  34. Dominique

    I was reading qoutes from the cowardly lion’s song in the original Wizard of Oz story and he mentions in a line the Hottentot being so hot. I found that line strange because I was somewhat familiar with the Hottentot and how the anatomy was strange and peculiar and not necessarily considered hot. However, to see that it was immortalized on film ,how African women were infact viewed as sexually desirable, gave me a bit of a pause on the matter. It reminds me of how our features, lips, nose, hair, ass is overtly treated by the media and those that run it as something to abhor. Yet secretly, or not so, it is coveted, admired and sloppily duplicated (see Kim Kardashian or Lisa Rhinna or any other white girl with booty or lip injections). It seems to me a well planned subversive tactic to continually get people of color to hate who they are, to some how make up for the inferiority felt by those who don’t look like us!

  35. houston_on_the map

    first off, we cant relate this past horror story with the women of today. sarjiite was forced, abused and was made to look like a monster inthe eyes of high society. now today, the flat belly-fat booty type body is the most desired and loved body type out there and the women on the magazine covers and rap videos aint just black women. but hispanic and whites and any other race of women such as arabic, who have this type of body. just cuz a woman is proud of her body and loves to show it dont make her a bad person or dont mean she has no self respect.

  36. Pingback: Deadly Transgender ‘Butt-Injection’ Killer On The Run After Killing 20 Year-Old British Nigerian Hip Hop Model Claudia Aderotimi…All She Wanted Was A “Fake” Beyonc’e-Booty And Nicki Minaj Frame To Boost Her Career!!! &l

  37. Bill Darden

    First of all, I am white and I have a big penis too.
    I go to strip clubs all the time where american negro women
    have a great time walking around naked. Its great. They
    make really good money and the guys get to drink beer
    and enjoy themselves. As I enjoy the scenery, my only thoughts
    are about sex. Not exploiting anyone. When my pockets are full of cash
    my white behind is practically chased around the club.

    What a great country!

  38. Courtney

    I believe that there are women who are objectified and then there are women who are pursued and privately desired that their environment “changes” in a way to attempt to exploit them. I encourage any woman who does not feel “comfortable” in her own skin in any situation to leave that situation before it begins to turn into something that makes her solely an object of temptation. Also, it is important to understand that some peope will only see a fully clothed black woman “naked.”

  39. Lakey Key

    Sad how majority of the people posting are “suggesting” women of color “change how their ways” of being sexual. Her body was exploited because not only was there a fascination with her body but also a fetish by both the European men and women. How dare you try to degrade the women on the cover of Vibe magazine when you have Katy Perry and other caucasian women seminude or nude on the cover of Maxim. Showing the same thing, trying to ooze sex and failing, and everyone thinks its fine. Why, becasue they arent as curvy or their breast and butt arent as prominent as women of colour are. Its become the cats meow now that more caucasian women are working “very hard” to get behinds more “bigger” but its still looked down upon for the natural roundness we possess is looked down on. You people are hypocrites and blind hypocrites at that. Its like the world doesnt want Black women to be seen as sexy or worthy of being lusted for. All im saying is stop drawing a line SOCIETY and casting women of colour of of the loop because I see more caucasian women working in whore houses and brothels(televised) and you think its beautiful but a black woman in a freekn music video gets frowned upon. LoL….Realistic!!

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