By Andile Mngxitama
Zodwa Wabantu is currently a household name. I’m one of those backward people who only got to know about her after the Durban July. We all know by now that she stole the show from the horses and the fashionistas who collectively must have spent millions of rands to stand out. Zodwa came, conquered, and left tabloid scribes and the paparazzi screaming for more. The public was all pulled into the noisy chatter as social media went ablaze with images of Zodwa, her dress and proudly revealed cellulite laden legs. I thought she was beautiful.
I was going to leave it there, as I busied myself with running battles with White Monopoly Capital, but then I read that Zodwa said she exposed her body as activism for women’s liberation. I was startled and I quickly drew on my little social theory to try make sense of things.
I sent a voicenote to a few comrades basically framing my argument in broad terms to try illustrate that Zodwa’s claim to activism for women was a castrated resistance because in my view (at the time) her resistance was not disruptive of the objectification of women’s bodies for patriarchal consumption to calibrate commerce (capitalist accumulation). I then argued that Zodwa’s resistance is anticipated and permitted by power. Her resistance, I postulated, is a metaphor for our own struggle today which is already anticipated and permitted by white supremacy and capitalism.
Let me try construct some of the exchanges to give context to my basic education. I will call the exchange with my male comrade, “conversation 1” and the rest I had with two female comrades, “conversation 2” and “conversation 3”. There are three conversations I focus on here but I had several.
Male comrade: I’m a little delayed in terms of conceptually mapping out the social commentaries these interventions are making at this point. the problematic nature of these interventions, i would assume, isnt simply the anticipatory responses of the male gaze willing to pay or being enticed by these thighs, but i am scared that theres a reciprocated indulgance and enjoyment from the sisters who parade their bodies for the gaze. of coz we know gender and sexual relations though they originate from the structuring and regulatory power machine as race and class for instance, their unfolding and battles seem to not properly carry the same antagonistic weight as them in these carnivals of sexual perversity. the zodwa woman’s resistance as much as she aims at autonomy, she also needs the enjoyment of the gaze. unspoken in her resistance is this latent depends on the gazes fixation. in part though the gaze is prohibited from enacting its full blast misogyny, it is partly needed as well somehow. though i see the contiguity between how power anticipates us and therefore annuls us, her resistance is not annulled in the same way perhaps. it is perhaps sterile and not willing to antagonize the gaze to the point that it averts the looking.
Me: There my be ways in which a guerilla in the mountains derives certain forms of pleasure in the deadly act of resistance. I’m thinking how for instance all the guerilla movements needs access a kind of Debray linked to Lamonde or NYT. I think the take away is not what she thinks or desires its more on what her performance can tell us about our own attempts at resistance.
Male comrade: yes, we know something is amiss in these public feminist stances and i agree in needs to be explained. however i might say the soldier’s enjoyment is in victory based on the obliteration of the enemy. zodwa’s war is predicated in both autonomy and also sustaining the gaze. this isnt only desire but the mode of this resistance.
Me: I actually agree its not resistance. It’s performance for the pleasure of the patriarch. Crudely is this not what’s happening from FMF to wars inside the ANC?
Male comrade: thing is that blessers see beyond the performative frills. they know that staging such a resistance is a bait. they put money and pay for women to come and compete with the horses (if not indirectly using the idea of horse racing to mean women and hedonists parading like gambling gadgets).
The tenor of our casual conversation as I recall ended with an interesting agreement that we both found cellulite attractive. It was like centering our notions of desire and underplaying Zodwa’s cellulite Chimurenga. My investment was more on the dramatization of the impotence of our resistance to power generally through reading Zodwa’s resistance.
This conversation was with a female comrade. Her response to my view that Zodwa’s resistance was a perfect analogy for our resistance drew criticism. The comrade took me through how my argument has elements of erasure and decentering Zodwa’s voice and displacing it for some other “bigger concern”. My protestations didn’t take me too far. I had to concede that indeed my analogy was undermining the agency of Zodwa. The comrade insisted that Zodwa’s resistance must be celebrated on its own right. Added to this move was the fact that patriarchy as a rule makes women’s contributions invisible.
I conceded my comrade’s points but felt the critique had itself displaced my initial concerns about the impotency of certain forms of resistance and that the discussion had not pointed to a direction of what would be the protocols of resistance which registered. I still felt Zodwa’s resistance played too close to the very schema of patriarchal desire, male appropriative gaze and capitalist consumerist logic, even if she may personally feel different about it.
This conversation shifted my attitude considerably and has made me consider Zodwa a legitimate warrior for women’s liberation. More importantly, the conversation has aided me in appreciating better the need for theoretical postulations to be alive to real lived experiences.
The conversation was with a female comrade I also regard as a friend. I raised the Zodwa issue as a throw away comment. I registered scepticism on the efficacy of her strategy and the form of her resistance. My friend and comrade actually sat me down and schooled me. She took the political to the personal. She explained her first reaction to the images of Zodwa as liberating for her as a woman. I was taken aback. She explained that Zodwa’s confident display of cellulite was a revolutionary act. I must confess, up to this point, I didn’t have the faintest clue how cellulite was a burden and a cruel cross carried by women folk.
My comrade explained that the worse thing that can happen to a woman is to be burdened by cellulite early in life. She explained how her teenage years were a nightmare because she developed cellulite too early in her life. She made me understand that Zodwa was involved in a very important struggle about how women are made to feel. She then alerted me to how deep the stigma of cellulite goes. We viewed a webpage of “thick” black women. She pointed out how not one of those women had cellulite. The weight of cellulite presented itself even in the ‘new’ ways of presenting the female body. The injunction seems to be, “you can be ‘thick’, just don’t have cellulite”.
I haven’t yet permitted myself enough time to read more broadly on the matter and meditate more systematically. But what Zodwa is doing now appears to me to perhaps be indeed disruptive, given the order of what acceptable body forms are. Now, that consideration pales into insignificance when compared to the healing impact Zodwa’s brave move has on those who have to endure self doubt as a result of the cellulite-phobia. I have learned from careful listening that Zodwa’s struggle is real and may just break down a stigma reinforced by the evil triumvirate of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism.
Desire itself in not toxic. An appropriative and violent society makes desire a bad thing. Capitalism is the enemy of beauty!
It’s always press ganging society into the narrow and superficial. Capitalism packages, brands and sells. That which is not branded can’t be sold and therefore is deligitimised.
There is a secret the media representations will never valorise. Cellulite has its men fans. Maybe it’s time they spoke out and jumped out of the closet. Desire and beauty must be liberated. Zodwa has opened our eyes a little. Let’s learn to listen and appreciate the art of bold beauty. Viva cellulite!