Good news all round this weekend: at the Wits Amphitheatre in Jo’burg, actress Napo Masheane will start drumming up support for women to join her BUM (Booties United in Movement) forum.
She calls on all black women with big bums, like herself, to take a stand against the constant derision of their lineage. ‘We come from a history of big bums — so I’m giving you one last chance to look at it. Please take your time and then go home and have something better to talk about,” says a smug Masheane.
Having returned with rave reviews from Amsterdam and elsewhere in Europe, My Bum is Genetic, Deal With It brings an evolving voice to the contentious issue of the female body. Masheane is determined to write plays for and about black women, without being labelled with the dreaded F word (feminist).
The actress, who turns 30 this year, was born in Qwaqwa, but spent most of her late teenage years in Soweto. Her father, a schoolteacher in Bloemfontein, exposed his three children to mounds of literature during their formative years, hence Masheane’s stellar career in theatre.
Blessed with petite breasts, a flat stomach, a diminutive waist and an arresting theatrical talent, Masheane reveals that her biggest emotional scars have to do with her buttocks. ‘Writing and performing about my biggest insecurity was scary at first, but I have learnt to trust the fact that this big bum carries ideas, intellect and plans, and therefore it demands respect.”
She pays homage to her body because it is responsible for shaping her stories.
Her resilience, which she displays without apology, was unexpectedly shattered when she was mocked, while overseas, by a group of insensitive German teenage girls. The group persistently followed Masheane around a department store in awe of her seemingly strange physique. ‘At that moment, I knew that the joke was definitely my butt and I was completely humiliated. I felt like a modern-day Saartjie Baartman.” Her moment of disempowerment was quickly defeated by her determination to reclaim her black body by using her powerful voice in writing the script. Masheane researched the subject of unattainable beauty by hosting numerous focus groups to hear how black women really saw their bodies.
‘The voices were different: young, old, rich, poor, but they all had problems with some part of their body, so I had to write this artwork.”
In her solo act, Napo portrays the president of the BUM forum. Her speech pulls in the female voters by campaigning for the eradication of the fear and shame that regulates the way women (including girls) interact with their bodies.
According to this self-styled lyricist, the fear and lies are burnt into our psyches from early childhood, hence the difficulty when attempting to abolish these hazardous untruths. ‘The aim is twofold, to make people aware that there isn’t just one form of beauty and, secondly, people should aim to celebrate their form because it doesn’t get better than this.”
Instead of reworking the radical feminist scripts of the acclaimed Eve Ensler, of The Vagina Monologues and The Good Body fame, Masheane resolved to create a work more focused on the black African experience. ‘I realise that plays about the female body to some degree transcend race and class, but I thought that would be dishonouring my craft if I didn’t focus on my community and the specific things that we experience about our bodies. African black women have issues with their bodies, too.”
Masheane is dead set against the ’empowerment” myth of plastic surgery: ‘There is nothing empowering when you allow your body to be carved out in somebody else’s image. Empowerment is adding positively and surgery affirms the lies and the body will get tired and retaliate.”
So, as the BUM political movement gains momentum, the mobilisation of women will hopefully fight the clothing industry against taking possession of our bodies. ‘In South Africa we have a majority of full figures and the BUM forum aims strictly for majority rule. We want clothes that scream ‘You are beautiful!’ to our hips, tummies, bums, breasts and thighs.”
Words from the script