Kim Kadarshian West has had tongues wagging and virtual lips flapping with her PAPER magazine Break the Internet photoshoot. But her stunt and the collective response has evoked painful memories of a solitary history figure whose behind was also a talking point: Sara Baartman
Kim Kadarshian on the cover of PAPER's Winter 2014 edition
The Grio‘s Blue Telusma wrote an interesting opinion piece that resonated with me about the hullabaloo surrounding Mrs West’s now-immortalised rear which attempted to “break the internet” not so long ago.

In the piece, she succinctly delineated a broader picture about the photographer behind the image, Ms Kardashian, the subject herself, and the sad story of Sara Baartman.

Doubtless, enough has been written about Ms Kardashian’s stunt and many people have formed and voiced their opinions about it but my interest lies in its similarity with the Sara Baartman story.
A statue representing the physical proportions of Sara Baartman
To those who are not aware of who Sara “Saartjie” Baartman was, here’s a brief bio: She was born towards the end of the 18th century in the eastern region of South Africa. She was part of the cattle-herding Khokhoi pastoralists of southern Africa. In 1810, she ‘signed’ a contract with an English naval surgeon with terms that said she would travel to England with the surgeon. There, she would be provided with domestic work and she’d also be exhibited for entertainment purposes. From these exhibitions, she’d be entitled to “a portion of earnings” and be allowed to return home after five years.

What resulted from her tenure abroad was her being displayed as an oddity by colonial Europeans due to her elongated labia, large breast, thick lips and, most apparently, prominent buttocks. These ‘deviations’ from the ‘normal’ beauty of the European, coupled by her different skin colour, made them question her humanness. What followed from this was years of being displayed as an animal, kept in cages where she was prodded and poked by people who paid to see this “freak”.

She never made it home. She died in Europe in 1816 at the age of 26. Her genitals were cut up and preserved in glass jars. Her body was kept in France until she was returned to South Africa and buried in 2002.

So what does she have to do with Kim Kardashian?

As Blue Telusma so eloquently puts it, “Saartjie was a woman whose large buttocks brought her questionable fame and caused her to spend much of her life being poked and prodded as a sexual object in a freak show”. The similarity is obvious.

The big butt is still, for better or worse, a sexual object. Kardashian knows this and has used it to her advantage. The cover photo (scroll to the top) where she bends beneath a dramatic trajectory of semen-like bubbly spouting from a somewhat phallic bottle is a carnal celebration of her ass-ets.

But, unlike Sara, Kim is for the most part a willing participant in the whole show. Yes, she has made big butts a cool item to have – something for which black women have been objectified and ridiculed for since, like, forever.

What is amazing though is that it has taken someone who isn’t white to popularise what black people have had naturally for so long. The parallels that Telusma highlighted are annoyingly startling.
A cartoonist’s depiction of Sara Baartman

Kim Kardashian’s posterior revives history
Yes, some things about being black are cool these days and Mrs Kardashian West has, as Ms Telusma puts it, “Columbused several hundred years of black female exploitation and most like has no friggin idea”.

Kim Kadarshian on the cover of PAPER's Winter 2014 edition

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