Beauty is only knee deep
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.
AU NATUREL Nomzamo Mbatha poses naked for the Marie Claire Naked Issue
BEE’S KNEES Babes Wodumo