Nicki Minaj in her music video “Anaconda”
If you have a Tumblr account or access to the internet at all, you no doubt have seen gifs—if not the actual video—of Nicki Minaj’s newest single “Anaconda.”
Me and Nicki have had a difficult relationship.
Some days I feel like we are the same person and all of her songs speak directly to me—those are the days when I can just sit in awe of her talent.
Other days I feel like she doesn’t even care about gender equality, but rather just about getting ahead.
Most days, though, I acknowledge Minaj is an artist with some feminist leanings, and I respect her for everything she does.
With “Anaconda” popping up all over the internet, I cannot ignore the fact that so many women are feeling empowered by something as simple as a music video. Especially in comparison to the lighthearted and probably poorly timed release of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” Minaj’s “Anaconda” video seems like just the thing we all need to love big “buns, hun.”
The sexual content of the video seems as if it is only there just for show, but, like her more recent videos, Minaj takes hold of the idea of the male gaze and turns it on its head.
Her music video for “Looking” is one of my favorites. She is obviously talking about men who ogle her curvy frame, expecting something from her, but she rebukes them, acknowledging that she doesn’t exist for their pleasure but for her own.
In the video for “Anaconda,” Minaj does the same—at one point going so far as to cut and throw away a banana, opting to eat a strawberry instead.
I could go on for days about how “Anaconda” mirrors numerous videos that sexualize the ethnic body but do so critically, but instead I would like to focus on something that has seemed to stir up a lot of controversy on my social media feeds.
And that is, what about thin-shaming?
In the conclusion of “Anaconda,” Minaj thinshams, taunts, and laughs maniacally while saying:
I said, where my fat ass big bitches in the club?
F*** the skinny bitches!
F*** the skinny bitches in the club
I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the motherf***king club.
F*** you if you skinny bitches WHAT?
Minaj seems to know what she’s doing. It’s not like Meghan Trainor’s “All
About the Bass,” which includes only one example of thinshaming and then takes it back by saying, “kidding.”
Minaj is actively thinshaming. Maybe in response to all the articles that criticize thinshaming? Whatever the reason, she wants us to know that skinny women do not belong in this specific representation of feminine bodies.
While it is obvious why this kind of othering is problematic, does thin-shaming go deeper than just hurt feelings? Many responses to “Anaconda” have written off women’s feelings as basically whining; however, their criticism is about a lot more than just the crocodile tears of a skinny white girl who’s been shamed for twerking.
In the black community, there is an appreciation for curvy women. In hiphop, it’s known that the desired female aesthetic features big butts, big hips, big thighs, and the assumed typical aspects of an Afrocentric female. Think back to your lesson on female sexualization from Women’s Studies 101 when you learned about Sarah Baartmen—the woman from Africa whose very curvy frame was literally studied for science.
While many women of color have this body type, the hiphop ideal is drastically different from that of mainstream society. In mainstream society you’re either Scarlett Johansson or you’re Cara Delevingne. Being skinny and black means you’re not conventionally attractive. However, large women are still not perceived as conventionally attractive either. If you look at Minaj, she’s got a small waist, flat stomach, and she barely has rolls or flab. That means that what Minaj is pushing is not body positivity but the idealization of one type of body that is often only achieved through genetics or surgery. Yeah, squats equal a nice backside, but does it equal Minaj booty? Certainly not.
While this aspect of her song obviously causes negative feelings for many women of many different races, it would not be a Minaj song if there wasn’t something else she was trying to say.
In case you are not familiar with Nicki Minaj, recently she’s had a “beef” with Iggy Azalea. Minaj has spoken out about how she thinks rap has lost a lot of authenticity because of rappers like Azalea, Macklemore, Kreyshawn, and many other white rappers accused of cultural appropriation.
This problem was made clear this year at the BET Awards when Minaj pleaded that the awards stay “authentic”—in other words, stay black.
But the BET Awards have always included performances by a couple of white singers and rappers, like Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake, and Eminem. So as far as the awards go, diversity and talent is the key, not so much a “people of color only” sign.
Taylor Swift in her new video “Shake It Off”
The thin-shaming part of “Anaconda,” though, attacks the cultural appropriation of hiphop dancing, black culture, and twerking—the kind of cultural appropriation with which so many white celebrities have become obsessed. Society seems fascinated with the sexuality of black women as well as their bodies. This fascination has turned black women’s bodies into a comical act, as well as a fetishization. Minaj dares to fight this concept with her own sense of female empowerment.
While “Anaconda” maintains plenty of of YAAAASSSSSfactor and slays me every time I watch it (which is a lot more times than I care to admit), I cannot help but acknowledge the problems I have with the video. This includes the expectation of ethnic body types being similar to that of video vixens, and the video’s lack of recognition to the variety of bodies that exist in the black community.
While I have never been the kindest critic of Nicki Minaj, I think the overall intent of “Anaconda” was mostly accomplished, and for that reason I’d be happy to have the music video play on a loop on my tombstone for eternity.
by Leah Railey