I was on the internet minding other people’s business, when I came across this:
My initial thought was that this woman is gorgeous- her rich, glowing melanin, the eyes, the undefined nose bridge like mine, the full lips. Even the styling and jewelry. Yaaaassssss. Turns out she isn’t real, but a digital creation from (white, male) artist Cameron-James Wilson, based out of the UK.
Oh hell naw. The warmth I felt from seeing dark skinned representation in an industry that constantly excludes us when they’re not tokenizing us turned into something similar to disgust. According to websites and articles from places like metro.co.uk and highsnobiety.com, Wilson was influenced by a South African Barbie princess doll, and women such as Alek Wek, Duckie Thot, and Lupita Nyong’o. They were his definition of beautiful, and he wanted to create an alluring woman. And thus Shudu was born. To touch on the name Shudu briefly, it felt like an intentional move for an “ethnic” sounding name, an imagined word that if someone said it had this meaning within this tribe, I would believe them. After trying to research the name and if it had meaning in other languages, I couldn’t find any, but don’t know for sure. I do know it doesn’t sit right with me.
Intentions matter. Perhaps Wilson was trying to pay homage to the beauty of African women, especially the blessed and highly melanated statuesque grace of models such as Alek Wek and Duckie Thot. (Side bar- yessss South Sudan!) But it’s tone deaf at best, and reeks of internalized racial bias. For centuries, white men were able to forcibly claim ownership over Black bodies, especially our women.
It was this privilege, this entitlement over Black women that led to slave masters raping and depositing their seed into females.
It reeks of the repulsive case of Sally Hemings, a teenaged Black slave owned by former US President Thomas Jefferson, who was raped by him for decades and birthed 6 of his children, who were also then enslaved. The romanticizing of this in history books (and classes/school curriculum- my teachers weren’t just reading from books) and calling it a relationship, stating Sally- a child- was complicit and willing, naming it anything other than rape and racism, is peak Caucasity. The audacity. Claiming ownership. The unmitigated gall to say a teenager was in a relationship with a man that forever held power over her- he literally owned her and profited off her body. Her vagina, her agency, her own children were all property of Jefferson.
This poisonous way of thinking manifested itself into cases like that of Saartjie Baartman, whose naked black body was forcibly on display for white men in some sort of sick minstrel show. My understanding of Saartjje Baartman, more commonly known as Sarah Baartman, is that she was a South African woman who, in the early 1800s, was sold to a British doctor and was an exhibit, a ‘main attraction,’ in ‘freak shows’ around Europe. Young and old white folk could gather to poke, prod, grab and violate her naked body.
Lawd I’m worked up.
It was being able to strip Black women of their ownership over themselves and use it for white enjoyment. We were turned into property, objects- something that brought a particular white man either money, physical pleasure, or both.
What is Wilson trying to do here? I’m not sure.
If the goal is to showcase Black Beauty in a respectful way, why not collab with the myriad of Black influencers worldwide who advocate for dark skinned representation in the beauty industry? There is a large platform with digital art, not to mention Shudu’s Instagram account (@shudu.gram); why not try and learn from and collaborate with Black women doing the work? Message Rihanna, whose tangerine lipstick shade Saw-c has been digitally altered onto Shudu in the above pic. There are so many beauty vloggers who bust their asses to create space for dark skinned women in the fashion and beauty industry: Jackie Aina, Eloho, and Nyma Tang just to name a few. Overall, it’s up to those on the outside coming in to these spaces to learn from the communities impacted, and find out the best way to use their privilege and platform.
Why take exposure, ad campaigns, precious magazine space away from real, working models? Are we that replaceable that any digitized brush stroke can replace any one of us? Dark skinned women are vastly underrepresented- but a bot of sorts, a carefully curated image in white hands, is now competition for what little space there is? So many questions.
This ain’t it.
At first, I did not want to write this blog post because I thought people would say I’m overreacting or my words and comparsions are too harsh. I’ve been tone policed one too many times, and used to try and minimize my voice because of it. But nah fam. I stand by my opinion: If you’re in a position of power and someone from a marginalized group says you’ve offended them, I don’t think you can say you haven’t. You can’t deny my hurt, and the impact of what you did.
Overall, I have issue with a white man morphing the likeness of different Black women together to “create” a model, a fruition of his seed of hard work, and then profit off her likeness.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments, holla at a homie, and let’s have a respectful dialogue!