If one is lucky while looking down at the insubstantial, minor men and women made into magnets of attention by our storm of electronic fluff, the truth might roll over and show its ass. That is all one can say about the recent death for a big bottom suffered by Solange Magnano, who had once been Miss Argentina. At 38, Magnano was the mother of two and was married to a guy who didn’t mind her going under the knife for a fashion curve that wasn’t always considered beautiful.
This puts a new perspective on all of the things said in condescending tones by those making fun of Jewish women who, as I once heard it said, had nose surgery in order to “unhook themselves.” We all should know now how many barbs are verbally hurled by those driven to laughter, disgust, or shame when they witness all of the hoops through which black American women will jump in order to supposedly measure up to European beauty standards.
America has come to a point in which white women are not only getting silicone shot into their lips but silicone inserted into their bottoms.
Now it seems that those with white female bodies sometimes seek other bottoms and have decided that they, of course, deserve them if they can be afforded. This was not always the case.
I read many years ago that aggressively large and curved buttocks on arriving African slaves helped convince some whites of their animal origins and were used as other examples of why American slavery was just fine and dandy. Look at that backside, they are obviously less human. Disgusting.
Even so, by the end of the 19th century, the bustle was in full play and was a quite popular “booty mask,” as one black female intellectual said to me during an evening of impassioned revelry near UCLA. This was at a self-segregated 1960s party where the black people made as much fun of whites as they could, whether or not any of them had white friends, lovers, or spouses. That seemed as obligatory for us, as I was learning it was a rule of the ethic game for Jews to satirize Christians to the fullest extent humanly possible. It was not always good clean fun, but it was largely not malicious, just the sort of satire meant to bring the supposedly high and mighty down into a world below those thought lesser, where all things might be judged by the low-down and dirty.
When I was a boy growing up in the 1950s, it was not at all out of the ordinary to hear black people observe that if white people really did not think that brown or dark brown skin was attractive, why in the hell did they break their necks and lay out in the sun so long in order to get the “deepest, richest” tan they could.
At college, when I was sightseeing among white guys and we all pointed out the females we thought looked good. If a fine woman with an “abundant history”—or a lot behind her—was identified, the response startled me until I realized that we saw things differently. These white guys would usually say, “Yes, she has a pretty face and a nice chest, but her ass is just too fat, man.”
As a writer, this intrigued me, and I was frequently startled by the flat backsides of the women chosen for the men’s magazines. In his abominable autobiography, Miles Davis explains why he was reluctant to be interviewed by Playboy, "All they have are blonde women with big tits and flat asses or no asses. So who the fuck wants to see that all the time?" Some black guys would laugh that those blondes in the nude really didn’t have shallow hindquarters but “very long backs,very, very long.”
Things began to change over the years as Italian movie stars started to make their way into the electronic firmament, particularly Sophia Loren. She may not have had a Negroid bundle in her bottom, but it was close enough. Once the love of certain forms start coming up from Africa, its first stop might be Italy but eventually it makes its way into the Hispanic world, and we all know what Jennifer Lopez did for that conversation. She was too popular to be denied and put a newly appreciated curve in the fashionable female body. Whenever we get to Puerto Ricans, we are only a few curves or skin tones or fullnesses of lips from black Americans. The black American of choice is almost always a half-caste of some sort, like Halle Berry, or someone looking the part of a half-caste, like Beyoncé Knowles.
Upon seeing the movie Thirteen in 2003, I realized that something big had happened and the girls depicted in the harmless beach party movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello had switched reels. Young white girls in high school commended one another during recess for having “ghetto booty.” We were no longer in flat-ass Kansas. Hardly. The United States had arrived in a time when African physiognomy had finally made the cut, so much so that certain white women were not only getting silicone shot into their lips but silicone inserted into their bottoms.
When a woman like Solange Magnano dies because a substance intended only for her buttocks gets loose and results in an embolism, we are forced to cut short the jokes and step up to the serious consequences that can result from taking too many chances to remain young, beautiful, and up to date. There it is.
No society will ever so reverse its standards of attractiveness that those now considered beautiful will be rejected and replaced by those presently considered unattractive. What has and will happen is that beauty standards, like everything else in our shifting contemporary world, will expand and we will have more choices of what to like, to love, to be inspired by and even to use as sources of aspiration.
But the moment a Magnano or the mother of Kanye West dies from cosmetic surgery complications, we need to slow down to the point of understanding our lives a bit better than we presently do. If we had a greater appreciation for the human values which so many are capable of developing or embodying, far fewer might be overwhelmed by the constant blather about surfaces.
The essences of humanity are about confidence, empathy, and support. We know it is a tragedy that superficial things have become so important but we rarely have the chance to see, as we did with the death of a somewhat desperate former beauty queen and the highly educated mother of a dim-bulbed pop star, just how completely a human life can be smothered under the weight of an obsession with the surface of existence rather than the vitality of its pulse.
Stanley Crouch's culture pieces have appeared in Harper's, The New York Times, Vogue, Downbeat, The New Yorker, and more. He has served as artistic consultant for jazz programming at Lincoln Center since 1987, and is a founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center. In June 2006 his first major collection of jazz criticism, Considering Genius: Jazz Writings, was published. He is completing a book about the Barack Obama presidential campaign.