The Troubling Racial History Of Kim K's Champagne Shot

Photo: Courtesy of Xavier Moreau Incorporated.
While Kim Kardashian's instantly infamous Paper shoot almost #broketheinternet yesterday, many viewers simply took peeked, groaned, and moved on. (We don't blame them.) But, though this shoot appeared to be just another instance of Kim flaunting her signature asset, the story behind it — and the story behind the story — is one rooted in exploitation and ugly racial stereotypes.
The shoot’s photographer, Jean-Paul Goude, used his 1976 photo, "Carolina Beaumont, New York" (which is more commonly known as "The Champagne Incident"), as the inspiration for the shot in which Kardashian balances a glass on her extended rear. Just as this new photo was clearly altered, so was the original. In the days before Photoshop, Goude often assembled several shots of a model in different positions so as to create a hyperbolized version of her body. It's a method he did frequently with other models, particularly his muse and sometimes-girlfriend, Grace Jones. For example, for her famous Island Life album cover in 1985, Goude explained how he used dozens of photos to create her final "arabesque" pose. "That’s the basis of my entire work," Goude said. "Creating a credible illusion."
It's the "credible illusion" part that raised hackles among viewers and critics of Goude's studies on black female bodies, and Jones in particular. From an early age, "I had jungle fever," the photographer told People in 1979, explaining his habit of exaggerating and eroticizing the features of black women. In "Carolina Beaumont," for example, her ass is not the only standout. Styleite quotes cultural critic Janell Hobson’s take: "The subject wears an 'exotic' hairstyle and ‘smiles’ for the camera in the pose of a 'happy savage pleased to serve.'" Jones became the primary subject of Goude's Jungle Fever book, featuring her in various athletic or exotic scenarios, including the legendary cover shot over her growling like an animal inside a steel cage.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Unsettling as the photos may be to some viewers, Jones was an active artistic collaborator in their creation. However, photos like these clearly reflect the historic fetishizing of the black female body. Yesterday's piece on The Grio brought up the story of Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman, an African woman who became a famous "exhibit" in 19th century freak shows. Baartman's body and protuberant buttocks in particular were highlighted as "wild and savage," often illustrated as even larger than they were in reality. Baartman was promoted as a sub-human specimen, and for an extra fee, viewers could even prod her famous rear with a stick. When she died, her genitals were put on display alongside a cast of her body, positioned so as to highlight her extended buttocks.
Paper was explicit in its intentions with the Kim Kardashian photo ("We gave ourselves one assignment: Break The Internet"). So, it’s not entirely fair to assume the champagne shot is a commentary on the complex history of racial exploitation and fetishization of the female form. But, it's also not as simple as "Kim Kardashian Shows Off Her Ass." When looking at a photo like this, it's worth examining the influences behind it and the history therein — much as we'd like to look away.

More from Books & Art

"The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers...
We all know what it means to call someone a trainwreck. It refers to a person who has gone off the rails — a hot mess who always seems to be in the ...
Sneak peek inside book ^^^^! Link to order in bio. #carrythisbook A video posted by @abbijacobson on Sep 25, 2016 at 10:33am PDT Abbi Jacobson, ...
Vanessa Bayer of "SNL" interviews author Jessi Klein
Back in the early 1970s, Pierre Le Guennec was Pablo Picasso's handyman and electrician. Le Guennec had such a good relationship with the artist that he ...
J.K. Rowling, the reigning queen of the Wizarding World, has a present for you. That present is a quiz in which Pottermore will select your patronus. We ...
I do not recognize Mara Wilson when she arrives at an ice cream shop in Brooklyn, wearing a red dress and a sweep of black eyeliner. When she says hello...
Whether rooted in reality or a glamorized rom-com, job stereotypes make it easy to assume the voices behind most runway reviews, PR pitches, and cover ...
In honor of National Support Teen Literature Day, we've collected the best books to pick up if you're in the mood for a little young adult lit. YA has only...
There are some books you pick up because you know they'll be tear-jerkers, and you're not opposed to a good cry. Then there are the books that sucker-punch...
It's been a big year for the Winnie the Pooh characters. This summer, the original stuffed animals the literary characters are based upon (who reside in ...
Even if you're not actually going back to school, there's something about September air that makes it feel as though it's time to go buy pencils and ...
As long as books have existed, there have been people trying to stop people from reading them. And though the practice is widely condemned, it is also ...
If you're anything like the R29 crew, chances are you spend a lot of time engaged with a screen during the day. So maybe the last thing you want to do ...