Thursday, September 25, 2014

#ThrowbackThursday: The Sad and Lost Case of Saartjie Baartman

The obsession with curvy bodies is not something familiar nor does it have pleasant beginnings. I first heard this story from Instagram as a backlash against not only the Vogue booty article, but also Nicki Minaj's Anaconda. It's disturbing, and pretty sad, but I feel it needs to be told here.

In the early 19th century, a kidnapped and enslaved woman by the name Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman was purchased as part of a circus sideshow. Born to a Khoisan family in South Africa, Saartjie had a genetic medical condition called steatopygia, a condition caused by concentrated amounts of fat in the buttocks and sometimes extends to the front of the thighs and knees, a genetic characteristic in the Khoisan and Bantu tribes of South Africa.
Sarrtjie was convinced in 1810 by an British doctor to travel to London, England where should become very wealthy due to her extravagant looks. She instead was paraded around as a freak show oddity, usually naked. 

This humiliation lasted until public attention wore thin. She then went into prostitution which, it is said, led to her dying of syphilus in December of 1815. 

Her exhibition continued even in death. Instead of being given a proper burial, Saartjie's body was dissected, then put on display for over 150 years. Museum goers could view her brain, skeleton, and even her genitals before her remains were laid to rest.

This sad account of one woman that history forgot makes me wonder how we are honoring our ancestors, when now, instead of an oppressive system enslaving us and parading us as oddities, we are doing it to ourselves.

Those who don't know their past are doomed to repeat it.