If you walk into my childhood home today, you’ll still see framed pictures of R&B singer Aaliyah adorning my walls. In a pre-booty implant world, the “Are You That Somebody” singer taught me to love my slender frame and that it was possible to be street AND sexy. Throughout high school when many young women are struggling with developing their personal style, building their self-esteem and developing their identity, Aaliyah was a breath of fresh air at a time where most images of black beauty on screen were composed of video vixens serving as props in music videos with degrading lyrics and even more disrespectful behavior (I remember seeing Nelly’s “Tip Drill” on BET’s Uncut and my self-esteem falling to the damn floor feeling like this was the expectation for me as a young black woman).
Aaliyah was a role-model because she was someone I could relate to: sweet, talented and seemed to come from an involved and caring family. Like many who have viewed the first two parts of Surviving R. Kelly that have recently aired, hearing about the relationship that allegedly occurred between the teen whose voice seemed to float effortlessly over the melody for “At Your Best” and the notoriously known “Pied Piper” is quite disturbing and a sad reminder of the unhealthy sexual pathology that plagues our society of the lack of boundaries some adults possess when it comes to engaging with youth. As many of us think of how different that time was pre-social media compared to now, we are recalling statements and behavior that now seem somewhat disturbing, particularly a clip that recently surfaced of producer Timbaland sharing his feelings on working with Aaliyah.
The clip from an episode of E! True Hollywood Story that aired in 2011 features the popular producer who often worked with Missy Elliott and Justin Timberlake appearing to confess his love for he singer whom he met when he was 23 and she was 16:
“When I first met Aaliyah—it time for the world to hear this, I’m gonna give a little secret—I was in love with her. I said, But I’m not…She just a baby, I’m old.”
“I said to myself, ‘I’m just gonna be her brother.’ Oh man, I was fightin’, I was fightin’ a lot—a big war. But I loved Aaliyah.”
He shares how in 2003 his unhappiness with his own appearance led him into a slight depression:
“I was almost 400 pounds. Who wants to be a 400-pound black man? I’m looking in the mirror, my breast is bigger than a girl breast. And I was saying, ‘That ain’t cool.’ So I got very depressed, like suicidal depressed.”
He even goes on to say that he specifically married his wife due to her uncanny resemblance to his teenage protégé:
“When I first met my wife, I knew I was going to marry her because she looked like Aaliyah.”
Despite his attraction, it appears Timbaland never acted on his feelings and their work together was platonic. Context is everything and admittedly I haven’t seen the episode in it’s entirety. Still, the clip is unsettling and I’m finding it hard to believe he ever made the confession at all. It’s a sad reminder of the way sexualization of young women has been extremely normalized and accepted in American culture, especially in entertainment. We have so much more work to do in making sure that young women are protected and creating a world in which they can work, live and play without the added burden of defending themselves against those who clearly have issues with boundaries.
You can check out a picture of Timbaland and his wife below as well as the clip in which he professes his love:
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