Column: ‘Breaking the Internet’ or exploiting racial stereotypes?


Katie Smith, Online Editor

When Kim Kardashian “broke the Internet” with her revealing Paper Magazine photographs, she perpetuated the long-running exploitation of black women.

Whether or not Kim’s butt is natural or man-made, it is a replica of a nearly identical photograph taken by the same photographer, Jean Paul Goude in 1982 – the difference being in his 1982 photograp, the model is black and the backdrop is blue, while in Kim’s photo, the backdrop is brown, and the implications somehow less subtle.

Surely he thought people would not catch on to his reference to his book of photographs titled, “Jungle Fever,” which featured photos of black women growling in cages, bearing their vaginas, and jumping rope with monkeys.

Goude was even quoted in a 1979 People Magazine article as having fallen prey to “jungle fever,” saying that he fell in love with an aesthetic he associated with black and Hispanic women after watching West-Side Story and the Alvin Ailey dance troupe.

The difference here is in the distinction between appreciation and celebration, and blatant exploitation.

The images featured in his book, given its title, context and content, were no more than a fetishizing of a group of people he found new and exciting, and proceeded to sexualize and make animalistic.

Kim’s photograph and its predecessor are uncomfortably photoshopped and similar to the image of Sara “Saartjie” Baartman, a woman sold into slavery and exploited as a side-show attraction while her body was put on display in a cage.

Regardless of whether or not Kim ever acknowledged the implications of her photos, the issue remains that the exploitation of black women’s bodies remains a recurring issue.

We see Kim’s photograph everywhere with the words, “Go ahead, Kim. Break the Internet.”

It would be hard for Goude and Paper Magazine to deny that their intentions fell anywhere short of purposefully recreating and overdoing a photograph originally created to sexualize black women.

The evolution of Kim Kardashian’s butt has been “news” for years – it’s size, it’s shape, what it’s wearing, how it looks in heels.

This is the only time it’s ever been newsworthy because it is reminiscent of a real issue.

Katie Smith is a senior journalism.

She can be reached at 581-7912 or [email protected].