Yesterday, a photo of Kim Kardashian’s oiled-up, bountiful rear end on the cover of Paper magazine went viral. While the photo didn’t quite succeed at “breaking the Internet,” as the headline claimed, it did succeed at giving me some pretty major PTSD. I have some serious thoughts on this topic, which is to say—I hate like big butts, and I cannot lie.
My issue with butts has nothing to do with aesthetics, and more to do with sheer jealousy—because, put simply, I don’t have one. I’m one of those lucky women whose butt manages to be both totally flat and totally wide at the same time. If I wear tight pants, I can maybe coax some shape out of it, like a chef trying to use a cookie cutter to mold butter, but if I wear anything looser than a sheet of Saran Wrap, I look like a 12-year-old boy from behind.
I first realized this back in eighth grade, when I attended a girl in my class’s bat mitzvah and received a complimentary pair of pajama pants, emblazoned with the slogan “I danced my butt off at Remy’s bat mitzvah.” When I wore the pants to school, more than one adolescent boy commented that perhaps I had taken this message too literally, as my butt was “almost non-existent”—an assessment that, while not inaccurate, didn’t make it any less hurtful.
Since then, my life has been an endless parade of male dissatisfaction with my ass. There was the 20-year-old high school senior who shoved his hand down my pants at a party when I was 14, and declared everything about my body perfect, “except maybe for that,” snapping the string of the Victoria’s Secret thong I was wearing to prove his point. There was the costume designer at theatre camp who, while attempting to fit me for a Vietnamese prostitute costume for Miss Saigon, loudly mused that I would look “flatter” than my castmates “from behind.” And there’s my own boyfriend, who I’ve noticed, while dirty-talking during sex, will always include my ass as an afterthought, like the waiter who rattles off the list of delicious entree ingredients only to add under his breath that, oh yeah, it’s served with stewed prunes on the side, too.
I don’t recount these anecdotes to prove how detrimental my lack of ass has been to my sex life. I bring it up merely to make the point that if the Big Butt Revolution was intended to empower women and help them embrace their bodies, it’s been anything but successful.
My lack of an ass wouldn’t have been a problem, had I not come of age in the early aughts, then the “Big Booty” first truly rose to cultural prominence thanks to Jennifer Lopez, who was the first to “break the Internet” with her infamous rear end. If I had to pinpoint an exact moment when our nation collectively experienced a shift in butt paradigm, it would have to be the “Jenny From the Block” video, featuring that shot of Ben Affleck caressing her ample yet perfectly toned derriere. Gone were the days of white women starving themselves and spending hours on the Stairmaster to rid themselves of their big asses; thanks to J-Lo, having a big ass was now a sought-after commodity, provided you were, like her, thin and toned and conventionally attractive in every other respect.
Since then, ass fever has continued to sweep the nation, with celebrities like Sofia Vergara, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, and—of course—Kim K. taking up Lopez’s big booty bitch mantle. (Lopez briefly took it back, however, collaborating with Azalea on the music video for “Booty” back in September.) Songs like Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” Minaj’s “Anaconda,” and Major Lazer’s “Bubble Butt” have continued to celebrate the appeal of big-bootied bitches, and Brazilian butt lifts and implants are the fastest-growing cosmetic surgery procedure in the United States, with the number of procedures up 58 percent from 2012.
When taken at face value, the shift toward celebrating big asses is largely seen as empowering, a way to step back from the traditional paradigm of ideal femininity as stick-thin and Caucasian and celebrating different body type variations. “All About That Bass” and “Anaconda” have been hailed as body-positive anthems, preaching messages of self-love and acceptance.
This drives me bonkers, for a few reasons. For starters, songs like “Anaconda” and “All About That Bass” don’t so much celebrate variations in the female anatomy, as they do swap out one ideal body type for another. “Fuck the skinny bitches in the club/I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the motherfucking club,” Minaj raps in the “Anaconda” video, looking like she falls more in the former category than the latter in her pink thong and workout bra. “Yeah, it’s pretty clear/I ain’t no size two/But I can shake it, shake it/Like I’m supposed to do,” Trainor chimes in. Speaking as someone who is a size two, I wonder if Meghan thinks this precludes me from “shak[ing] it, shak[ing] it,” like I’m apparently supposed to. (I mean, if she does, she’s right, because I can’t dance for shit. But still, my larger point stands.)
This reductionist view of the ideal female body cloaked in all-inclusivity, this hierarchy of body types in the guise of self-acceptance, is all the more grating when you actually look at the women like Minaj and Kim Kardashian who are espousing these messages. Like Jennifer Lopez before them, all of these women are thin, toned, and conventionally attractive in every respect; they just happen to be genetically blessed with hourglass figures and larger-than-average glutes. Were they not as attractive as they are, it’s highly doubtful they’d be seen as body-positive sex symbols; in fact, it’s highly doubtful anyone would see them or know who they are at all, because that’s just the way Hollywood works.
When Jennifer Lopez first became famous, I remember seeing her photo in some supermarket tabloid and asking my father if he found her attractive. He responded in the affirmative, which surprised me, as he’s gone on record grousing about women with larger-than-average rear ends. (I’m very close to my dad, but he has some less-than-progressive ideas about women and gender.)
“But I thought you didn’t like women with big asses,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but J-Lo has the right kind of big ass,” he said. Although he didn’t elaborate further, I knew exactly what he meant: Because she was thin and fit and conventionally beautiful, and her rear end tight and toned, Jennifer Lopez could get a free pass and be deemed fuckable by my father and his fellow straight white men of America.
And this, perhaps, is my biggest problem with the Big Butt Revolution: It’s always framed from the perspective of what straight men like my dad will find attractive. We can talk till we’re blue in the face about how “Anaconda,” “All About That Bass,” “Booty,” and Jen Selter the Instagram butt selfie queen are empowering women to embrace their bodies and reclaim their sexuality, but they are doing so with a very specific aim in mind—and that goal is to get middle-aged white guys’ dicks hard.
As L.V. Anderson of Slate put it in her scathing takedown of Trainor’s single, Trainor asserts “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” in the same breath as her claim “that ‘boys like a little more booty’—perfection apparently depends on male approval.”
I’ve spent the last 12 or so years of my life feeling like I’ve fallen short of male approval for various reasons—my nose is too big, my boobs are too small, and all the other old chestnuts that become earworms in every girl’s brain, from the moment she hits puberty until the day she dies—but by far the most reliable source of my dissatisfaction with my body has been and still is my butt. But where I used to look at Jennifer Lopez and think, “I want to look like that. How can I make myself look like that?”, I now look at photos of Kim Kardashian’s oiled-up rear end and think, “Wow, she looks great. I would love to look like that, but no matter how many squats I do and how many pairs of jeggings I buy, I almost certainly never will.”
I don’t know if my realization that I’m never going to have an ass that “Breaks the Internet” is just part of growing up and realizing your own limitations, like those little girls who realize they’ll never be princess-rock star-rocket-scientists because life just doesn’t work that way, or if I’m just using this as an excuse to not do squats anymore. But here’s what I do know: While the Big Booty Revolution might make some women feel strong and empowered and sexy, as long as we live in a world where perfection depends on male approval, and where the “skinny bitches” are perpetually at war with the “big fat ass bitches in the motherfucking club,” there’s always going to be some women standing on the sidelines, feeling like they’re getting kicked in the ass.
Photo by Temptation/Trailer