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Saartjie Baartman: The Original Booty Queen

With so much publicity for Kim Kardashian’s butt on the cover of Paper magazine and Nicki Minaj’s music video for “Anaconda,” Jezebel takes the opportunity for a look back at the original booty queen, a 19th-century woman billed as “The Hottentot Venus.” Saartjie Baartman grew up in what is now South Africa, a member of the Khoikhoi people, who the Dutch called Hottentots. Her remarkably generous backside gave her employer the idea of taking her to Europe and exhibiting her for the masses who’d never seen such a thing.

Like Kim, Saartjie (pronounced Sar-key) was voluptuous but tiny. She stood four feet, seven inches to Kim's purported five-three. Unlike Kim, she didn't just have her sizable assets in the way of talent. (Whether 'balancing a champagne glass on your ass' is a talent remains up for discussion.) She had learned and practiced multiple instruments in her native land (in what is now South Africa). On the stages of London and Paris, she regaled packed audiences with singing, dancing, and instrumental routines. When it comes to her contemporary booty-sisters, she is less Kim Kardashian, more Nicki Minaj.

"She had enormous skills," says Tamar Garb, professor of art history at University College London and a native of South Africa. "She spoke many languages—Dutch, English, some French, and her maternal tongue. She was very literate and sophisticated. The show she put on was very much a performance, even if the role she was required to play was that of a 'savage' femininity."

Baartman became the toast of Europe, both as a curiosity and as a performer. And unlikes many people exhibited in the freak shows of the time, she was a willing participant in her show business career. Read Baartman’s life story, and the account of how she finally returned to South Africa, at Jezebel. The article contains nude illustrations.  

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