To browse Academia. Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Karina Cespedes. How to Look at Vida Guerra 1O. My country needs me, and if I were not here, I would have to be invented. I Unlike most of the other women hfoltfINt!
She has moved from white-owned Figure Vida Guerra, FHM 8, no. How to Look at Vida Guerra has carried the burden of our desire for butts everywhere. You may now move symbol of freedom and newness known as "America," with the political and over J-Lo, and make way for Vida. In a way, this essay chronicles the convergence of several different Americas on the meeting ground of one Vida, in short, tiene culo, to borrow the Spanish slang that adorns one of her woman's body.
We mean for our language to reflect this aspect of the work. If the shape of her body makes her popular, what makes that shape popular? Specifically, what accounts for the shift in One way of looking at Vida Guerra searches in vain for any sign of body fashions that raises the stock offemale culos- "rumps with bumps" -at beauty. The point is not simply that she can be found unattractive. The spec- the expense of "stick figures"?
And what further shift requires J-Lo to "make tator we have in mind can grant Guerra's attractiveness, perhaps feel person- way for Vida"? This These are questions specifically about the conditions that make Vida is the approach of the aesthetic purist-someone for whom aesthetic the- Guerra a public figure and that constitute her body as beautiful.
There are ory must be disinterested and cleansed of any attachment to animal incli- many such conditions, from the hard facts of human political arrangements nations like desire. For someone like this, "bodily beauty" is a misnomer. These con- Real beauty, on this view, requires the free play of our cognitive faculties ditions converge to produce a distinctive set of rules for using norms like with that hoary Kantian formula suitably updated by contemporary cogni- beauty and ugliness to evaluate and shape human bodies-call this a regime tive psychology.
Guerra might on the female culo, or posterior, and constitutes it as a cultural object that seem to offer a kind of counterfeit beauty. She simply titillates, they might warrants specific forms of evaluation and display.
We will refer to the aes- say, by presenting observers with stimuli that provoke judgments of physi- thetic privileging of the culo as "culocentrism," in the spirit that moves some cal and sexual attractiveness.
If recent biological studies of physical attrac- theorists to refer to the metaphysical privileging of sight as "oculocentrism. It is, more precisely, a collection of ways of looking, a col- Looking at Vida Guerra in this way obscures more than it illuminates.
For example, it is impossible to understand how judgments life, public policy, and visual culture. We will explore some different ways of bodily beauty function without subjecting cultural representations of the of looking at Vida Guerra, on the theory that understanding her will help us body to some of the techniques of traditional-purified-aesthetic criticism.
We will con- meanings to human physiognomy. In these and other ways, the study of art- sistently use expressions like "U. Stater" where terms like "America" and "American" might seem adequate.
In addition, aesthetic purism sometimes reflects and obscures deeper We do this because we draw on traditions that question and resist the ten- forms of uneasiness about the body. A complex, ambivalent relationship to dency to conflate the geographic areas known as "the Americas," and the corporeality runs through much of Western cultural history. How to Look at Vida Guerra twice-told tale, one version of which begins with Plato and complains Proponents of this perspective tend to elide the social, cultural, and histori- through the ages that the body's untidy functions and rebellious impulses cal circumstances under which the criteria of female attractiveness get their weigh down the higher, rational functions.
One extension of the story links content. And we have done this over time, with different visions of attractiveness nudes, and hot-blooded native "girls," among other characters. These char- in different places. For example, Western cultures have eroticized the breast acters then escape from our artworlds and insinuate themselves into our only since the early modern period, and most vigorously since The social interactions and public policy.
These considerations provide all the Japanese have by and large come even more recently to the idea of eroticiz- more reason to analyze body-beauty and art-beauty in light of each other. Until We can start toward a more adequate way of looking at Ms. Guerra by then, images of women in Japanese erotica tended to bypass the breasts and taking a cue from Alexander Nehamas.
He says that "beauty" is "the name buttocks altogether, and focused instead on the nape of the neck or directly we give to attractiveness when what we already know about an individual on the genitalia. But it also shows how to regis- munities. Even vocabulary of beauty. Hegemonic "Western" ideas about the shape and relative importance of the female buttocks diverge rather clearly from continental and diasporic It may be that the beauty of Ms.
Guerra's body seems to hold some African norms. The aesthetic surgeons tell us, "Well-rounded buttocks are promise for us only against the backdrop of evolutionary imperatives.
If we highly prized The bod- grows out of the modern uptake of classical sculptures like the Callipygian ies of human females tend to store fat in the breasts and buttocks more assid- Venus fig. So for reasons related, in the mists tails with the same somatic aesthetic that subordinates the buttocks to the of prehistory, to the way these fat stores signal the genetic quality of poten- breasts in places like the U.
Call this "the Playboy aesthetic," after tial mates, these areas of the female body became crucial to male judgments the U. Guerra fascinates because her body sounds the the portion of this aesthetic that contemplates the culo. This aesthetic fails ancient alarms and activates preconscious, animal instincts that have been to account for the popularity of Vida Guerra, which means that we need to engineered, so to speak, to respond to signs of "honest mate value.
Guerra through the lens of evolutionary theory also than does the evolutionary picture. For one thing, it evades the question of just who is doing the looking. Guerra's principal admirers may be het- Third Look: Hottentot Vida erosexual men, engineered to do the bidding of their selfish genes.
But what about her queer female fans? If Vida Guerra's emergence is a cultural and historical phenomenon, While the question of sexuality will recur somewhat later, it is an and if the Callipygian Venus points us to the wrong parts of the culture, instance of a broader shortcoming of the "evolutionary signal" perspective.
Aaron Martinet and Louis Francois Charon , satire of the Hottentot VenllS Sara Baartman , exhibited in Paris naked except for a loincloth, with two Scottish soldiers, a young Parisienne, and a well-dressed gentleman admiring her, September Hand-colored etching.
British Museum, London. With its uptake and denigration of an alter- nate, "steatopygian" bodily aesthetic, this tragic episode of psychoculhual fetishization made clear what was at stake for Western standards of culo-nor- mativity fig. Aphrodite Venus Callipygos, first century CEo extended labia. But for nineteenth-century Europeans, NY. How to Look at Vida Guerra Baartman to London in , convinced that they could profit from scien- an ethnographic artifact. More than this, through her central role in pop- tific and popular curiosity about the shape of her body.
After years of popu- ular entertainments that were both consumer spectacles and imperialist lar and degrading appearances as "the Venus of the Hottentots" - typically in exhibitions, she became a cultural icon, transcending any of the individual what we now call "freak shows" -Baartrnan died penniless and depressed in women who represented heL 17 France in The Hottentot Venus was such an effective emblem for certain mod- Baartman's death simply opened the next act of the drama.
Other ern conditions that we might speak of her as a kind of fetish object. Modern African women assumed her stage name and her place in various popu- Europe inscribed important social meanings onto her, it pretended that she lar artworks and bizarre public exhibitions.
Meanwhile, Baartman received was the source of the meanings, and it used this pretense to resolve cer- even greater scrutiny from the burgeoning "sciences" of human difference. The pretense then proved so useful that the Eminent naturalists dissected her body, publicly presented their results, and icon at its center was invested with intense emotion and began to reappear in left her disembodied genitals in the care of the Musee de I'Homme, where an almost ritualistic fashion. IS they remained on display for more than a century.
In the third act to this Specifically, the Hottentot Venus episode was fetishistic insofar as it drama, the postapartheid leaders of South Africa demanded the repatriation helped Europeans reconcile their insistence on liberty and virtue with their of their countrywoman's remains. The key mechanism was The Hottentot Venus story puts culocentrism into a broad social con- the transposition of the relevant rationalizations into the viscerally affecting text, only some elements of which we can discuss here.
There were oppres- domains of the aesthetic and the erotic. The Hottentot's ugliness-an objec- sive institutions like imperialism and slave trading, male supremacy, white tive, natural fact, Europeans thought, not a projection or cultural artifact- supremacy, and what we can retrospectively call heterocentrism. There made the inferiority of abject peoples a matter of immediate perception.
And was a widespread epistemological commitment to studying society by study- her lasciviousness-as objectively evident to her European contemporaries ing the body, a commitment embodied in anthropometry, comparative anat- as her ugliness-provided an excusable and public outlet for the sexual fas- omy, and medical studies of pathology.
And the broad phenomena we know cinations of otherwise "temperate" men. The relevant precincts of European as capitalism, liberalism, and Victorian culture were emerging or changing culture became so passionately invested in the Hottentot's buttocks that she in ways that would have profound consequences for ideas about human free- began to show up everywhere-perhaps in the emergence of the bustle in dom, identity, and sexuality.
All of these forces, and many more, collided in the Hottentot Venus This ritualistic recurrence went so far that prostitutes in Europe and Cuba drama, making a certain kind of human body into a spectacularly effective became the subject of scientific studies reading their bodies and morals in metonym for a distinctive phase of European modernity.
When Baartman light of the Hottentot template. Guerra as a modern-day "Hottentot" does explain some Africans. The sciences of the body promised to help reconcile these ten- aspects of her rise to prominence.
The appeal to history fills in the gap sions, by finding in the contours of the human form the natural mech- between general accounts of "secondary sexual characteristics" and the spec- anisms of social and ontological stratification. Old myths about inferior ificity of culocentrism. It explains the peculiar tinge of exoticism that attends peoples provided the intuition that drove these "sciences" in their read- Guerra's displays, and it explains why Guerra goes places-Maxim, FHM- ings of the body: that a deficit of rationality and excess of lasciviousness that darker women with similar builds do not.
Guerra has, as one writer says was what distinguished the savage types from the civilized. In this context, ofJennifer Lopez, a "black butt," which, as an emblem of difference and oth- when Baartman arrived in Europe-a black, female, colonial subject and erness, freighted with historic ideas about African hypersexuality, remains worker whose protruding buttocks marked her as irredeemably and para- puzzling and exciting all at once.
But she also has light skin, which keeps her digmatically inferior-it took little work to turn her into a commodity and "black butt" from being too different and becoming grotesque. Sara Baartman's tragic As with any broad cultural shift, there are many forces at work in the rejection, or complication, of the Callipygian aesthetic.
Quite specific cultural forces were in play, and without appeal to these beauty icon. As one women's fitness authority puts it, while lumping Lopez her experience becomes inexplicable. A very different society, with very dif- with another star who emerged in her wake, "The butt is back.
Thanks, ferent material conditions and somewhat different psychocultural needs, Beyonce and J. Twenty-first-century culocentrism, although not publicly intelligible against the backdrop of the postcolonial social condi- fully disconnected from its nineteenth-century origins, does powerfully ges- tions that led to and emerged from the mainstreaming of hidden cultural ture toward a need to theorize the complexities of the material conditions transcripts for somatic aesthetics.