Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Wanton Women and Belly Rolls.

Shakira being caressed whilst preparing food in the video for "La Tortura"

Women are often sexualised through food, from literature and poetry to advertising, films and music videos. The common trope of a woman eating seductively appeals to the notion that women are bearers of the human race, continuing our survival, something which food also does. Although meal times and eating out have become moments of pleasure and socialising, food is ultimately a focal point in our everyday lives because of the simple fact that it is our source of life.
       Song lyrics are often considered a form of poetry and within Shakira's "La Tortura" the lyrics are meta-fictionally introduced as a poem: "Keep your poems and cheer to yourself/ Save your poetry" croons the male vocalist before Shakira overtakes with nothing but poetic devices, particularly parable: "Man doesn't live on bread alone/ Nor do I live on excuses […] I can't ask an elm tree to bear pears". The implication is that a woman receives no fulfilment from a man concerning matters of love and relationships, which is metaphorically discussed through food. However, the female feeds the man in many ways, with love and with food. Within the video, whenever Shakira is present with her on-screen lover, there is an abundance of food which is produced and prepared by the female yet only consumed by the male, highlighting an inequality between the sexes. Shakira's use of food with her lyrics paired with the visual interpretation of the song, from a literary perspective, reveals a message on gender politics. The video for "La Tortura" can be read as a visual poem. Her music video sexualises the woman as Shakira belly dances provocatively whilst surrounded by food. The man's gaze on her is synonymous with his gaze on the food on the table as she serves herself up to him, as she writhes around on the same table. He eats the food as eats his lover with his eyes. This imagery metaphorically enforces the idea that a woman nourishes and fulfils the man, as food also does. This opens up the argument that women are portrayed as 'a piece of meat'. 
      Shakira also highlights the theme of the exotic through sexualising herself in relation to the food. Through her choice of belly dancing, shaking her hips, skilfully executing sexy belly rolls and considering her cultural background (being half Lebanese), Shakira's work becomes relevant to the issue of Middle Eastern women being eroticised through food. The belly dance associated with the Middle East has been described by Maytha Alhassen as a fetish and used in the West as erotica (62). "Female artists […] voluntarily participate in the neo-Orientalist sexualization of their bodies (Alhassen, 62) and also "locate the man in a dominant position of sexual power by objectifying the female form […] resulting in an overly sexualised exotic East" (62). The woman represents "unlimited desire" (Alhassen, 65) and paired with the lyrical focus on food within Shakira's work this notion of desire is hyperbolic as everyone has the desire everyday to eat, which makes food as well as the woman an unlimited desire, again making them synonymous.
       Other Middle Eastern females use food and their Eastern status (entailing what are considered in the West as "exotic" features) within their work. For example, songstress Haifa Wehbe also uses food in her music video to compliment the imagery within her lyrics: "My nights are sweeter staying up in love" (Boos el Wawa). Similarly, Nadine Lebaki makes caramel wax a focal point within her film Caramel (2007). The trailer for the film explains that it is about "love" and sexual endeavours, again amalgamating food and the sexual woman. Within Western literature, before the Seventeenth Century, the "wanton" sexual woman was always depicted as being from the Middle East, but "bit by bit [this] model drops away and a very diminished figure emerges [along with] […] the veil" (Kahf, 5) during the sixteen hundreds. The images of Haifa, Shakira and Nadine couldn't be further away from the media portrayals of the oppressed Middle Eastern women in modern times. It was during "the Seventeenth Century the […] harem entered the representation of the [Arab] and Muslim woman" (Kahf, 4) yet the named media stars abide by the hyper-sexual image through their use of food, which was an image made popular in the West during Medieval times (Kahf, 5). Although it seems liberating for women to remove themselves from the demonised behaviour code and attire attributed to Middle Eastern women, the hyper-sexuality also serves to demean women. It seems that either end of the spectrum provide mainstream images of Middle Eastern women, with nothing in between.

       Nadine Lebaki in Caramel 

                                                                               Haifa Wehbe in her  "Boos El Wawa" Music Video

Nadine Lebaki leaning over her admirer, revealing her cleavage and, like Shakira, making his gaze on her synonymous with the caramel she uses to wax his facial hair.

"La Tortura"


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This link leads to a series of images of sexualised food, rather than women being sexualised with food. The page is overrun with the food being represented as a woman, which although conceptually inverted , makes the same point as this blog post. The visual concept is interesting, if not at times disturbing. From a literary aspect, the tag lines reveal the representation of women in the mass media. Food is central to our survival so such advertising is targeted at anyone and everyone who can be roped in to eat food, which we all do, resulting in these images becoming the norm.

Alhassen, Maytha. Bellydancing, Bombs, and Back Beats: Representation of the Middle East in Hip Hop. Northridge: California State University. Web. September 2011.< http://geogdata.csun.edu/~aether/pdf/volume_08b/alhassen.pdf> 6/3/2014.

Kahf, Mohja. Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque. USA: University of Texas Press. 1999. Print.

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