CREDIT: John Shearer/Invision/AP
Last week, Nicki Minaj posted the cover art for her latest single, “Anaconda,” on Instagram. In the image, Minaj is wearing nothing but a pink g-string, pink sports bra, and a pair of blue Jordans. The photo is taken from behind, and Minaj is looking over her shoulder, with a, “Yeah, what about it?” expression on her face.
While some fans reacted with enthusiasm and good, if raunchy, humor — photoshopping the picture onto a t-shirt, or having Spongebob lick Minaj’s butt, depicting Rafiki presenting Minaj to the Pride Lands — others felt Minaj went too far. Chuck Creekmur, the owner of AllHipHop.com, Chuck Creekmur, posted “Dear Nicki Minaj: An Open Letter From A Father” in which he gave the rapper a patriarchal scolding:
“When I peeped the artwork for your latest single, I wasn’t even shocked, I was just disappointed. The song: “Anaconda.” The art: your booty in a thong. As a man, I can appreciate the virtues of your perfect posterior. The dad guy is not a happy camper, particularly now that his lil’ girl is transitioning into a young lady… Is this the path you want to lead impressionable kids down?…How will boys, already conditioned to sexualize girls at a young age, internalize this big booty of yours?”
It’s ridiculous for Creekmur to assume what Minaj’s impression on his daughter will be. Though he may think the only takeaway from Minaj’s career is her sexualized image, his daughter could choose to be inspired, for instance, by Minaj’s triumph in a male-dominated industry.
Tshepo Mokoena from The Guardian chimed in similarly, asking if Minaj’s cover art was “too racy for its own good?” “The question is whether this is a step too far, even for an artist who has always openly courted controversy. But does it undermine her image as a powerful, independently minded artist to splay her almost-bare butt cheeks in a promotional image? Or is the joke on the voyeurs who only ogle at her voluptuous body and miss the message of her lyrics?”
There’s a common thread in these critiques: they don’t just linger on Minaj’s wardrobe. The concern is that Minaj’s body is not fit for public display. Creekmur specifically notes “this big booty of yours” in his letter; Mokoena describes Minaj’s “voluptuous body.”
Minaj, longtime rallier against bogus double standards, responded on Instagram by posting a series of photos of women in similar poses and thong bottoms that are exempt from the criticism she’s facing now, alongside the word “ACCEPTABLE”:
Then she reposted her album artwork with one word beside it: “UNACCEPTABLE.”
Minaj’s message: women with bigger, curvier bodies get punished for wearing the same outfits as women who are thinner, smaller, flatter. Who adhere to a very particular beauty standard, one that is celebrated by institutions like Sports Illustrated and, not coincidentally, is more commonly found in white women than in women of color. It’s worth noting that Chrissy Teigen, the only non-white woman included in Minaj’s Instagram spree, tweeted a link to Minaj’s post in reply:
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) July 25, 2014
landed, saw she posted our cover, called our asses acceptable. Which I took as a compliment as I know I have no ass. Now pure entertainment.
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) July 25, 2014
As Teigen jokingly points out, she doesn’t have the same body type as Minaj. And she’s pictured next to two white women.
“In fact it’s at the point where white people like Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and Jen Selter have insinuated an ownership over a ‘trend’, without acknowledging that their cultural appropriation reflects a very specific type of oppression. People of colour have been aggressively categorized as Other in a multitude of ways for centuries, and having body types that differ from idealized white bodies continues to be a massive part of that. So what is this really about? Exploitation? Her race? The fact that she’s doing it herself for her own single? All of the above.”
Csuti writes about the “concerns over perceived exploitation” which insult Minaj’s agency and intellect: “The worry people express over Minaj neglects the possibility that a woman is capable of showing her body for her own pleasure and enjoyment.” Minaj, who is quite possibly one of the most influential female rappers of all time, knows what society says is acceptable. Check the right boxes, and you’re good to go. But by choosing not to adhere to these rules, Minaj is reshaping the narrative of how our culture dictates sexuality, especially as it intersects with race. By calling out the double standard, she is forcing all of us to think about it, too. To paraphrase the always brilliant and quotable Amy Poehler, she doesn’t fucking care if you like it.
This article previously referred to Teigen as a black woman. She is of Thai and Norwegian descent. We regret the error.
Shannon Greenwood is an intern at ThinkProgress.