by Anna Newton
Mixed reactions followed the release of Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” music video from his new album DAMN. on March 30. Although the single reached the top of the music charts, the video, featuring a mixed-race woman transforming from a face full of makeup to a natural, foundation-free appearance while showing off her stretch marks to the screen, empowered some and angered many. Some claimed that this portrayal contained a strong, body-positive message of rejecting the media’s unrealistic beauty standards for women. On the other hand, many saw this as yet another video constructed from the male gaze in order to tell women they should be whatever a man desires, whether he wants stretch marks or doesn’t want stretch marks.
In “Humble,” Lamar professes, “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop/Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor/Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks.” Some viewers found it refreshing to see a naked face and stretch marks acclaimed on their screen. Rather than a blatantly airbrushed woman being glorified by Lamar, a natural woman was being praised for her beauty. In the Vogue article, “Kendrick Lamar Shouts Out Real Women—with Real Stretch Marks—in His New ‘Humble’ Video,” the publication claimed that this was an “ode to natural curls and real curves devoid of the pseudo-body-positive messages that tend to accompany, say, artfully constructed crop top selfies on Instagram, acting instead as reminder that true beauty can come down to peeling back the layers of a carefully constructed persona.” Time also reacted positively to Lamar’s message in “The Internet Loves That Kendrick Lamar Prominently Featured Stretch Marks in His Video ‘Humble’” by stating, “One of the most striking moments in the video is Kendrick’s embrace of a woman’s natural beauty.”
Others disagreed with this outlook and saw Lamar’s message as merely a subtler way to shame women and assert that their value lies within the eyes of men. Refinery 29’s article “The Problem with Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble’ Video” states, “To those of us who know better, it’s actually just another example of black men giving women directives on how to present themselves to the world based on what men find attractive.” Opponents of the video believed that by simply stating, “Show me somethin’ natural,” Lamar is telling women what he wants from them. Some also saw his disapproval for cosmetics as insinuating that makeup is for the “insecure woman.” They felt that Lamar is insisting that women are simply hiding behind their makeup when, in reality, his voice does not belong in the discussion of beauty and women. This claim is essentially that he is projecting his desires and veiling them under a body-positive message in order for him to gain praise and notoriety for being progressive and empowering.
Although Lamar has received some backlash for the video, DAMN. is still being regarded as a true work of art by reviewers. It seems that Lamar’s potentially problematic ideas are not enough to hinder the overtly positive reaction to this album.