Women in Entertainment

By Athambile Masola

Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Siphokazi, Thandiswa Mazwai, Judith Sephuma, Simphiwe Dana, Sibongile Khumalo, India Arie, Asa, Busi Mhlongo, Lira are some of the names that always come to mind when I think of women in entertainment. This is because of my obvious bias to music by women who seem to appear more real than the options offered in the media about what women in entertainment ought to represent. They are successful and great at what they do. They are also not part of the day to day discourse of being a pop star and their images of “normal” looking women who are not size zeros are not part of the images we see on billboards. These are women who don’t fit the norm of what it means to look like in the entertainment industry as the likes of Rihanna, Beyonce, Kelly Khumalo and Chomi seem to.

The main contention about women in entertainment always seems to be centralised on looks, and the easiest target, a woman’s body. There’s the weave, the make up, the heals and the dancers in the music videos who are often scantily clad with muscular male dancers swooning all over them. However, for women who do not fit the sex kitten prototype of music videos, there’s the soul sister who is always fully dressed (unless you’re stripping like Erikah Badu) with a turban and jewellery like a gypsy or a weave like Jill Scott and Angie Stone. It seems that there are two streams of women in entertainment: the plastic looking women and those who are soul sisters. Imagine Sibongile Khumalo rocking “single ladies” like Beyonce, it would hurt our senses of what it means to be an entertainer and female in our minds. Again, women are placed in a position of fulfilling the mother Africa prototype or the sex bomb prototype and the two are always rivals. Women are once again boxed into whom they should and should not be.

The implications of this of course is that it always seems that the soul sister/mother Africa is incapable of exuding any of her sexuality apart from the reverence and dignity that is bestowed upon her for not giving into the norms of women being size zero and plastic-looking. So there seems to be a rock and a hard place again because it’s an either/or scenario where size zero women are envied and the soul sisters glorified as representing the human face of what it means to be a woman. A perfect example of this is India Arie’s songs that must have liberated many women: “I’m not the average girl in a video/and I ain’t built like a super model…my worth is not determined by the price of my clothes/no matter what I’m wearing I will always be the India Arie” and “I am not my hair/ I am not this skin…I am the soul that lives within”. She used the strong force of the entertainment industry to question the images women are offered as a mirror image (or not) of who we should or shouldn’t be.

Images in the media are strong and they sadly matter to our real lives. I have been dumbfounded by the amount of young girls who think that Rihanna’s hairstyles in her music videos should be a daily hairstyle. The nature of the entertainment world is that it is made up and not real. But with people trying to replicate it more and more in their daily lives trying to look like Beyonce, means that lines are getting blurred: are the images of women in entertainment a result of men and women’s fantasies or are they a result of the ploys of the industry in order for women to be as discontented as possible in their bodies unless they represent an image that is made up?

But I always have to stop myself before I judge what this means about women’s beauty in our daily lives: women who do wear weaves (hair extension), choose to do so. Women who wear make up and high heals choose to spend money on these items and they should be allowed to do so. And women who aspire to look like Madonna and not Jill Scott choose to do so. And women who do not, should not be made to feel lacking.


1 thought on “Women in Entertainment”

  1. I think Thandiswa is way more the mainstream image in South Africa. And our most successful Black woman is Rebecca; at the height of her career a decade ago, her curves and peachy complexion were idealised by young black women.

    Chomee and Kelly Khumalo are not the norm in the South African scene and they aren’t the ideal. I’ve not heard young black women saying ‘Oh I wanna be skinny/ small like Chomee’. They’re more likely to say ‘Oh I wanna be Thandiswa’ and a decade ago would have said ‘I wish I could sing like Rebecca or Brenda’.

    In South Africa there is no ‘ideal’ body type for Black women in terms of the music industry. What there is is an idealisation of their status as famous Blacks with money. In this sense, Thandiswa portrays the faux afro-chic cosmopolitan upwardly-mobile, sophisticated bujwa trendy thing that is dependent on access to a bunch of social capital. Aspiring to be Thandiswa for the status reasons because you are ‘poor’ is no different than aspiring to be Rihanna because you are ‘fat’. But singers like Thandiswa dont portray skinniness because that kind of skinniness doesn’t contribute to your success in the music industry in South Africa (and maybe she doesnt hold those body ideals in any case).

    Rihanna, Beyonce, etc are part of the global media so they’re different.

    There was the issue last year of someone saying Lebo Mashile was unhealthy fat. I didnt even notice Lebo was ‘fat’ until the whole debate started. It doesn’t really matter in Black media.

    Those skinny people like bonang, nonhle thema and those Twinz look very out of place in majority South Africa.

    Maybe at Melrose Arch they look like the ideal. But I find it odd to see these waif-like overly-weaved Black women on SABC 1.

    Not even Generations cares about body type. Although, Muvhango seems to be going to super-chic slender Black woman thing.

    Woke up one day and Muvhango was looking like True Love. I was like hawu.

    It’s too much.

    Oh and I think Lira has adopted the mainstream afrochic thing on purpose too. Coz it sells. She took on that whole thing that Thandiswa made popular but in her own way. And she’s quite skinny too. I love her voice, but am sad to admit I loved her more when she was doing RnB in a weave at 999! go figure…


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