Comment: Iggy Azalea might not be your idea of a feminist, but that's kind of the point

Iggy Azalea performs during the MTV Europe Music Awards (EMA) 2013 ceremony in the Ziggo Dome, in Amsterdam on November 10, 2013. (AAP)

She's a strong, successful women who spends a significant amount of time talking about independence and self-determination - but she also criticised for her sexualised videos and skimpy outfits. Here we go again.

There have been countless words written about Iggy Azalea and what her success means to popular culture. To hip hop. To Australian hip hop. To women in hip hop. To women in music. To Australians in music. To white women in hip hop. To racism and cultural appropriation. To feminism and sexual assault.

Examining Azalea in terms of her cultural significance is appropriate given that she recently became the first artist since the Beatles to concurrently hold spots one and two on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Her success is changing both the history books and current cultural convictions regarding stereotypical norms.

Who is to say that women can't dress how they want to dress, no matter what their motives? The freedom to choose is surely part of the equality that feminism seeks to produce.

Recently Forbes ran a piece titled ‘Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman’, saying 

“Making a name for yourself as a woman and hip hop is laudable enough, forget the fact that she is a white, blonde, Australian woman. In a genre dominated almost exclusively by African-American men she sticks out like a statuesque thumb.”

While the title of the article was later changed to the less definitive ‘Hip-Hop's Unlikely New Star: A White, Blonde, Australian Woman’, it prompted a baffling op-ed in The Guardian unnecessarily refuting the claim that Iggy Azalea has anything to do with the Australian music scene at all.

Several pieces have lamented that Azalea resorts to sexualised videos and skimpy outfits to sell records, and disputing her feminist principles. But scolding a strong, successful woman who spends a significant amount of time talking about independence and determination in her music seems to contradict a prime objective of equality, that of self-determination.

Who is to say that women can't dress how they want to dress, no matter what their motives? The freedom to choose is surely part of the equality that feminism seeks to produce. Confidence in one’s own appearance, manifested in this case in revealing clothing, can be as empowering as any of the more intangible feminist tools and tactics.

It may be an old argument but it is refreshed by Azalea's frankness in confronting criticism, particularly when talking about being sexually assaulted by fans during performances. Her line is the same as many who participate in feminist movements like the Slutwalk: no matter how I’m dressed, or what you think of my behaviour, uninvited sexual violation is not okay.

It isn’t often that a pop icon will call attention to such provocative issues. Azalea has also talked frankly about her body shape “I’m a 6 on the bottom and a 2 on the top, that’s awkward when you try to buy a dress.”

Early profiles of Azalea were often quick to remark on her “curvy derriere”, and revealing outfits make it clear she’s not trying to hide her notable proportions. Seeing a woman who looks like Iggy Azalea in popular culture is significant. It is undeniable that her body shape is unlike most representations of females in mainstream culture, particularly in Australia.

It does help that the type of music Azalea makes invites a curvaceous aesthetic. As the traditional domain of African-American style and body shape, women with small breasts, small waists and large hips, thighs and bums have always been coveted in hip hop culture.

Scientific studies have shown that women who carry weight in their lower bodies are generally healthier. Yet the health benefits of a curvy butt haven’t been enough to change Australian women’s minds about body image: the mainstream perception of an ideal female body shape still errs on the side of skinny.

There’s no shame in having a slim build, and now thanks in part to Iggy Azalea mainstream culture is slowly moving towards acceptance that there’s nothing wrong or different about having hips, thighs and a prominent butt. Had pop culture figures that looked like Azalea been around when I was growing up it might have tempered the difficult relationship with my body that has clung into adulthood.

It’s vexing that celebrity can bring widespread recognition to issues like sexual assault and body image where activism and science has struggled to cut through, but we can only hope that Iggy Azalea starts talking up the benefits of addressing climate change soon.

Anne Treasure works in communications, is a recent survivor of the book industry, and exists mainly on the Internet.

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