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Sir Mix-a-lot: The Unsung Hero of The Body Positivity Movement?

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Sir Mix-a-lot, Nicki Minaj, Venus Hottentot

Anthony L. Ray, known professionally as Sir Mix-a-Lot, is an African American rapper, songwriter, and record producer. Sir Mix-a-lot is best known for his 1992 hit song Baby Got Back, which peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The 5′ 11″ native to the pacific northwest gave Hip Hop 6 studio albums, 8 music videos, and 9 singles. Almost any major contribution to Hip Hop that predates the year 2000 is foundational to the culture. On every “old-school lunch” hour of hip hop featured on FM radio stations, we can hear Baby Got Back in heavy rotation. The song has hit airwaves on a daily basis since the day of its release. The staying power of this song is hardly repeated by best-selling artists of today.

 

The iconic Baby Got Back music video features African American women with small waists and round buttocks, or as Sir Mix-a-lot put it, ” …when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist, and a round thing in your face, you get sprung“.  The Hit single challenged western beauty standards based solely on the genetics of White Americans. Supermodels, unlike Instagram models, were the rigid beauty standard. Supermodels, in general, averaged out as 6-foot tall white women whose bodies were without significant curvature. In other words, having a large buttock was seen as a low class, never as high fashion. Although breast implants were all the rage at the time, a flat or small buttock was touted as superior to a round or protruding one.

With this song, Sir Mix-a-lot sent the preferences of the African American male, mainstream. In a sense, this song was an astute criticism of the colonial presence of strict white supremacist ideals of European beauty. Sir Mix-a-lot mused, “to the bean pole things in the magazine – you ain’t it miss thing! give me a sista can’t resist her, red beans and rice didn’t miss her!” The reference to red beans and rice is a cultural dish common among African Americans. Although the combination of beans and rice results in protein this is also a meal of carbohydrates – strictly forbidden from the supermodel diet. Red beans and rice adds bulk and weight to the physique, a meal often consumed by African American athletes and their families, along with a protein like fried or Smothered Pork Chops. “sista” is a common reference between African Americans to a Black woman. The “bean pole thing” is a euphemism for the women of the beauty standard.

This song featured in a time when eating disorders were at an all-time high among white young women and girls. Each trying to fit herself into the narrowly tailored beauty standard that was an amalgamation of the preferences of both heterosexual and homosexual white males. The African American male gaze stood in stark contrast to the preferences of the white male gaze. So much so, it is no surprise at all that the pacific northwest is one of the interracial dating capitals of America where plus-sized Caucasian American women are often paired with African American men. Sir Mix-a-lot- was born in Auburn, Washington, a city only minutes away from both Seattle and Bellevue Washington; where Black Americans are an extreme minority.

The parody at the beginning of the song became legendary in its own right. It is the origin place of “Becky” as a pop-culture slang term and reference for a singular white woman. Not to be confused with “Karen” who is representative of a very specific and narrowly tailored type of Caucasian American woman, often understood as a nuisance. The sentiments conveyed by this Becky is a parroting of what millions of black men and women claim to have experienced as the colonial gaze when it comes to black women’s bodies.

A condescending racialized gaze that has its deep southern roots in American chattel slavery. “She looks like a total prostitute” was in reference to the proportions of the black woman’s body which is curvy in general, although there are many exceptions to this rule.  The insult was not aimed out what she is wearing, but how her body looks in what she is wearing. Questions like “Can I touch your hair?” and the peculiar story of the Venus Hottentot also referred to as Sarah Baartman lends credence to this cultural phenomenon of the colonial gaze when focused onto black bodies, being rife with contradictory lust and disgust.

Fast forward decades later to today where women are undergoing the most dangerous surgery in existence to have these same bodily proportions that were once shunned as subhuman and disgraceful. The BBL or Brazilian Butt Lift gives women the coveted chance of fitting the description of beauty in Baby Got Back. Black and non-black women alike are rushing to Florida and the Dominican Republic with their savings to achieve this body that Sir Mix-a-lot paved the way for. Nicki Minaj, The best selling female rapper of all time, also known for her buttock enhancement surgery, sampled Baby Got Back, repeating the same sentiment in her hit single, “Anaconda” named after a set of lyrics in the original Baby Got Back song:

So your girlfriend rolls a Honda, playin’ workout tapes by Fonda
But Fonda ain’t got a motor in the back of her Honda
My anaconda don’t want none
Unless you’ve got buns, hun

By Fonda, he is referring to Jane Fonda, a petite white woman known for her workout videotapes in the 80s and 90s. Fonda flaunted what was the acceptable form of female beauty. Sir Mix-a-lot made room for all women who deviated in this way from the western beauty standard. In reality, Sir Mix-a-lot is the unsung hero of the body positivity movement. Think about it.