Being Barbie
by Holly Clay                                        
Is the Nicki Minaj image encouraging or problematic to the Black community?

     The past year has undoubtedly been the year of Nicki Minaj for Hip Hop fans, but it is hard to say exactly what her appeal is. On the surface, it could be as simple as her lyricist skills, or it could be the fact that her "Pink wig, thick ass gives 'em whip blash." Again, it's hard to say. But boatloads of album sales and millions of Youtube views after the release of her first album, Pink Friday, Minaj is proving herself to be a consistent and unique fixture in the music industry. One thing that amuses her fans but rouses her critics are her alter egos, one of which being the 'Harajuku Barbie,' or simply the Barbie image. Psychiatric professionals argue whether or not such a sexual image coming from a Black woman with such a large influence based on this historic White toy is good or bad for the community, particularly its young women.

     "One thing that makes Nicki Minaj so likable is her confidence," explained S. Florida's Dr. Jameca Falconer. "It has been a while since someone her age has been out and been so confident. Young girls connect her image to being eccentric and unique. It tells them that if they are different, they can be confident too."

     For Dr. Mike Conner of San Francisco's Alliant International University, Minaj's Barbie persona is less about displaying confidence and more about showcasing that the Black community and it's ideals of beauty are lost. Sadder still, according to Conner, we have found a way to capitalize off of this fact.

     "The Nicki Minaj image means we are lost," said Conner. "I find it problematic that we find a niche market where we can make money and exploit it. It's like we are saying that if we can make money doing it, then forget the community. Again, this shows that we are lost."

     On the outside looking in, it is easy to not see the big deal. A Black woman in a blonde wig is rapping and associates herself with being like Barbie. How is this any different from 90s rapper Lil' Kim or the plethora of other Black, female rappers that have based their careers off of being seen as sexual play things for men? For San Francisco State University's Dean of Ethnic Studies Kenneth P. Monteiro, to understand the issue, you first have to understand the history of Barbie. According to Monterio, Barbie's roots come from the exaggerated idea of the beautiful, white woman that serves as a trophy to powerful white men; to reinstate White male fantasies. He admits that Madonna and Marilyn Monroe both successfully played off of this image, but it is a dangerous slope to tread, especially for minority women.

     "The Barbie image is dangerous for all women, but especially for Black women because they are vulnerable to exploitation," he explained. "The idea is that women can either take this image and submit to men or take control over it and turn around its ideals in society."

     The jury is still out and which one exactly Nicki Minaj has done, but may be more so revealed with the release of her second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. After all, the album's first single, "Stupid Hoe" has already broken Vevo's record, getting 4.8 million views the first day it was uploaded. If in fact Minaj is exploiting stereotypes, or even herself for that matter, she is doing so all the way to the bank.

 

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