La Belle et la Bête

Person to Know
Saartije “Sara” Baartman
Original Publication
February 19, 2014
Last Updated
Jan 17, 2023 5:48 AM

Spotlight on Saartije Baartman

Saartije (also known as Sara) Baartman was born in South Africa and taken to London, England where she was put on display as the "Hottentot Venus." Hottentot is a derogatory name given to the inhabitants of South Africa that had cattle,[2] while Venus is the Roman goddess of love. Unlike Venus, Baartman would receive both admiration and abuse throughout her life (and even death). Baartman was both orphaned and widowed before leaving her teens causing her to become a servant. Later, she was smuggled to London by a British military doctor hoping to make money by displaying her "abnormal" body features. Placed on stage in almost no clothing, Europeans admired, ogled, laughed and otherwise obsessed over her anatomy (particularly her butt).

Faced with the choice of continuing to be exploited as a source of entertainment but receiving some pay and a tiny bit of freedom or return to South Africa and servitude, Baartman chose to stay in London. To cope with her decision, she took to alcohol.[1] It is unknown however, if she ever received the payment she was promised. Eventually she left London for Paris; at the waning of her popularity in France, she was forced into prostitution.[2] Shortly after, she died in December 1815 and even in death her remains were used for a hyper-sexual and grotesque post-mortem dissection.[1]

For 160 years, her remains—which consisted of several jars containing pickled body parts—were left on display at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris. In 1974, her remains were finally removed from public display. In 1994, Nelson Mandela requested her remains be sent back to South Africa, but it wasn't until 2002 that they were returned and buried.[2]

While women in general face exploitation even in our current society, 2013 was a year that sent people reeling in controversy over the exploitation of black women. Two of the most covered issued came from Miley Cyrus' already controversial VMA performance and Lily Allen's video for her single "Hard Out Here." Both performances consist of a white artist surrounded by black women who are obviously being objectified. Whether from Miley smacking their rear and "popularizing" the twerk craze or the scantily clad and still twerking dancers from Lily Allen's video. Of course both artist deny any malintent, but that didn't stop many from being upset and concerned that black women will always be objectified.[4][5][6][7] Whether these artists were simply ignorant and naive to their actions or intending to make the point many accused them of, the truth is we as women should be united in the fight against our exploitation and objectification.


La Belle et la Bête

La Belle et la Bête...

Admire me from afar and take note—

My skin, my hair, my face, and my curves

Forget the heart beating in my chest

Judge me, if you will—

Berate and condemn as you "ooh" and "ahh"

Born and bred, incubated in the womb of envy

Your unwanted eyes may hasten my steps

Or give rise to second thoughtEven if I know where your hatred lies...

A second glance in the mirror

Maybe I have to stand there for a minute,

Gather my composure before I step away

Convince myself of my worth

And know I am not limited to your standard.

I am more than what you see—

More than my skin, my hair, my face, my curves...

And while I may not be your beauty

I am certainly not your beast.


  1. Caroline Elkins. "A Life Exposed". New York Times January 14, 2007
  2. "Sarah Baartman to be honoured". Brand South Africa. February 27, 2009
  3. "Sara "Saartjie" Baartman". South African History Online. August 16, 2013
  4. Laura Cox. "Lily hit by race row over sexist video 'parody': Singer faces controversy after using scantily-clad black women in promo for latest track". Daily Mail. November 14, 2013
  5. Ray Rahman. "Lily Allen defends her new video against racism charges". Entertainment Weekly. November 13, 2013
  6. Roxxxie Maneater. "Solidarity is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of her VMA Performance". Jezebel. August 26, 2013
  7. Tressie McMillan Cottom. "Brown Body, White Wonderland". Slate. August 29, 2013

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