Not long ago, I was passing by a newsstand and happened to catch a glimpse of the most recent issue of Smooth magazine. I noticed a completely pore-less, voluptuous Black model, hair for days, flawless makeup, with a waist to hip ratio that would make even Serena Williams insecure and a derrière that would make Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez consider butt implants. Feeling a little depressed about my own perfectly fit and healthy body, I turned to the music magazines to take my mind off not looking like a perfect Coke bottle. I almost choked on my Coolatta when I spotted the cover of Vibe magazine’s “Sexy Issue” with hip-hop artist Rick Ross plastered on the front…shirtless, proud, draped in oversized chains and his flabby, grossly overweight torso covered in tattoos. As I stood open-mouthed and stared back and forth at both covers, my mind almost could not comprehend how utterly ridiculous the disproportion of male and female body images in urban media has become.
In recent years, women in urban culture have become increasingly sexy, glamorous and downright visually perfect. With the advancement of new cosmetic procedures like butt and breast enhancement surgery and undetectable weaves, women are expected to look downright perfect. Even actresses and models in their mid-forties (i.e. LisaRaye McCoy, Stacey Dash, Vanessa Williams) are looking half their age and like they never even been close to being pregnant even though they have all had children. No one has one stretch mark? No one has just a little cellulite?
The new technology of graphic design program Adobe Photoshop has also single-handedly changed the way photos in online and print publications are perceived. Almost like a magic wand, Photoshop allows images to be completely manipulated, which often results in distorted photos of women bearing impossible features like waists that have inches shaved off, rumps that have cushion added, pores and skin marks that have been virtually erased and skin that has been lightened or changed. With these misleading images being pimped in the media, young women (and even older women too) have been going to great lengths to mirror these unnatural trends, sometimes even going as far as to meet their own demise. Such was the case with Tameka Raymond, ex-wife of mega-star singer Usher, who had a close brush with death after complications arose during a routine liposuction procedure, and most notably the untimely passing of Donda West, mother of hip-hop producer and rapper Kanye West, who died after an adverse reaction to a cosmetic procedure.
The madness doesn’t stop there. As much as women are expected to look perfect, urban media has certainly loosened the physical reigns on hip-hop culture’s male representatives. Several men in urban culture are far from having ideal physical physiques. Obese rappers Fat Joe and Rick Ross have been overweight for years, but in each new video, they are surrounded with women with goddess-like bodies. Southern artists like Wacka Flocka Flame and Gucci Mane see much fame, but no one even comments on their noticeably non-toned bodies, which are also usually covered in tattoos. And being overweight isn’t always the issue; top artists like Wiz Khalifa and Soulja Boy often look severely underweight, with physiques that are nowhere near perfect. Gone are the LL Cool J and Ginuwine days where male artists boasted chiseled chests and made the fellas bop their heads and the ladies swoon. In today’s hip-hop, only the women have to look perfect.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not that shallow to think that every single person on TV should have the figure of a Barbie or Ken doll, but I do believe that more balance is needed in urban culture to show that there are talented people of all body types, especially for women. For the health of our daughters, hopefully soon there will be some balance brought back to the eyes of urban media.
– God-is Rivera