When It Comes To The #Bussit And #Silhouette Challenges, Just Sit This One Out, Sis
Are recent social media challenges digital empowerment or virtual entrapment?
February 03, 2021 at 2:35 pm
As a 30-something Black professional woman and fashion blogger, I often struggle with how images of Black women and our bodies are portrayed in the media. On one hand, I laud women who challenge patriarchal norms — my sisters who call to question antiquated sexist policies and protocol, and are committed to disrupting status quo. On the other, however, my lived experiences have shown me how these actions can be misconstrued. How our society sees and treats women who look like me — and what a long way we have to go to achieve gender parity.
This internal struggle is no more apparent than during the proliferation of social media challenges that are based on the physicality of women. Yes, I’m talking about two recent social phenomena — the #BussIt and #Silhouette challenges.
The truth is: neither of them is unique. Some would describe them as “no big deal.” They are just recent examples of what happens now that many of us have more time on our hands, cooped up in our houses, more dependent on our phones, tablets and laptops for entertainment.
There are also others who take this nonchalant approach even further and see these challenges as digital interpretations of women’s empowerment. A way to inspire women to take charge of their image, their bodies and their sexuality. A way to be free, forward-thinking and rebel-like.
But what these same people may not realize is how detrimental these challenges can be. Not just to our current society, but to the generations that will undoubtedly follow. By participating in these challenges, women are feeding into the very systems they advocate against and are essentially dismantling the women’s equality movement one post at a time.
The #BussIt challenge is based on a woman transforming from a regular, unkempt look, into the glamourized opposite, whose beauty is then only overshadowed by the side-profile booty bounce that accompanies this new look. The #Silhouette challenge is just as simple: the woman starts off in pajamas or a bathroom robe and then turns on a red light and shows a black silhouette of her body in various poses. Some choose to take the shots naked — or close to it — just for effect.
The very aesthetic nature of these memes/challenges contribute to the oversexulization of women and how we are defined. Women shouldn’t have to change into anything to be deemed beautiful, and they certainly shouldn’t have to shake their behinds while doing it.
The silhouette of a woman’s body is a commonly used image in the sex industry. Think back to the times when you’ve driven through certain parts of major cities and towns and seen the signs for peek-a-boo rooms, strip clubs and undercover whore houses. A sketch of a woman’s body — in neon orange, pink or yellow — was probably displayed to entice customers to walk in the door. Not for empowerment, but for profit.
The red light is a derivative of red light districts across the nation and globe. It not only nods to its origins in Amsterdam, where prostitutes could be sought and bought, but it perpetuates this passion, carnage and surface-level desire.
What's worse are some actions associated with the #Silhouette challenge. Users have now found ways to remove the red light filter so they can see participants’ bodies clearer. This is not only dangerous, but it opens the door for sexual predators, internet bullying and privacy concerns.
Now while some would say that reclaiming the very images that have held us back as women will propel us to a more equitable future, we would be remiss if we didn’t take a hard, realistic look at the society in which these images are being promoted and the mechanisms of this promotion.
When one contributes to the #BussIt or #Silhouette challenge on their social media pages, they are doing it for likes, shares and comments. As a social media influencer, I understand the need for this. At times, we ride a trend, looking to get a “bump” in engagement. I’ve done it myself.
But the response to this trend is often surface-level at best and misunderstood at worst. The younger generation looks at images and videos at face value — not understanding the background — and can receive the wrong message that we want to send.
Questions we should ask ourselves: How do you think a 13-year-old girl is interpreting the eggplant and tongue emoji under a #Silhouette challenge pic? How can/could these posts affect our professional lives? Do you think a #BussIt challenge post sends a message about the need for equal rights to the man who places a heart under it, or does it contribute to his sexual desires?
Women are by nature sexual. It's one of the things I love about being a woman. But the way in which I express my sexuality is what separates me from others.
I — like many women — was taught to be a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets. I am sexual, just not for everyone, and not always on public-facing platforms. I reserve that passion and fervor for the men who deserve it — not those who just see and like my pictures.
We need to stop conflating and confusing body confidence and women’s empowerment with being overtly sexual. If you want to be sexual — be sexual and call it that.
No one — and I repeat, no one — has the right to tell you what to do with your body and how to express it. But do not hide behind the banner of empowerment to make you feel better and then be upset when the reaction from your posts are not what you want it to be.
In exchange for likes and shares, women are putting their bodies on display, allowing others to place an external value. This is the point in which we lose our power. Women — of all races — surpass men in social media usage. Instead of using this collective power in a meaningful way, creating more challenges to uplift each other, many are perpetuating and participating in ones that tear us down.
So next time you go to an app on your phone and open the video/camera to participate in one of these challenges, think about what it can mean to our greater society.
I know you're bored. But just sit this one out, sis.