This is not breaking news, nor do I say this under the impression that the public will be horrified with this great admonition. 2014 is the year of the booty, and we all already know it.
We’ve seen the memes, made the Halloween costumes. Round, oil-slicked, thunder-inducing booties with girths that entrance and perplex have caught our attention and our hearts. Bustle called it first back in January, citing Glee’s Lea Michele and Kim Kardashian as the matriarchs flying the flag, making us look behind rather than forward. Vogue confirmed it 9 months later with anode to Jennifer Lopez, then Buzzfeed elaborated with 29 answers in this long listicle, as they do best. Hell, even TheVine got in on the action following Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ video.
Our rotund behinds have become a social media staple: butt selfies, or ‘belfies’ are a measure of your Insta-appeal; Kim Kardashian’s Paper cover last week reached viral status; and now there have been talks of a KickStarter threat-fund to aid Taylor Swift in her time of allegedly flat-bottomed need.
The butt has become the physical yardstick for sexual iconography, and there’s no turning back for 2015. The butt has gone mainstream.
For some, that might be quite an inflammatory remark. Heralding bigger booties as the signifier of fine feminine form is as bad as those ‘real women’ memes created in response to protruding ribs and clavicles.
However, butts are in vogue. But no matter it’s shape or size, the butt might just be the salvation for body politics.
Let us pause for a minute and rewind back to 2011. It was the year several international advertising regulators, including the US National Advertising Division, announced a move towards banning Photoshop in cosmetics ads. Kim Kardashian’s star was still rising, partially thanks to her protruding bottom. Implants? Ha. Kim proved the naysayers fools with an x-ray of her toosh to prove her looks au naturale. Kim was all woman, a look the mainstream media was precariously flirting with. The butt, while traditionally ignored as a female problem – like periods and hormonal acne – was enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Yes, change had been in the air since Destiny’s Child’s 2001 magnum opus, ‘Bootylicious’. But 2011 – mind the pun – signaled a shift in the cultural perspective. An ample backside wasn’t such a bad thing, after all.
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Then Tina Fey raised this vexed point in her debut novelBossypants:
“All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.”
The butt, as Tina speculates, is reserved for a genetically privileged type of woman. So you can all go home now, you bunch of norms! Butts, or your lack there of, are just another target area to be sculpted and perfected.
As a strong, intelligent and almost illegally funny woman, there’s not much that Tina can say that won’t get retweeted to much applause of the internet’s feminist community. Tina Fey says some very poignant things, and she also created Mean Girls, so there’s that.
But when it comes to butts and their symbolism of feminine sexuality, I’m calling out Tina Fey on this one.
Anyone with a butt can join the conversation. Basic backside? Flaunt it, because the butt – no matter its shape or form – is doing wonders for starting a body positive dialogue.
When Miley Cyrus took to the stage in a latex suit at the VMAs last year, the performance spawned countless memes and comparisons. Perhaps most pertinently, Miley’s literally wedgied butt became the metaphorical butt of a big joke that focused on small appearances. With its likeness to that of a chicken butt, Miley’s cultural appropriation of twerking was led by her arse, bringing attention to the fact that she was not any of the things she appropriated or alluded to. Miley’s skinny white behind was lambasted for lack of authenticity. Gross cultural appropriation it may be, but Miley’s unashamed flaunting of her buns was a grand display of some serious body confidence.
As does happen in the realm of body politics and female sexuality, the public clutched at their pearls and Satan ate up all the innocent children. Who knows what’s going on in Hannaconda Montana’s head? Perhaps it was the wrong vehicle for a message that girls could benefit from.
The butt is without a doubt overtly sexualised. On last week’s Paper Magazine cover, we see Kim Kardashian brandishing a popped bottle of champagne which ricochets conveniently into a glass balanced atop her booty. She might as well have been holding a giant penis.
Nikki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ is less of an allusion and more of an open discussion about anal sex.
Which is why a Tumblr dedicated to Taylor Swift prim and proper behind is so bizarre. Taylor Swift’s Ass is a Tumblr account dedicated entirely to the singer’s well-proportioned and completely covered toosh. Whether dressed in hot pants or a knee-length, figure hugging dress, Taylor’s average-sized butt is celebrated for its mediocre appearance. It’s without a doubt a tongue-in-cheek and vaguely ironic jab at the sexualisation of the arse, because in all honesty, Taylor’s attempts at booty shakin’ are limited to a few hip shakes.
Perhaps that’s why Diplo came out recently with a dig at the singer’s uninspiring backside. With Lorde springing to the rescue with a similarly body-shaming quip about the DJ’s “small penis”, this round of body-politics sees the pendulum swayed further in Taylor’s favour.
To be fair, Lorde is a teenager and the point she was making has a lot to do with Karl Stefanovic’s outfit-repeater experiment. The large derriere is a sex symbol for sure, but the butt at large – culturally, not physically – is a symbol for body-positive confidence. Taylor, and all other owners of the teensy toosh, have just as much a right to shake it without Jennifer Lopez, the spectre of big-bootied culture, hanging over them.
A big booty might be good for business, but a bit of booty – whether pancake-size or voluptuous – is good for deregulating the female form.
Words by Camilla Puffer