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This story first appeared in the March 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
What did this year’s Grammy gowns have in common? From Nicki Minaj in her fringed black Tom Ford to Iggy Azalea in a blue Armani Prive, from Beyonce in a black holey Proenza Schouler to Lady Gaga in a silver, thigh-revealing Brandon Maxwell — and, of course, Kim Kardashian in a wide-open vintage Jean Paul Gaultier bathrobe dress — ladies were much more interested in showing off their barely covered derrieres than their ample cleavage (also on display but not as attention-getting). There were lots of butt-to-the-camera poses and provocative stares over the shoulder. There were even backward gown squats with a bit of wiggling and wriggling. Forget the mani cam. It’s all about the butt cam these days.
It might sound crass, but it hardly can be disputed: Ladies and gentlemen, butts are blowing up all over, with even English aristocrats getting in on the act (e.g., the “Pippa Middleton Ass Appreciation Society” Facebook page).
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When a body-change phenomenon hits Hollywood this hard, it can’t be swept under the red carpet. The old lollipop female shape (stick figure, big head) first gave way to the lollipop with big cleavage, but now the desirable body shape has evolved to a pulchritudinous hourglass that places more value on butts over boobs.
Cameron Diaz’s model-trim rear in 2010 represented the ideal until recently.
With the celebrated broadening of behinds, the word “hipster” has a new meaning. Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus and selfie queen Jen Selter have made the “belfie,” or butt selfie, all the rage on Instagram, and special “belfie sticks” are being marketed for taking a better photo from behind. It used to be men who sang about booties — going back to Queen‘s “Fat Bottomed Girls” (1978), Sir Mix-a-lot‘s “Baby Got Back” (1992), The Black Eyed Peas‘ “My Humps” (2005) and Major Lazer‘s “Bubble Butt” (2013) — but as of last year, women have owned the theme (though Destiny’s Child did give it a big bump in 2001 with “Bootylicious”). In 2014, red-carpet rearview pioneer Jennifer Lopez — who helped make the backside the focal point of both female eroticism and fashion — finally acknowledged her cultural contribution with her “Booty” video (a collaboration with Azalea), which was joined by Minaj’s “Anaconda” (close-ups of shaking cheeks worthy of an X rating) and Meghan Trainor‘s “All About That Bass.” By the time Cyrus grinded hers into Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Awards, booty-popping and twerking had crossed over as a dance craze. And after Kardashian broke the Internet in November with her booty-baring Paper cover, the rest was hindsight history. (The trend also has sparked controversy over cultural appropriation of black women’s bodies.)
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There was a time when American women would do anything to minimize the size of their buttocks — Spanx, dieting, jogging — after the waif archetype took over fashion in the ’90s. In 2004, the most common Google searches in the U.S. for “changing one’s butt” were concerned with how to make it smaller. In 2014, these inquiries were outnumbered in every state by searches asking advice on how to get a bigger butt.
Jennifer Lopez is widely cited as kicking off the bigger-butts trend. At the 2012 Oscars, she with co-presenter Cameron Diaz boosted booty buzz by showing their rear views to the audience.
Lisa Reisler, who with partner Susan Bloomstone invented Booty Pop padded panties in 2010, says: “We are now selling a pad that’s 40 percent larger than when we launched, and there are tons of requests. It used to be if your husband said your booty looked big in jeans, it was an insult. Now, it’s a compliment. The power of celebrities over body image is immense.” No doubt helped by Minaj and J.Lo, sales of the undies ($22), which require a larger jean size or two, have increased 40 percent in the past six months.
According to the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, desire for bigger behinds in the past five years has led to the fastest-growing cosmetic procedure, the “Brazilian butt lift,” in which fat is liposuctioned from other regions in the body to pad and “pop” the butt. “The biggest jump percentage is in butt enlargements,” says Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Lawrence Koplin. “It’s a significant monetary surgery now.” Ninety-nine percent of women who are looking for butt augmentation are doing it by the fat-transfer procedure, notes Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Gabriel Chiu: “You can call it a twofer: You get to eliminate, via liposuction, a trouble area like love handles, belly, inner or outer thighs and put that ‘junk in the trunk.’ ” For a price: The cost begins at $9,500, the procedure takes three to six hours with a minimum of 10 injections per cheek, and most Brazilian butt-lift patients must sleep on their stomachs and cannot sit down for two weeks.
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Beyonce, who claims to have invented the term “Bootylicious,” walked the carpet in 2013.
But a butt can’t just be big, it’s got to be curved, look good from the sides and back and pop out high from a comparatively slim waist. It’s got to “bubble” in jeans, and the old sexist cliche — that a woman’s rear should be high enough to balance a beer on — is now, in effect, a plastic-surgery goal. A skilled surgeon will use lipo to contour the abdomen, waistline, hips, lower back and upper thighs to enhance the bountifulness of the booty. “What makes a successful buttocks augmentation are technique, technology and time,” says Chiu. “That’s the difference between a ‘mass produced’ and a ‘bespoke’ butt.”
Going under the knife for a butt lift is still controversial. “Butt implants are rarely offered anymore” in the U.S., says Koplin, who has been recommending fat transfers in other areas as well for years. “They tend to have a synthetic look and don’t behave as realistically, and the risk of infection is high.” Bret Contreras, a trainer known as the Glute Guy who partners in the personal training service Get Glutes, agrees: “I’m very opposed to surgery for glute enhancement. Several case reports have emerged with severe consequences. If you could see the images, they’d horrify you.” Yet the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports a 98 percent increase in buttock implants since last year: “Butts are officially the new boobs,” says Booty Pop’s Bloomstone.
Lower-impact options like eating more won’t cut it — or build it. Contreras recommends “proper glute training and nutrition, but I’m not going to lie and suggest it’s easy. You need three training sessions per week consisting of heavy hip thrusts, squats, deadlifts and lunges, but the backside will look better and better every month. Some clients see a big improvement in three months.” Adds Get Glutes partner Kellie Davis: “Daily activity like clamshells, kickbacks, squats and hip thrusts are great butt builders. A diet of lean proteins, fruits and veggies, starchy carbs and healthy fats also does the booty good.”
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Kim Kardashian in a signature red-carpet pose in 2014, two months before her Paper magazine cover.
Evolutionary psychologists interpret the phenomenon by saying that women with wide hips look more child-bearing-friendly, while small waists relay the fact that they aren’t already pregnant. There’s also evidence, according to University of Albany psychologist Gordon G. Gallup, that women with bigger butts have smarter babies due to “gluteal femoral fat stores,” specifically in the buttocks and thighs, which are high in omega-3 acids and promote brain growth as well as higher cognitive scores.
Dionne Stephens of Florida International University’s department of psychology has observed that “breasts are fetishized in the U.S. but not in Europe or South America, where women go topless all the time. The butt is the last taboo. Buttocks are the last body part women still have to hide. When women show their buttocks to men during sex, it’s a totally empowering position for men. For now, it’s about the hourglass, and here in Florida, so many women of all ages are wearing the faja.” That’s a thick corset or girdle that makes the breasts high and extended and the butt stick out. There are copious lines of clothes specially designed for larger derrieres: Nelly started Apple Bottom, Baby Phat was designed for hourglass figures, and Lululemon was built on the insight that regular women would pay extra for yoga pants that make their rears look good. Recent visits to lingerie stores in L.A. reveal that fajas are starting to be sold everywhere.
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But this is not the first time in history that a large derriere has been prized. Spartan women performed “bottom kicking” of the booty to make it bigger. Peter Paul Rubens portrayed only full-bottomed women in his paintings in the 17th century. And Dr. Stephens brings up Hottentot Venus, a slave born Saartjie Baartman in 1797 in South Africa; Europeans were obsessed with her gargantuan backside. (Kardashian’s Paper shoot evokes historical images of Baartman.) “What’s different from previous historical periods,” says culture critic and The Power of Glamour author Virginia Postrel, “is that the ideal of curves coexists with the ideal of the athletically toned body. The new nice butts also have big muscles.”
So are butts really replacing boobs as the new erogenous zone? “Breasts and butts seem to be on alternating wave cycles in terms of popularity,” says Contreras. “Although both will always be very popular, usually one is getting more attention than the other. This time is definitely more about the booty.”
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