I first became interested in Sara Baartman when I read in imdb.com Beyoncé was thinking to make biopic on this woman. The singer, actress changed her mind due to heavy criticism of an African American woman portraying an African woman. I think this is unfair due to the fact actors and actresses portray nationalities other t han their own quite frequently. The name Sara Baartman was totally unfamiliar to me. So I looked her up on the net. I found out exactly who she was. I discovered I was familiar with her years if not decades before. I knew her as the “Hotentot Venus” That was the only way I thought of her. I saw her not as a person, a woman but as an attraction that belonged in the side show.
I never thought of how there was an individual who bore that moniker I like the British and French who gawked at her saw her as only an exhibit. It didn’t occur to me she was a person with thoughts and feelings like other people. My view of her she was human yes, but a commodity. Baartman was somebody who was perceived by me and those who stared at her as an oddity and nothing else.
My purpose in writing of Sara or Sartje Baartman is twofold. First a history lesson and an essay on many women’s perception of their bodies and self esteem. The idea that the female form needs to be perfect. Or it needs to a certain physique. Lastly it is wrong to hold that all that matters is one’s physical form. I’m not saying its wrong to be proud of one’s body. After all one part of fitness programs is to produce a body that’s in good shape. One prospect of that is a shapely body. What I object to is complete emphasis on what a woman looks like and not what she feels and thinks.
To me Sara or Sartje Baartman was the beginning of seeing the “fairer sex” as physical only. She was in my opinion the embodiment of how black women and women in general are perceived as bodies and not much else. I cringe when I see Kim Kardashian showing off her butt. Okay its firm but its hard for me to esteem someone whose only talent is her “booty” At least Nicki Minage sings.
Before there was NIcky Minaj, Miley Cyrus , The Kardashian sisters, Marilyn Monroe, Bridget Bardot, Mae West, Gypsy Rose Lee and every other stripper there was Sara Baartman. The difference was her exhibiting of her body was involuntary. The keyword here is choice.
As the “Hotentot Venus” she was exploited to make her keeper , her handlers rich. The woman was exploited for her quite unusual physique. At least it was perceived that way by the British and later French predominantly male onlookers. Baartman was considered a freak of nature. She was stared at mostly by white males who deemed themselves superior. To them she was a primitive savage from darkest Africa. What most fascinate the Europeans was specifically her oversized buttocks. Plus her pendulous breasts and her greatly oversized pudendum.
Sara Baartman was born in South Africa of the Khoikhoi or koisan peoples. They were formerly known as the Hottenhot, an insulting name given these peoples by the Dutch. Please note Koisan may be considered an insult, racist term. This is an ethnic group wherre it is rather common for females’s buttocks to be oversized. This is because of fat deposits deposited in the nuttovkd. The reason was food at times was scarce so fat was deposited in the buttocks to stave off hunger. This was the norm for Koikoi women. Why it wasn’t so true of males is to me I don’t know. This body feature was true of Sara Baartman To her people she was normal. To Europeans she was freakish. So much so she was put on display as something to be stared at. I don’t mean in an esteemed way. She was twenty when she came to London UK. At that tender age she lost her husband and her infant son. In other words there could of been few ties to her home land and little motivation to stay. She most likely figured what was there for her to lose. Yes I understand this is speculation on my part.
I imagine she was deeply upset on how her life was turning out Maybe she thought being in Europe would be her turn around. She realized too her only fate if she stayed home was a life of slavery. She was a house servant in her native South Africa. I wonder if there was any inkling how her life would be overseas? She was sold by by Dunlop. Were there any second thoughts? Did she think of her decision to leave her homeland as her only choice for any kind of future?
Be that as it may her thoughts, motivations, choices Sara Baartman became if not the first, an example of two hundred years ago of someone who was exploited for her body. There were times she was presented with a chain around her neck. She was poked and prodded by the curious who didn’t believe she was really the way she was. Her fame lasted for less then five years. In her fifth year on the continent while she was in France her notoriety was so diminished she became a prostitute. She drank alcohol to lessen her emotional pain. Sara Baarman passed at twenty five, alone, forgotten. Her body dissected by French biologist George Cuvier. That is terribly disrespectful but its a different topic from my essay. The embodiment of two centuries ago of being exploited for her form. How much a choice was given to her in her exploitation is unknown to me. I do know the women of today can freely choose to be presented for their whole seles The mind soul and bodies. In other words their whole selves. Yes love your form but love your minds. emotions. personalities too.