The Hottentot Venus and Her Elongated Labia and Large Buttocks
The Hottentot Venus was a woman from an African tribe who displayed very different anatomy and ended up being noticed by a surgeon from one of the ships. She later went on to become one of the most studied African women of the time and spent a life being a subject and curiosity while she was alive.
While studying here, various researchers came up with many theories and many names to denote her difference in appearance, especially her labia minora, which was a very hot topic of discussion. The Hottentot Apron, the drape of decency, and the curtain of shame were some names that the researchers came up with to denote her mysterious stretched labia, which she never let anyone see while she was alive.
The Hottentot Venus was born before 1790 and was orphaned at a very early age during a commando raid. Her birth name and her actual date of birth are not known. Hailing from the area of the Gatmoos River (now known as the Eastern Cape of South Africa), she was named Sarah Baartman somewhere down the line and worked as a slave to a Dutch farmer near Cape Town. Sarah married and had a child who passed away at an early age and she became a very important part of history the moment a military surgeon suggested to her that she should move to Britain for a better future. He asked her to be employed by him and do domestic chores while also being exhibited in front of people. Little did she know that the surgeon was sidelined with supplying showmen with animal species. The idea was for her to go to England and work while exhibiting herself sometimes and the then-governor gave her permission to go however, stated later that he was not fully aware of the surgeon’s true intentions.
The first exhibition that Sarah was a part of was in London and was involved in entertaining people. She definitely was a popular entertainment as people had never seen her kind before. She had very different body features; her buttocks were unusually large due to the extensive fat accumulation. This condition is called Seatopygia where the buttocks do not just get large, they extend to the thighs to the front and towards the outside, in some women, these are seen to extend to the knees. This condition is mostly seen in African tribes and among the Khoisan (the tribe to which Sarah belonged), it is considered a sign of beauty. In this condition, the buttocks align to a 90-degree angle to the back and at the time, it was quite extraordinary to watch a form like that.
The labia minora were also very elongated as is the case in the Khoisan women however Sarah never exhibited that feature till the time she was alive. Even though she was painted in the nude several times, she knew the art of folding her labia minora in a way that it would not be visible to people. It was also seen that she would sometimes, cover her genitals with a very small cloth to avoid that detection.
It was the presence of this extended labia minora that made the world relate the race with more primitive, sexual, and animal drives. These features were studied and everyone from a researcher, to a doctor, to a scientist, to a layman, wanted to see what this particular trait was. People would come from all over to see this woman and be surprised at the differences. Being from a non-understood and considered lesser than the ‘normal’ humans, Hottentot Venus was mostly criticized for this possible difference and was considered unnatural, in fact, the entire tribe was considered unnatural with everyone considering the extended labia minora to be more of a deformity.
Sarah also was very well endowed, owing to her heritage, and had small nipples with a very large dark area that extended to most of her breasts.
Though Sarah initially thought that she was making a better life for herself, it was later that she realized that she was being put up on stage as a freak show due to the way she looked and that slowly took a toll on her.
There are many pictures of Sarah being depicted as an object of curiosity as the world at the time couldn’t identify this difference as a racial difference truly.