Need a program (virtual or in-person) to empower teen girls around media messages? See our menu.

Nicki Minaj: so much more than her body

Nicki Minaj’s body is (regrettably) the media’s sole focus whenever she’s in the spotlight, but an ABC family sitcom based on her family’s immigration from Trinidad in the early 1990s is about to change all of that. Young Nicki, written by Kate Angelo and produced by Minaj herself, will focus on Minaj’s life growing up in Queens, New York, as well as her personal and musical evolution.

“I couldn’t be more proud and excited to team up with an amazing group of people to give the world something really special,” Minaj said in a statement. 

The debut of Young Nicki couldn’t come at a better time. Though primarily recognized for her unmistakable curves, Minaj is so much more than her body. Her debut studio album, Pink Friday (2010), reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200. Minaj is the first female solo artist to have seven singles simultaneously charting on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Similarly, she is the first female artist to be included on MTV’s Annual Hottest MC List, and New York Times editor Brent Staples considers her “the most influential female rapper of all time.”

When most people think “Nicki Minaj”, they don’t think about this. They don’t think about her accomplishments, her influence, or even her distinctive rapping style, with its fast flow and use of alter-egos and accents.

Aside from being a successful rapper, Minaj is a businesswoman with holdings in perfume and alcohol, but people see her as one thing only: an aggressive, sexy female rapper. 

They picture her colorful costumes and wigs. They remember her Twitter fight with Taylor Swift. They imagine her scantily clad body bouncing to her hit “Anaconda”, which was described as “hypersexualized” (a comment the internet rightly described as “sexist bulls**t”).

In general, Nicki Minaj harkens thoughts of “crazy women”, sexy women, and ass. A lot of ass. (Apparently, the year of ass, according to Billboard.)

Her image might push people out of their comfort zones, but must we always focus on her body?

Queen Latifah talks to Nicki Minaj, a fellow female rapper, on her show about being a woman and a rapper.

Minaj repeatedly identifies herself as an open feminist, championing women’s rights and female solidarity. As for the comments on her “hypersexualized” image, Minaj retorted, “There are sexual things that I do that aren’t for a man. I feel empowered sometimes by being sexy and being comfortable to be sexy on camera — a lot of women struggle with that.” These are hopefully sentiments that will emerge on her show.

And on the double-standard faced by women in the rap scene? Minaj has a quote for that, too: “If you speak up for yourself, you’re a bitch. If you party too much, you’re a whore. Men don’t get called on those things.”

As of late, Minaj has somewhat abandoned the style of her older productions; The Pinkprint, her latest studio album, features surprisingly tender songs about her life growing up, most notably the confessional ballad “All Things Go,” which addresses a marriage proposal, the murder of her cousin, and difficulties she’s had with relatives. She struggles to remind the public that she is, in fact, more than her body and “crazy” antics.

ABC’s Young Nicki will not only accomplish this, but also will humanize Minaj. Similarly, the show is an opportunity for progress in racial diversity in television (who will play the young immigrant, Ornika Maraj?) With this new show, ABC Family, which has a notably young target market, has the power to help girls aspire to Minaj’s success and signature confidence.

Kaity Gee is a high school senior at Harker. Only seventeen, she has already been making a splash in the creative writing world, winning various accolades for her poetry and prose works. Kaity has also been the recipient of various journalism awards and is currently Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Harker’s long-form magazine, Wingspan. Through her writing, Kaity seeks to raise awareness as a writing activist, particularly for women’s rights and mental illness awareness. In her spare time, Kaity enjoys making films and dancing classical and contemporary ballet.

5 thoughts on “Nicki Minaj: so much more than her body

Add yours

  1. Hi Kaity,

    I think what you’re saying about Nicki is great – we shouldn’t focus so much on her body but on her accomplishments.

    But I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, either. Take her music video Anaconda, for example. Her version of “empowerment” is about shaking her butt for men, men who wouldn’t want her if she didn’t have “buns.”

    You could also say, she’s owning her curves and the fact that she has an “ass.” But she is still validating herself through her body.

    You could also say she is empowering herself. But her version of empowerment is still based in her body, is attained through her body, and is still dependent on the attention and validation of men.

    So, overall, while I do think it’s cool that she has so many accomplishments, I still think that she isn’t a role model for positive body image and female empowerment.



  2. Hi Jessica,

    I appreciate your comment and interest in my piece. On the other hand, I disagree with you. Nicki Minaj isn’t “shaking her butt” for men, she’s doing it because she wants to and it’s something that she wants to do. At the end of the day, it comes to why we’re doing something– are we doing it because other people, namely society and men in society, tell us to or because we, as individuals want to?

    Similarly, I understand how Minaj’s “Anaconda” video can be widely misinterpreted and be a bad role model for girls. Currently, the perception and take away would be “Okay, if I shake my *ss for the camera, I’ll get more views and likes and attention; that’s how I’ll get love.” But, as you stated, Minaj is empowering herself through these actions. However, I would argue that Minaj is anything but dependent on the validation of men, as underlined in her song, “Only,” which is entirely about consent, dispelling slut-shaming rumors and the stigma around dating multiple people. It begins with: “Yo, I never f*cked Wayne,/ I never f*cked Drake,/ If I did I did a menage with ’em” further exploring the idea that Mina does not need a man and that the rumors surrounding the alleged romantic affiliations with men in her life is ridiculous.

    Digressing a little bit on the note of “Anaconda,” I agree that the lyrics are sexist in nature, but that’s totally what Minaj is trying to point out! She notes that “[he] don’t want none, unless you’ve got the buns, hun,” explicitly referencing that men practically REQUIRE women to look a certain way in order to gain the “oh-so-coveted” attraction of men.

    As for the empowering oneself through one’s body– doing things with your body can be VERY empowering! It’s a physical act of doing something; not everything we do can be expressed in just thoughts. I totally get where you’re coming from, but to me, by producing this television show and her latest lyrics, Minaj is moving towards a less body-based image in general and less body-central form of empowerment.

    Besides, at the end of the day, the idea of not having Minaj as a role model for young girls is totally a matter of opinion. Who you decide as your role model is a very personal subject– I won’t tell you whom to like or whom not to like or whom to be, so why should I tell you who, to aspire to be? In this article, I am merely stating that Minaj exhibits many characteristics that I find admirable and I think others will too, if they looked past her body. In a perfect world, I think young girls and women should be able to look at all the strong, independent women in media and their lives and be able to decide by themselves (which is a super hard task! to decide who you want to be is so difficult!) whom they aspire to be. To me, Nicki is a perfect example of a potential choice that girls may make. She’s a strong, independent woman who is successful in her field and validates herself yes, through her body, but also through so many other fields! (i.e.: entrepreneurship, lyricism, what she says on talkshows and in interviews, etc.)

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  3. Thanks for your input!

    You mentioned that Nicki is “shaking her butt” not for men, because she wants to do it. But we need to ask ourselves, *why* would she want to dance sexually, in revealing clothing?

    It’s because she lives in a culture that validates women for their appearance and sexual appeal. Would men do the same? I doubt it. So much (if not all) of what we “choose” to do is driven by underlying values that our culture has given us.

    Unfortunately, research has shown that so-called “sexually empowering” media has just as negative effects on body image and objectification as other media showing women in sexually submissive ways.

    Further, other research has shown that enjoyment of sexualisation leads to negative body image and self-objectification, as well.

    That’s why I would be cautious about viewing Nicki’s persona as empowering, at least when it comes to the way she presents herself in media.

  4. Hey Jessica,

    To your question I ask, “Why wouldn’t she want to do it?” Is there something wrong with a woman choosing to validate herself in a sexual manner? Is there something immoral with that?

    On another note, I don’t think either of us can surmise why Minaj is doing what she’s doing using anything other than the quotes she’s given us: “There are sexual things that I do that aren’t for a man.” I’d return to my previous point that Minaj is not “shaking her butt” for anyone else other than herself; therefore, she is not seeking validation from a culture based entirely on sexual appeal.

    Being sexy is empowering. Yes, perhaps it’s because we live in a culture that “validates women for their appearance and sexual appeal,” but at the end of the day, it’s a direct refutation of that: it’s saying, “I am woman. I am proud to be a woman. I am sexy and I am a human being as well.”

    I understand your points about sexually empowering media, I totally do. Like in my previous reply, I will reiterate that I can see how sexually empowering media can have negative effects on girls and women. However, I would assert that this is not the fault of Minaj or any of the women, it is the fault of the lens our culture gives us.

    Our culture turns their sex appeal into all we see. (Honestly, I see it as another front of slut-shaming.) “Sex sells,” and in many ways, it’s one of the few options “sold” to women. However, with shows like Young Nicki, I believe that this will change. Not entirely, that takes time and effort on many fronts. Nicki Minaj’s image, though sexual, will become so much more than just her body. And that’s fantastic! The sex appeal which is practically our entire perspective of her will be just one facet of a strong, independent and accomplished woman.

    I agree that we should all be cautious about viewing Minaj’s persona as empowering– I think that we should be cautious whenever viewing ANYONE as empowering. We should all be incredibly wary when choosing whom we aspire to be.

  5. It’s possible that she is just having fun and wants her fans to understand that. She is about empowerment but realizes she has to do some bad in order to keep the fan interested. If she kept making music about woman empowerment only, it wouldn’t be interesting after a while. It’s just like a man rapping about how good he is getting girls. If he continued making music meaning that, he would loose fans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *