On the cover of ELLE’s July issue, Nicki Minaj stares imperviously into the camera in a sequined, beaded headscarf of sorts, her make-up demurely glamorous unlike her previous colourful looks. Photographed by Karl Lagerfeld, a man synonymous with high fashion, currently Creative Director at Chanel and Fendi, Minaj was indeed the ‘Queen’ ready to ‘reclaim her throne’.
What has caused online uproar, that has seen her labelled ‘hypocritical’, is her interview, where she laments ‘how many girls [are] modern-day prostitutes’, partially blaming herself like a disappointed mother wondering where it all went wrong. Minaj goes on to express that it makes her ‘sad as a woman…that (she) has contributed in some way.’ The only explicit reference to what being a modern-day prostitute might actually entail, is ‘strippers’ and ‘Instagram girls’. Seeming determined to distinguish between herself – selling sex appeal – and others who are selling sex for ‘a couple of thousand dollars’, Minaj defines herself as ‘the antitheses of all that, more of the snobby girl’.
Truly. So, where to start?
Here, a woman who has built a name and a multi-million-dollar empire from her sexually explicit lyrics and general desirability, looks down on other women who are doing exactly that with the lesser resources available to them. A woman whose stage name was inspired by the phrase ménage a trois, is now playing the dangerous game of respectability politics. This of course, is after she has built a multi-million dollar empire since breaking out onto our iPods with her now-iconic verse on Young Money’s Bedrock. You know, the verse where she suggests that its time to ‘put this pussy on ya sideburns’?
The rapper seems determined to distinguish between the stage-name we all know, ‘Nicki Minaj’ and the name she was given at birth, Onika Maraj. Minaj is the feisty, sexually liberated emcee and Maraj is the self-described snobby girl. It is completely normal for celebrities to switch between their ‘stage personas’ and actual real-world identities in a world where sex sells. Whilst Maraj might be demure and guarded about her sexuality, Minaj is unapologetically explicit and unafraid to wield her body as a weapon against the men she contemptuously raps about. So why can’t she see that Instagram models and strippers are doing exactly the same thing?
What’s wrong with Instagram Models and Strippers anyway?
The rise of ‘Instagram models’ in particular has been seen as an ‘easy route’ to guaranteed fame and an endless supply of clothes from online retailers. Conventionally attractive women have been constantly mocked for posting sponsored content from certain herbal tea manufacturers or for showing off their assets in their own lingerie lines. While most of these jokes are made by the wider online community, men in particular seem to express disdain at what they have derogatorily dubbed ‘Insta-thots’. is this because women who were deemed sexually attractive by society’s standards would have had to wait for a modelling agency or a rich man to sweep them up into fame and stardom no less than thirty years ago? Instead, platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat have allowed women to subvert objectification of their bodies and monetize the male gaze. The simple fact of the matter is that more likes will increase the possibility of increased revenue. The sheer simplicity of it all has created a whole new economy revolving around social media, that some have been innovative enough to exploit.
Like Maraj, these women are making the most of the fact that their bodies are desired, using their business acumen to develop more opportunities for themselves. Whilst there are unwarranted stereotypes and assumptions about what else these women do to enjoy a seemingly luxurious life, it also raises questions about internalised misogyny that demonises sex work, but that is another conversation to be had.
Minaj’s image doesn’t detract from her talent, but demonstrates that a woman in an inherently male-dominated, misogynistic industry will have to leverage her sex appeal in order to get as far as possible. A woman that has spoken openly about her struggles to be taken seriously as a black female emcee and since used her platform to empower and elevate herself in the face of misogyny and sexism should be the last person to take the moral high ground against young girls wo are following her positive example. In a world where sexism and capitalism are almost intertwined and the odds are almost always against women, Maraj, like all of us, should take a leaf, or rather a caption, from the strippers and Instagram models of the world.
Written by Rahel Aklilu