Is This the Media's Year of the Butt? 8 Signs of a Growing Fascination with the Backside
Calling 2014 the Year of the Butt, as it has been breathlessly dubbed in the media, is just a way of saying big butts are finally okay with White people (although mostly only when they appear on white people -- and sometimes Beyonce and Nicki Minaj). Like jazz or rock and roll or current day hip-hop, this is just so much more Columbusing, with ridiculously misinformed and entire culture-erasing attributions as part of the package (I’m still looking right at you, Vogue). As the AP recently noted, all this coverage of the butt is “the result of the pop culture moment the butt is having.” We’ll see how long it lasts; like all trends, it has the potential to end at any point. In the meantime, here are eight vital lessons we've learned as butts rise to mainstream prominence.
1. Not All Big Butts Are Treated With Reverence: Surely you saw the image this week, ubiquitous as it was, repeated across social media timelines, gossip sites and nearly every other corner of the Internet: Kim Kardashian, baby-oiled up, naked but for satin gloves, a pearl necklace (#winknudge) and matching earrings, her glistening butt front-and-center on the cover of Paper magazine. And then there was the alternate, more SFW version, which, despite featuring Kardashian fully clothed, was equally derriere-focused. The image centers on the reality star holding an exploding bottle of champagne (#doublewinknudge), an arc of foamy bubbly forming a parabolic arc over her head, reaching its apex and then abruptly cascading downward, where it splashes into a champagne glass -- balanced atop Kardashian’s hyper-enhanced ass.
Despite all the chatter Kardashian’s Paper covers produced -- each think piece getting the magazine closer to its stated mission of “break[ing] the Internet” -- there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about these pictures.* Or original, for that matter. Shot by French photographer Jean-Paul Goude, Kardashian’s clothed shot is a recreation of his photo “Carolina Beaumont” and an homage to his famous album artwork shots of Grace Jones. What is new about these images is that the figures of Goude’s ‘70s and ‘80s work -- black women in unlikely positions, their bodies morphed and redrawn -- are here replaced with Kardashian. The treatment of a white woman’s butt -- even Kardashian’s, though her ass has always been a coefficient in her fame -- as an objet d’art to be volumized is a concept unlikely to have graced magazine pages even just a few years ago. And yet, we are now in a moment in which to call Kardashian’s ass on both covers “impossibly round” would be to state a literal fact. The generally invisible hand of Photoshop is fully exposed here, gleefully and almost recklessly employed.
Kardashian’s latest shots for Paper come on the heels of the mainstream media’s year-long-and-counting fascination with butts, and complete 180 turnabout on what kinds of asses it now deems attractive. In short, bigger is suddenly better, news to anyone who has engaged with the mainstream media in any way, ever. While Latino and African-American communities have always celebrated ample behinds, mainstream -- that is to say white and Eurocentric -- beauty standards have not only overlooked big butts, but out-and-out rejected them, generally regarding them as anathema, curiosity or spectacle. Ask Saartjie Baartman, aka the Hottentot Venus, whose buttocks was exhibited across early 19th century Europe in freak shows during her short life and later dissected and put on display after her death. Hell, ask Michelle Obama, whose rear end conservatives obsess over like it’s their fucking job. On the question of butts, it seems, so much of who’s in and who’s out comes down to the skin you’re in.
2. More Media Should Be Bowing Down to Big Freedia Right Now: The only reason to cite Miley Cyrus in a conversation about the current pop culture interest in all things butt is to recall Big Freedia’s criticism of her 2013 MTV Music Awards performance of a 20-year-old dance called twerking. Big Freedia, who may not have invented twerking or bounce, has done more in the last 15 years to popularize both beyond her hometown of New Orleans -- the birthplace of both art forms -- than any other performer. It was Freedia whom Cyrus was channeling during that endlessly written about performance. And it is therefore the Queen of Bounce who deserves far more credit than she’s being given for helping mainstream pop culture finally catch up.
3. Nicki Minaj Isn’t Always Right, but Sometimes She Is Very Right: When Nicki Minaj released the cover artwork for “Anaconda,” which featured her wearing sneakers, a bra, a thong, and that’s it, she took a lot of flack from people giddy at the opportunity to moralize and hand-wring about the centrality and nakedness of her ass. Sure, Minaj’s getup was worn with PR pick-up, clicks and record sales in mind, but it was also clear that she is a grown woman and, at this stage in her career, a powerful artist in firm control of her image and its sexual quotient. Minaj fired back at her critics on Instagram with pictures of white supermodels wearing next to nothing (including the near bare-bottomed trio on the cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue), their butts on full display in photos that had earned criticism from absolutely nobody. Then she dropped the video for “Anaconda,” in which she doubled down on her original point
4. Men Who Have Previously Had Zero Problem with Sexist or Sexually Degrading Music Do Not Suddenly Get to Scold and Patronize Women Musicians for Their Behavior: Among those wagging their fingers at Minaj when the “Anaconda” artwork dropped was Chuck Creekmur, owner and CEO of AllHipHop.com. Creekmur penned an open letter to the rapper in which he suggested that Minaj was both degrading herself and potentially leading his own young daughter, and little girls the world over, down a wayward path. Creekmur went on to accuse Minaj of “pushing her hyper-sexualized image,” an indictment that -- coming from a man who runs a site that regularly posts videos that sexually denigrate, humiliate and objectify black women -- rises to the level of satire. (Presumably, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross’s letters are in the mail.) Minaj declined to respond but speaking on her behalf, the short answers are A) You’re the parent. Do your job. B) See #2 on this list.
5. Out-of-Touch White Second Wave Feminists Should Avoid Whitesplaining Feminism, Know From Whence They Speak: Annie Lennox, in what has become a new tradition among many white and Second Wave (and white Second Wave) feminists, first assailed Beyonce as “feminist lite.” Then, in clarifying her comments, stated that “twerking isn’t feminism,” a declaration that suggests Lennox either doesn’t know what twerking is or hasn’t actually seen Bey’s mostly twerk-free performances. (“Grown Woman” does not a catalog make.) Twerking is a dance, no more inherently anti-feminist than any other. As for Beyonce’s feminist cred, there is already an entire wing of the Internet dedicated to essays that brilliantly sum up that whole thing (oh, look, here’s one right here!), so let’s avoid reinventing the wheel.
6. Donald Trump Is Still an Idiot: For many reasons, but at least he’s consistent.
7. Now That Big Butts Are for Everyone, We Can Move to The Next Stage -- Commodification: Just a few days ago, the AP ran a story about the sudden spike in sales of all things butt enhancing -- from plastic surgery involving gluteal implants and fat injections, to butt lifting workouts, to padded underwear that gives the illusion of more junk in your trunk. Proof of the booty as a new cash cow is provided by a company called Booty Pop, which specializes in both the aforementioned padded panties and unintentionally hilarious commercials. Booty Pop not only reports sales nearly 50% higher than the same six-month period last year, but due to customer demand for bigger sizes, has started manufacturing panties with 25% bigger pads. There’s also been a surge in butt augmentation surgeries, with the number of butt implant and lift surgeries performed rising more than any other type of plastic surgery in 2013. Since 2012, requests for the procedure have increased a staggering 58%.
8. One of the Biggest Winners Here Is Sir Mix-A-Lot and a 22-Year-Old Rap Song: You know who’s having a moment? Sir Mix-A-Lot, whose 1992 rap classic “Baby Got Back” is a song about loving big (black) butts that was released in an era when those butts got no love in mainstream media. In the meantime, he’s enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to Minaj and “Anaconda,” which heavily samples the song.