CHICAGO — Stylist Hayley Pisaturo is a diva. In her Instagram photostream, she poses by a California license plate, her fingers making the peace sign and her tongue sticking out just enough to imply cunnilingus, thus ironically sexualizing herself in that white girl way. Appearing half-stoned or drunk, she kneels down next to the vanity-plate letters “DIVA 40” printed boldly below the breezy red cursive letters that spell out a blue state license plate.
Fashioned in the same designer-wearing, giant hoop-earring-toting comic ersatz aesthetic as Kreayshawn, a rapper I begrudgingly enjoy and love to hate, Pisaturo’s exploitative fashion shoot OFFICIAL GLAM GIRL for DIS Magazine is yet another disappointing instance of black womens’ bodies as objects of an unsmiling capitalism, an order ruled smirkingly by a white woman performing a blinged out, pimp-like gender. Everything that this magazine does is presented as somewhat of a joke, with a punchline redeemed by the fatuous appeal of vacant shock or predictable high-low thrills. This one falls flat on its tiny little white girl ass.
In the GLAM GIRLS photo shoot, we are presented with five women who aim to make it as models; they are identified by their first names and current occupation. Missy is a 26-year-old nutritionist from the Bronx; Leoncia is a model and dancer from Queens; Beverly, is a full-time video model who was recently seen in 50 Cent’s “Be My Bitch”; Santhya is an aspiring recording artist trained in traditional Sri Lankan Bharatanatyam dance. And then there’s Mia, who is currently in the Army National Guard. Save for one model, each woman is first presented in a black-and-white photograph, portrayed as a smart-looking professional; she is wearing some variation on a suit or tightly clad dress, sitting on or standing near a swively office chair.
The next image contrasts with this one visually and in terms of content; it is in full-color, the woman is portrayed in some type of hypersexualized position, and objectified next to some type of commodity. Missy, for example, goes from sitting cross-legged in a Herman Miller office chair to wearing a black bra and a white thong, behind facing the viewer, with a Starbucks cup of coffee perched on her rear. She turns back, and stares seductively; in the next shot, she’s positioned in a sexualized cat “come at me” pose, on the ground next to the designer swivel chair, which is no longer of use as anything more than a prop for exploitative positions.
In the next three photos, Missy averts her gaze; her ass squashes an orange traffic cone, an empty planting pot is propped in between her breasts, and then in the grand finale image, she is turned away from the viewer completely, presenting only her ass and backside. Missy is given far more on-camera time than the other four models, who go straight from professional to hardly clad ass-in-the-camera, perhaps because she positions herself in far more sexually suggestive positions than the other women.
The commodity fetishism alongside Missy’s hypersexualized body reminds of Nelly’s video for the song “Tip Drill,” in which a credit card is run through the ass crack of a young black woman. She literally becomes the vehicle for consumer purchasing power, straddling the line between soft porn and bling aesthetics that is a regular staple of hip-hop culture.
In bell hooks‘ seminal text Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984), she discusses the ways that black women occupy an unusual position in American society, where they “bear the brunt of sexist, racist, and classist oppression. At the same time,” she writes, “we are the group that has not been socialized to assume the role of exploiter/oppressor in that we are allowed no institutionalized ‘other’ that we can exploit or oppress.”
In this context, the white female stylist seems to occupy a similar position of power as black male rappers in relation to dominating and commodifying black womens’ bodies. Nelly may be swiping a credit card through the ass of a young black woman in his video for “Tip Drill” — depicting the body as the locus of capitalist transaction — but Hayley Pisaturo is doing it in a way both more obvious and covert. Using crass bourgeois brands like Starbucks and Herman Miller, or freshman-seminar intellectual identifiers (a Freud book figures prominently in one photograph), and everyday construction or gardening objects, the scenes she styles equate the sexualized black female body with various parallel modes of consumption.
Certainly the message is not as in-your-face and charged as Nelly’s; rather, it seeps into the mind of the viewer, and sends the message that this type of domineering sexualization has somehow been made acceptable for ironic reproduction today, 30 years after the publication of hooks’ text. “White women may be victimized by sexism,” writes hooks, “but racism enables them to act as exploiters and oppressors of black people.”