Beauty is only knee deep

CityPress - - Voices - Rhodé Mar­shall voices@city­press.co.za

This week #Trending has the amaz­ing gqom queen Babes Wo­dumo on its cover. You’ll no­tice how strik­ing and fierce she looks.

But that photo wasn’t our first op­tion for the cover. The one we stared at and dis­cussed at length was a full-body im­age that cut off just be­low her knees. What we were de­bat­ing was whether or not our read­ers would be put off by the per­former’s dark knees.

Some in the team were of the view that we should change the photo, oth­ers that her knees should be cropped off. It was even sug­gested that we should per­haps air­brush the photo to even out the skin tone of her knees.

I took is­sue with all those sug­ges­tions – her knees are her knees af­ter all. Her team sent the photo, so even to them there’s noth­ing im­per­fect in the ap­pear­ance of her knees. It’s not like Babes has ever tried to be any­thing but Babes.

The day be­fore the cover photo was changed (be­cause in the end a last-minute ad­vert was placed and we had to change the photo any­way), a friend mes­saged me: “Rhodé ya’ll couldn’t air­brush the poor black girl’s knees?! She has al­ready been through so much.” An­other said “Rhodé un­omona [you’re jeal­ous]”, and I again said that I am op­posed to air­brush­ing pho­tos to make some­one’s ap­pear­ance more ap­peal­ing to our read­ers. Not that we don’t want the prod­uct to be beau­ti­ful – that’s the busi­ness we’re in, but we can’t ad­just a womxn’s ap­pear­ance to fit our per­cep­tions of beauty. We all laughed about it in the end be­cause some­one’s knees made so many peo­ple feel un­com­fort­able.

Per­fec­tion and beauty are sub­jec­tive and mean dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, and of course there are shared and agreed upon com­mon­al­i­ties of what is con­sid­ered pretty. So while you fall into that cat­e­gory of be­ing deemed pretty you are seen as ideal. Take ac­tress Nomzamo Mbatha for in­stance, one of the most beau­ti­ful womxn in the coun­try. Her beauty is reg­u­larly flaunted in this news­pa­per. She’s cel­e­brated and adored by many.

This week the an­nual Marie Claire Naked Is­sue was re­leased with the ob­vi­ous choice of Mbatha on the cover. She looked ap­peal­ing – al­though air­brushed to an al­most un­recog­nis­able point. But as soon as other pho­tos in­side the mag­a­zine were re­leased, Mbatha’s im­per­fec­tions were re­vealed. Just as with pre­vi­ous is­sues of this edi­tion where one per­son is picked on, it was Mbatha’s turn this year as her feet bore the brunt of re­lent­less teas­ing.

“You’ve seen my WORST flaw. That I hide even when I’m cook­ing in the kitchen,” she tweeted jok­ingly when some­one said: “I think if we can send Nomzamo Mbatha’s toes to fight with white peo­ple we can get our land back,” to her amuse­ment. Luthando “LootLove” Shosha felt that same wrath in 2015. “You build real re­la­tion­ships on Twit­ter, but in the same breath you take a lot of heat. Some­one was fight­ing with me about my knees the other day on Twit­ter,” she told City Press at the time. “He went all the way to tak­ing a screen shot of my knees and then putting them along­side a photo of a camel’s knees. It re­ally hurt. I’ve hated my knees since I was in high school,” she said. “N**s are then surprised when you re­act ... My blood is red – not pink, not pur­ple. It hurts. We all deal with things dif­fer­ently. When some­one says some­thing hurt­ful on so­cial me­dia, it still hurts in real life.” Mbatha saw the hu­mour in it while LootLove for a long time didn’t feel com­fort­able ex­pos­ing her knees in pub­lic. Ev­ery­one strug­gles with their body and looks, but that de­spair gets am­pli­fied when the im­pos­si­bly high ex­pec­ta­tions of beauty come into play in pub­li­ca­tions and so­cial me­dia. While the Marie Claire cover made me un­com­fort­able, I’m glad they didn’t try to crop Mbatha’s feet out or “fix” her so that she re­mains the per­fect womxn the pub­lic ex­pects her to be, not threat­en­ing her “pretty priv­i­lege” and so­ci­etal ad­van­tages of be­ing deemed beau­ti­ful. Womxn are told to min­imise their great­ness so that they are seen as more lik­able. When we re­ceive a com­pli­ment, es­pe­cially about our looks, we must dis­miss the com­pli­ment, show mod­esty and un­der­mine our looks by pre­tend­ing that we made no ef­fort in our ap­pear­ance. Beauty is about way more than outer ap­pear­ance as we all know, so we should try a lit­tle harder to knock down the weighty im­age of per­fec­tion that has been placed upon womxn.

PHOTO: MARIE CLAIRE

AU NA­TUREL Nomzamo Mbatha poses naked for the Marie Claire Naked Is­sue

BEE’S KNEES Babes Wo­dumo

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