There’s a lot of shit going down with Kendrick Lamar’s new video. A big feminist backlash against what he persumably thought was a good thing for wimmin kind everywhere!
I want to prefix this by saying I think Kendrick is – generally speaking – fucking incredible. And he’s always been vocal about issues within his own Compton community especially (and there’s a piece here explaining how he’s done loads for Black america with his music and the stuff he calls out) but part of his new video – mentioning beauty ideals – is flippant as fuck.
Besides any of the beauty stuff I’m about to discuss, telling people to be ‘Humble’ seems, well really fucking self-righteous.
Anyway…here’s the offending line:
“I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop / Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor / Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks / Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks.”
On first glance, Kendrick appears to be doing women a favour. SET YOURSELVES FREE GIRLS – YOU ARE LIBERATED FROM RELAXING YOUR HAIR AND INSTAGRAM FILTERS. NO, EVEN IF YOU WANT TO BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT, YOU SHOULD STOP, BECAUSE I HAVE DECIDED I THINK IT’S HOT FOR WOMEN TO BE NATURAL RIGHT NOW.
Urgh, spare me. I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s doing a noble (humble?) thing. But it’s not cool to tell a woman (or anyone, actually) how to look or what to do with their own bodies. Then he ruins any good intentions he purports with a crass last line: “Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks.” Basically, even with stretch marks and natural hair – he’s still IN to take you to pound town. On your mother’s sofa. Socks intact. Lucky us!
The thing is – women don’t need men to tell us we’re ok as we are.
Just one of the hundreds of tweets about Humble
We don’t need men to tell us we’re ok. Men have – historically speaking – done enough to define what’s pretty and what isn’t. I’m not man-blaming, if any guys are reading this – I’m sure you’re cool. But it’s the truth – and the beauty ideals we have right now are the culmination of YEARS of male control over women’s bodies. But, we’re unchaining ourselves, we’ve started our own campaigns and movements towards reclaiming our beauty back from centuries of patriarchy – minus the permission Kendrick seems to be giving us. So, the idea that he’s ‘setting us all free’ is trite, because nothing as seismic as a huge paradigm shift happens from a few moments in a song. These are movements that take years to undo all the damage caused by unrealistic and narrow standards of beauty imposed on women. LOADS of which is perpetrated by sodding music videos, in fact.
And then there’s the assumption that we’re clearly all beautifying ourselves for the male gaze – and that alone. Ignoring that we are and could be curating our digital selves for well, ourselves – as a means of self-expression, and self-promotion (whatever you make of that – it’s still a legitimate claim.) For the record, I do think Insta has gone batshit and loads of it is making people feel actively crap about themselves beauty-wise, myself included. But a quick jab at what is a complex and loaded subject in a song? Just no. It shows a lack of understanding of the deeper issue. And to me, that suggests that no women were around or involved in the making of his video potentially who would have flagged this. (In the same way that when shows like Girls aired initially, there were no POC around to say to Lena Dunham ‘hey everyone in this show is white, babe. You should probably do something about that.’)
The next layer – aside from this being a ‘men think they can tell women how to look’ issue – is that there’s a big, complex race issue. Had Kendrick have chose a dark-skinned woman, who was bigger than the teeny size this model is – his comments, and polemic might have been the compelling case of a famous artist, creating brilliant art, doing something seriously good for women of colour in particular. It would have had impact – really good impact I think. Except, it’s sort of just perpetuated all the shit that black women have to deal with in terms of light skin privilege (and we see this in loads of different cultures actually).
There are also issues within the black community of black men telling women what to do and there’s a piece here explaining this really eloquently in regards to Humble. (It’s really good – read it.) And also to add to that I’ve witnessed some of this abuse that first hand when I did a column for The Guardian on make-up for darker skins. What was meant to be a safe space for women of colour during a time when most beauty brands and mainstream media ignored darker skins, was routinely commented on by black men saying black women needed to stop wearing make-up and keep their hair natural. And even ASAP Rocky even made some comments about black women wearing red lipstick a few years ago too in an interview (here).
I get that there is a huge furore over a small part in a video and that he probably didn’t think it through. I get that. And he probably genuinely did think he was doing some good. But whatever the case, it felt super tokenistic about a very emotional issue.
And yeah, the bottom line is that five seconds in a music video probably isn’t going to cut it to end centuries of damaging female oppression through beauty ideals. Not woke Kendrick, just ill-advised.
But it did get us all talking – so here’s the video: