Thinking of Happiness and Black Female Bodies

19 Jun

So over the past few weeks there has been much controversy over “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” Flaming Lips video that was edited and released without the knowledge/approval of the featured artist, Erykah Badu.  Honestly, I have mixed emotions about the video, liking some parts and disturbed by others.  Full disclosure: I found the “Window Seat” video to be a very powerful statement.  I felt it viscerally, I was both anxious and fearful of the backlash and envious of what I perceived to be free-spiritedness and freedom of Badu’s actions. But for this recent one I’m still trying to figure it out, but it got me thinking about artists that have done body work in their lyrics.  The song that is always with me is “Images,” a haunting ballad sung by Nina Simone based on the 1920’s poem written by Waring Cuney.  The lyrics are as follows:

She does not know her beauty

She thinks her brown body

Has no glory

If she could dance naked

under palm trees

And see her image in the river

She would know

But there are no palm trees

In the streets

And dishwater gives back

No image

Whenever I hear this song I think of a series of songs that support Cuney’s basic body philosophy.  I think of this song/poem because we have lots of discussions about appropriate body narratives and body visuals through popular culture, but on a basic level it feels like television is the “dishwater” and shameful billboards take the place of palm trees. We could truly benefit from some time at the river, no mirrors, no media, just nature.  In these moments of uncontrollable swirling images I prescribe “nature care,” literature, and history for your happiness tool box.

13 Responses to “Thinking of Happiness and Black Female Bodies”

  1. Kristin June 19, 2012 at 1:35 PM #

    I agree that Erykah’s Window Seat had a very, “don’t give a darn” feeling and that reflects her artistic freedom, but there were several elements about that Flaming Lips video that disturbed me. I felt it that it leaned more towards the exploitative side than the artistic freedom side given several elements that I picked up on. One being the dynamics between the naked black woman’s body and the clothed white males bodies. That unsettled my stomach and recalled to me those moment’s in Toni Morrison’s Beloved when Sethe was being “experimented” on and the tales of Sarah Brightman being exhibited, as well it had a similar mix of controversy as that Impressionist painting with the nude woman picnicking with the clothed men on the lawn. I didn’t feel that Erykah was being included as an artist, but exposed for the entertainment of those men. I also felt discomfort at the fact that all the sexualized elements were performed by her younger sister. That just didn’t feel right and the end was way over the top. Obviously that was supposed to be semen, but why did it have to be such a massive amount? The other thing that bothered me was that the song was originally a genuine love poem. It talks about all those first moments when you recognize that you want to be that person’s “forever”. I felt that sexualizing that took away from it’s original intent and made it (for lack of a better word) “dirty”. My last point (and maybe I was looking to hard) but did anyone else notice Erykah’s eye makeup and wonder who hit her?

    Art is supposed to provoke emotion, and discussion and in that case the FL video succeeded. It’s just unfortunate that it also provoked me to recoil in distaste.

  2. sheridf June 19, 2012 at 1:55 PM #

    Thank you for sharing your critique of the Flaming Lips video. There are certainly multiple levels for concern, particularly since Badu did not approve the video. I’m troubled by the idea that “her people” would let an outsider work with her and her sister’s nude images without a very strict agreement regarding their use. While I’m interested in knowing her intent, I believe the “dishwater” (meaning the politics of digital visual imagery) is too cloudy to ever give us what we need.

  3. Ms World June 19, 2012 at 4:27 PM #

    I can’t make myself actually watch the entire Erykah Badu/Flaming Lips artistic video, so I have nothing to say about that. I totally feel the Waring Cuney poem and ideas. A few months ago, I visited the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is mainly a national park. After swimming at a pretty empty beach by choice and seemingly attracting all the sand in the world, I needed to take a quick shower in a stall that was outside. While I was naked and washing myself, I looked up and was taken aback by the beauty of the sky and a cool breeze kissed my naked body – at that moment I felt a part of the natural world and literally understood the beauty of nature and myself in the world. I also seem to feel this way when I’m walking around my apartment naked or relaxing at the Korean spa (naked) . I always feel good about my body when I’m naked. Hope that makes sense!

  4. sheridf June 19, 2012 at 7:23 PM #

    @ Ms. World. that makes complete sense. I loved the Korean spa I went to because there were so many different yet similar bodies in terms of color, shape, size, age, texture, and more. I love seeing the older women wash each other’s hair and care for one another. I love the process the first timers go through getting comfortable being naked in a room full of nude women (and children).

    When I think about “dancing naked under palm trees” I think of the safety/security implied in such a concept, the real sense of comfort in your own skin and in “the woods.” How nice would it be to live in a world where our bodies were celebrated and safe in public and private spaces, where black women’s history was readily available in abundance, where we could come to know our best selves in our elders eyes and as a continuation of a strong ancestral legacy everyday/all the time.

    Like India, I want to be still in my mind, body, and soul so that I too can hear the wind call my name. You will notice I did not link to the Flaming Lips video because I did not want to participate in the circulation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the video and your positive body narrative.

  5. jillianmckee June 20, 2012 at 9:05 AM #


    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could email me?


  6. crunkonia June 20, 2012 at 2:11 PM #

    Thank you for this: “We could truly benefit from some time at the river, no mirrors, no media, just nature.” I totally agree.

  7. DragonflyWriter June 22, 2012 at 1:10 PM #

    Reblogged this on The Ramblings of a Black Feminist and commented:
    I loved this piece. Nina Simone’s voice is beautiful and haunting. I could listen to this song for long time.

  8. auntsis522 June 23, 2012 at 1:39 PM #

    I dont know how I found this site but am sure glad I did.

  9. The One June 26, 2012 at 11:01 PM #

    Judging by some of the things I have seen in this video and what they are doing to/around her, I guess her minding or not is based on the skin color of who is doing it.


    • The One June 26, 2012 at 11:02 PM #

      I meant the “things I have seen in some of her other videos”

  10. Lala July 8, 2012 at 5:16 PM #

    It looks like ghetto gaggers if a BLACK rapper did it the feminists –black an and white–would have their minds.


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