Steatopygous Me

I found this cool poem in an article I read about Sarah Baartman today. I remember when I first read about her, some of the articles described her “condition” as steatopygia or “a high degree of fat accumulation in and around the buttocks” which is also “diagnosed at an angle of 90 degress between the back and the buttocks” (how scientific!). I could not believe there was actually a medical/scientific term for this “genetic trait,” a great example of how women’s bodies become medicalized, as theorist Emily Martin would argue. The poem critiques the disciplines and norms which marginalize physical difference from the Western beauty ideals of thinness and whiteness. 

“Thoughts drifting through the fat black woman’s head while having a full bubble bath”

Steatopygous sky
Steatopygous sea
Steatopygous waves
Steatopygous me

0 how I long to place my foot
on the head of anthropology

to swig my breasts
in the face of history

to scrub my back
with the dogma of theology

to put my soap
in the slimming industry’s
profitsome spoke

Steatopygous sky
Steatopygous sea
Steatopygous waves
Steatopygous me

–Grace Nichols

~ by misswretched on September 23, 2008.

7 Responses to “Steatopygous Me”

  1. I found your site whilst looking for this poem. I’ve been trying to remember the word for years – “steatopygous” – I studied this poem for A-level English about 16 years ago, but it’s stayed with me all these years. I’m not black, I’m white, but I don’t comply with the Western ideal of beauty either, being fat and not very ladylike in many ways.

  2. That is amazing Pinkerbell, I knew nothing of this poem or the word “steatopygous” until a few months ago. I agree that this poem challenges the dominant beauty ideals that exist for most women, regardless of race.

  3. “Her blackness is fine, the blackness of her skin the blackness of her mind”
    Her beauty cannot be measured with standards of a colonized mind
    Darker than blue darker than her blackness
    Unblemished her features broad and striking
    She cradles his body with her large hands
    Her fingers stretch endlessly into his world of pain
    Her caresses warm and penetrating she loves the black boy
    His existence predestined to be one of no remorse compassion
    Or the delusion of equality
    But the love he gives (a doxology for her)
    He praises and cares for what he can never be
    There’s such purity in a love that is essential to the loving of one’s self
    Me’shell Ndegéocello

    beautiful poem. beautiful website.
    just thought i’d contribute.
    dirk in guelph

  4. Beautiful poem Dirk! Thanks for sharing that and thank you for contributing!

  5. the fat black woman joyously repulses the male colonial gaze… we hope that we have that kind of courage… great poem… i’m off to teach it to my students… in sri lanka

  6. I’m doing this for English, an interesting poem but not exactly my cup of tea. Rudyan Kipling’s Just So stories are more my kind of thing. Nevertheless a good poem.

  7. Nice writing! Prisoners draw sometimes also steatopygous women on the isolation cells’ walls. I think this means that the real not well served masculine mind finds the beauty in such a body shape.

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