Woke Boy Extraordinaire™ Kendrick Lamar has supposedly taken on body positivity in his latest release Humble. “I’m so f***in’ sick and tired of the Photoshop/Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor/Show me somethin’ natural like a** with some stretch marks,” he croons while one bare-faced woman stares blankly at the camera and another seductively wiggles her behind. “Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks ay.”
Both men and women immediately began singing his praises. Here was a man who was “celebrating natural beauty” and had “prompted a massive cultural moment.” It’s admittedly very easy to interpret Lamar’s lyrics as progressive. After all, hip-hop is notorious for its virulent brand of misogyny, and we live in a society that thrives on female degradation. Seeing a man who isn’t spitting bars about raping women or calling them b****es can therefore be mistaken as revolutionary. Still, Lamar’s “Humble” is a poisoned chalice, and there’s no use in pretending it’s carrying Holy Water.
Lamar and his supporters overvalue male opinion, viewing it as the gospel when it comes to women’s bodies. These lyrics implicitly tell the listener that the standards women adhere to are irrelevant as long as they appeal to men. It’s a clumsy attempt at consolation, downplaying the fact that how closely women align with these expectations often determines their treatment and suggesting their value is dependent on whether or not a man takes them to bed.
Perhaps that’s why people declaim “men prefer women with curves!” or lament how “fake” heavily made-up women are as if these words are empowering. This urge to cater to male tastes are how such rigid standards are created in the first place. In short, men who try to comfort women by saying they’d still sleep with them are playing into the same system that makes the latter initially hate themselves.
Even more hypocritical is Lamar begging for “somethin’ natural” since his criteria seemingly comes with an asterisk. It’s not surprising that the woman whose face is shown in the video is light-skinned with long, loose curls, a desirable look within the black community. A woman who wears no makeup but has minimal blemishes, who doesn’t agonize over what she eats yet is still thin, who hasn’t had plastic surgery but is born with features he deems acceptable. They’re all variations on the same theme: a woman should embrace her natural beauty provided that she’s already conventionally attractive.
Kendrick Lamar and the legions of men like him could’ve made a positive change if only they redirected their proclamations. Instead of waxing poetic on what they find acceptable, men can fight against the notion that a woman who isn’t beautiful (however it’s defined) loses a piece of her humanity. If only they could see women as complete people and not objects waiting for male approval. So much for humility.