Bootylicous? Only from a distance
I don’t think you ready for this jelly
I don’t think you ready for this
Cause my body too bootylicious for ya babe
(Fusari et al. 2001)
While reading Palio Fabio’s new book Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture, I found myself both intrigued and taken aback. He writes about the connection between food and black women’s derrieres (or bootys) as empowering. According to Fabio, when Destiny’s Child in “Bootylicous” and Kelis in “Milkshake” claim themselves as edible sweets, they challenge the traditional association of black women with danger. For who is threatened by childhood treats such as jelly or milkshakes? These pop stars are also able to practice control over men by teasing them with their bodies while denying them pleasure (Fabio, 2008). However, I’m yet not convinced by Fabio’s logic. Is it really empowering for these pop stars to claim their bodies as literally delicious or are they simply replaying and enforcing the same old power dynamics?
To understand these pop stars’ connection with food, it is first important to understand the historical pairing of African Americans with the primitive. To justify racism, black men and women were deemed “less evolved “and more closely related to primates then their white counterparts during the early twentieth century. This denial of black people’s humanity makes them more connected to nature and therefore, a more pure form of pleasure (hooks, 1992). And it when it’s time to indulge, nothing satisfies like food and sex. Consequently, such things have become are associated with African Americans (Fabio, 2008). While this sort of thinking denies black women most of their power, it does allow for them to hold a small desirous space outside of our lack-luster white bread culture (hooks, 1992).
Destiny’s Child and Kelis capitalize on this power to claim their bodies as unique, desirable and satisfying. Take the first stanza of Kelis’ song, “Milkshake”:
My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And they’re like,
It’s better than yours,
Damn right it’s better than yours.
If her milkshake is better than yours, then it must be more decadent and gratifying. By emphasizing her special body, Kelis is able to claim the power in being a black woman. She clearly enjoys her status and takes advantage of it by teasing all the boys in the diner who are at her mercy. One thing is for sure: she is in control.
But if women are assumed to be food, then what does that make the men who desire them? Consumers? Hunters? Predators? The empowering metaphor of women’s black bodies as edible breaks down if these women where to actually to have a sexual experience with a man; for during dinner, food is always subordinate to its consumer. The women’s only power is in their ability to say no. It wouldn’t make sense for them to look for or enjoy sex since food itself can’t have any desire to eat. Kelis seems to know this when she walks into a diner at the beginning of her music video and takes a maraschino cherry from a milkshake. After licking the whipped cream off the cherry, she throws it into another man’s milkshake. He gets two cherries while she’s left with zero. Coincidence?
It’s ironic that while both “Bootylicous” and “Milkshake” highlight hyper-sexual women and their control, the women singers themselves still never get to enjoy sex. Their empowerment lies in their ability to stay away from men. If caught, it’s assumed they must claim the passive position.
So is there a way for black woman to claim jelly and milkshakes as a metaphor for their desirability without also having to claim a subordinate position? Can their appeal and power be sustained as they initiate and enjoy sexual experiences? While Fabio may be correct that black women’s claim over their bodies as desserts gives them some power to step outside racist ideologies, their movement is limited. And if I know anything about black female pop stars like Beyoncé, it’s that they don’t do small movements. Maybe, soon, their lyrics will take the same leaps they do.
hooks, B. (1992). Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance Black looks: race and representation. Boston, MA: South End Press.
Fusair, R., Beyonce K. , Falonte M., and Stevie Nicks. 2001. “Bootylicious.” In Survivor. Performer: Destiny’s Child
Schell, H. 2001 “Gendered Feasts: A Feminist Reflects on Dinning in New Orleans.” Pilaf, Pozole, And Pad Thai: American Women And Ethnic Food. Ed. Sherrie A. Inness. University of Massachusetts Press„.
Parasecoli, F. (2008). Bite me: food in popular culture. Oxford: Berg.
Rogers, K. (2003) “Milkshake” In Tasty. Performer: Kelis. Arista