Saturday, August 25, 2012

Extraordinary Black Bodies & Media

Over the last week or so, two images featuring black bodies caught my attention. First, there was the image of Rick Ross on the cover of Rolling Stone. Then, there was the image of Venus and Serena Williams on the cover of The New York Times magazine for a story on them in the publication.

What makes the Ricky Rozay image extraordinary relates to the outrageous nature of his large frame, protruding stomach, and many, many tattoos. The Williams sisters image is extraordinary because of how impressively fit these black women are. The more prominent and pervasive images of famous black women tend to focus on their beauty and sexiness, but the Times image projects the sisters' athleticism (peep the Nike swoosh on Serena's attire).

For their die-hard fan bases, the images of their cultural heroes are empowering. For Ross's fans, he has his characteristic and signature style on full display. Fans of Venus and Serena Williams no doubt appreciate an image that projects them as confident and powerful. 

In her work on black disability studies, our contributing writer Therí A. Pickens has advised that we pursue scholar Chris Bell's idea of doing "representational detective work" in order to highlight hidden stories about illness, disability, and injury. In this case, Ross has had heart trouble, Venus Williams lives with Sjögren's syndrome, and Serena Williams has had surgeries based on injury related to an accident with glass to her foot. Those back stories, though, are off camera so to speak.

Whatever the case, the two images of these black bodies are vibrant texts that can inspire multiple readings.  

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