The Black Female Body and Contemporary Fashion Imagery: Social Conflict and Visual Influence

  • Ella Okoromadu

“Throughout the centuries, the black look has been both derided and eulogized” (Arogundade, 2000). From the slave girl in 15th century Europe to androgynous figures alike to Grace Jones, the display of the Black female body has had varying aesthetic proposals for societies to then perceive – dividing thoughts on the meaning and quality of ‘beauty’ when applied to the Black woman. Society have perceived Black females to be the Mammy figure who was situated within the history of Black slavery, to the glamorous bourgeois supermodel or sexy video vixen found in 1990s hip hop and rap music videos, but to name a few. The continuously changing connotations applied to the Black woman’s aesthetic is parallel to how they were perceived by society at that point in time. Thus, one could say that Black women were presented in fashion image (or popular culture generally) as a direct illustration of their current social status. The dual feelings of love and hate towards the Black woman, whether it is love of Black beauty or an ancestral hatred for Black people, create a paradox to which the Black female body must then situate itself between. On that account, this dissertation argues that society’s conflicting notions of sexual fetishism and racial prejudice against Black women have influenced their visual presence in contemporary fashion image.