woman in athletic clothing with measuring tape wrapped around butt

Booty time: Why women are chasing big, ‘power’ butts – and is it a good thing?

Unless you’ve been living completely off-the-grid for the last eight to ten years, then you’ll know this: Butts are in. Big, round, perky, bouncy booties. While a large backside has been celebrated in black and latina cultures for, well, ever, mainstream (aka extremely white-dominant) media, women were given increasingly impossible levels of thinness to achieve. Then one day in the early 2010s, this all changed. Some have called this an excellent, more “body positive” movement. Is it really though? Like many things, it’s nuanced, so let’s dive in.

We Like Big Butts And We Cannot Lie

Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot is at this point solidly in the throw-back, retro-themed party playlist. Released in 1992, for women outside of the black and latina communities, it certainly seems ahead of its time. After all, in 1992 magazine covers we saw the exact opposite of curvy women with well-endowed backsides. The desire for big butts only really went mainstream in the early 2010s with the release of songs like Anaconda by Niki Minaj, All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor, and of course Booty by Jennifer Lopez. Naturally, we can’t talk of the popularization of the booty trend without mention of the rise of Kim and the entire Kardashian Clan. (1)

Nowadays, edging ever closer to a full decade since those songs came out, big butts are everywhere. Gym classes, workout videos, and even entire gyms are dedicated to them. One of the most popular poses on Instagram is the “look back over-the-shoulder pose” while popping out the bum. This, of course, is usually taken at an angle to amplify the gluteal area. Finally, hardly any other industry has seen a massive bump in business than those in the area of booty enhancement. Whether you’re a company that makes butt-lifting, waist-cinching underwear, “butt lift” tights, or you’re in plastic surgery, the message is clear: Women want bigger butts. (2)

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Body Positive or Negative?

At first glance, this may seem as a breath of fresh air for those who were exhausted by the horrible trend of the 90s and early 2000s causing women to make themselves smaller and smaller. Finally! A trend that celebrates the female form! But does it really? (3)

Yes, the big booty trend does lend itself much easier to the plus-sized, curvy, or full-figured woman (whichever term suits you), but I’d still put a full stop on calling it body positive. Let’s think about it for a minute:

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  • It still only promotes one body type (small waist, curvy hips and big booty)
  • This doesn’t celebrate just a “big” booty, but a “perfect” one: Curves in the “right” places, lifted high, and perfectly round. If you can’t balance a champagne glass on it, it’s not good enough, right?
  • It puts down another body type. Why must, in order to promote another body type, we put down all the rest.
  • We are still sending the message to women that the majority of the value lies in one body part. For this current phase, that body part is the bum.

Essentially, it has left thinner or skinny women being told that they are suddenly not desirable because they don’t have the big, juicy booty that their curvier counterparts have. It also only helps one subsection of the curvy-girl community: Those with round, perky bums and small waists. What if you’re a bigger girl who wasn’t blessed with a bigger backside? Or you’ve got a big booty but not the tiny waist to go with it? What then?

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Women’s Bodies Are Not Commodities For Others

The other big, blatant issue with this is that it puts all the value of women in just one part of their bodies. Not even the whole thing – literally just the part that we sit on. Second, in nearly every song, video, and movie that talks about the big ol’ booty, it is shown in the light of desirability for men. Often, they pit women against each other as well, saying that you are lesser than this other woman because her butt is bigger. Oh, and who are the judges of this appraisal? Usually men. Yeah, this is sounding less and less about empowerment and more and more like society is still trying to have women focusing on how horribly unattractive and imperfect they are, doesn’t it?

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The Fitness Industry

From a fitness standpoint, this trend is both positive and negative. On one hand, it’s encouraging women to hit the gym and, most evidently, the weight room. Having strong glute muscles and working on the regular has plenty of benefits:

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  • A stronger booty means less instance of certain hip and knee injuries, among others
  • Working the glutes inadvertently works the muscles of the pelvic floor. This has a whole host of benefits for women of all ages, including those who both have or haven’t had children.
  • Stronger glutes makes you a faster runner
  • A focus on glute activation exercises gets glute muscles that have been elongated from sitting at the office all day working again
  • Many of the exercises praised for how they “target” the bum are movements that actually target several other muscle groups, including the core

While a big butt may be motivating women to hit the gym, particularly for something other than just cardio, there are cons. First of all, you can’t spot-train. Ask any (*good*) personal trainer, and they will tell you that. You can focus on strength and general health improvement, but that’s it. 

Second, focusing so much on just one muscle group neglects so many others that are equally as important. You may have the strongest booty in town, but the rest of your muscles are withering away because of it. There, the dangers of overuse injuries and imbalance injuries are very high.

Third, the motivation for getting those women to the gym is not necessarily a positive one. They are there chasing after something they’ve been told will make them sexier, land them the man of their dreams, and finally have the confidence that they’ve always dreamed of. This is a far cry from exercising to improve overall physical, mental, and emotional health.

Gyms and the fitness industry are profiting off of this insecurity as they always do. They are selling women this idea that if they buy their program, follow their training plan, or come to their gym, they will achieve this unrealistic body. Let’s be honest here: Most of our “idols” who have this ideal body didn’t even achieve this on their own. Yes, there are those who are naturally blessed, however, there are just as many, if not more, who paid big money to have their bodies sculpted that way.

Read: Nil-by-mouth foodie: The chef who will never eat again

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Booty Enhancement

Since the early 2010s, companies selling products to make the bum appear bigger, higher, and rounder have quite literally blown up. Whether they’re selling Spanx with a side of butt pads or simply tights cut a certain way or made with a certain fabric to amplify the backside, women can’t get enough. These of course come with much fewer risks to our physical health than the next topic I will tackle. Still, you have to wonder about the mental health implications. Why is it that women feel so inadequate in their own, natural bodies that they feel the need to wear things that make them look different from that? I, for one, can’t help but wonder what the implications are on both the mental health of the wearer and that of the other woman or girl looking on who doesn’t realize that’s what they’re wearing. Don’t even get me started about photoshop. (4)

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Cosmetic Surgery

Of course, there are plenty of women who have realized that they will never achieve this idyllic tiny waste-big butt aesthetic that they’ve been told will officially make them beautiful. Instead, they’ve turned to plastic surgery to quite literally help them fit the mold of what pop culture is telling them is how they should look. The Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) is a procedure where a surgeon uses liposuction to remove fat from the abdomen and instead put it into the hip and butt area. It has been around for quite a long time but has seen a massive surge in demand starting in 2013/2014. (5)

I am not here saying that plastic surgery is terrible and you should feel ashamed if you have it or choose to. What I am merely pointing out are the risks, long, difficult recoveries, and thousands of dollars women are willing to put up with in order to achieve this. The scariest part is that there are many women who can’t afford to go to properly accredited doctors and instead have sketchy procedures done by unlicensed practitioners. Yes, some of these have ended in death. I’m all for a good butt, but is it really worth the risk of dying over? I think that is a big sign that we’ve gone too far.

Read: I Weigh 300 Pounds—These Are The Everyday Challenges Of Being Overweight That People Don’t Talk About

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Big Butt Appropriation?

Finally, as I’ve previously mentioned, the big booty trend is nothing new to both black and Hispanic cultures. They’ve celebrated this body part for years, as it is a natural aspect of many, but not all, of their bodies (albeit, it’s a feature of many people’s bodies -regardless of race). That being said, while they celebrated within their communities, other communities, primarily white ones, mocked it. There has been a notable shift in the last decade, however, of celebrating big butts on women primarily because women such as the Kardashians, as well as many, many others, began celebrating it. As a white woman myself, I can’t speak to this experience. Instead, I will use a quote from black, female writer Crystal Martin:

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“Slowly over the past decade, the trend that began with twerks morphed. As the body-positivity movement (which, notably, left behind fat Black women with less socially desirable shapes) elevated the likes of “curvy” women Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence, butts themselves became the focus. The look-over-the-shoulder pose began to dominate Instagram feeds. The cultural and social value of BBL flowed from Black women to white women, and it has been entirely commodified. Anybody can have a big butt for a price (the procedure starts at about $5,000)…. And yet Black women who pursue the beauty ideal through cosmetic surgery are still often punished for it.” (6)

This Is Nobody’s Body

As Martin also wrote, while this big booty ideal does come from black and Hispanic culture, let’s be honest here: The “BBL” body belongs to no race or ethnicity. Natural black bodies don’t have those proportions or measurements. Neither do those of Hispanic, European, Asian, middle eastern, or any other cultural or ethnic group. This is yet another caricature drawn up for women to nearly kill themselves in order to achieve it, be it by crazy gym workouts and fad diets or major surgeries. 

My final thought on this is less of a thought and more of a challenge for all women, of all ages. Let’s start celebrating our bodies as they are for real. Let’s stop tearing other women’s bodies down in order to lift our own up. What would happen if we stopped bowing to society, the beauty industry, pop culture, or whoever it is who’s deciding which bodies are “in” and “out” and just embraced our individual bodies as unique and beautiful?

Whether you’re reading this article on December 31 or some other random time of the year, let’s treat this moment as a new beginning. One where you are going to love and appreciate your body for what it is and what it does for you, rather than based on what someone else tells you is beautiful, valuable, and important. Let’s start celebrating women and each other for everything else that makes us powerful, desirable, sexy, and beautiful rather than just our bodies (or in this case, one singular body part). If we all take this position on what makes a woman beautiful, we as well as future generations of girls and women will be far better off.

Keep Reading: ‘Hooters With Plus-Sized Waitresses’ Sparks Debate

Sources

  1. Butt seriously: how bottoms became a fitness obsession.” The Guardian. Anna Kessel. November 18, 2019.
  2. The Big Butt Trend Is <em>Not</em> Empowering for Women.” Huffpost. Nikki Gloudeman,. December 10, 2014.
  3. Businesses cash in as women chase bigger butts.” Denver Post. The Associated Press. November 11, 2014.
  4. Chloe Bailey, Lizzo, and Jordyn Woods Have All Worn Amazon’s Viral Butt-Lift Leggings.” Seventeen. Kelsey Stiegman. June 21, 2021.
  5. Just How Dangerous Is a Brazilian Butt Lift?Harpers Bazaar. Audrey Noble, Lindy Segal. September 14, 2021.
  6. The Global Pursuit of a Bigger Butt The frenzy for curves that replicate — and distort — Black beauty ideals.The Cut. Crystal Martin. Sptember 3, 2021.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
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