Excess Baggage in the Trunk

It takes guts to write about butts, but that’s what Myra Mendible did in defining the new sexual aesthetic:

“The many names, affectionate and derogatory, we use in reference to female buttocks suggest the range of ambivalent associations they elicit. “Booty” holds the promise of illicit pleasures. “Fanny” desexualizes the female behind, turning it into a sweet but inconsequential body part. The command to “get off your fanny” is less hostile than “get off your ass.” A “tush” is small and tight, a “rump” is round and fleshy, a “can” is fat and lazy. As Sander Gilman points out, the “buttocks are an ever-shifting symbolic site in the body….

In mainstream U.S. culture, “bubble butts” have typically been associated with “lowly” subject positions or “vulgar” sexuality. Calling too much attention to one’s behind is considered uncouth in polite society, a nasty reminder of forbidden or distasteful acts. A big butt is associated with “unnatural” sex, excrement, or the excess and physicality identified with “darker” races. This body metaphor helps us constitute social identities and subject positions.

Like most females growing up in America, I learned early on that bodily attributes such as butt size, hair texture, skin color, and body shape could convey a woman’s status and desirability. During my teens, achieving the “all American girl” look that graced the covers of fashion magazines meant dieting the butt into submission. A woman’s failure to reign in an unruly butt connoted her lack of discipline and self-control, and by association, her inferior moral character. It also marked her place in the social order: “high class” women did not carry excess baggage in the trunk. A skinny ass identified you with the elegant and never too rich, never too thin social elite, big butts with the mammies and maids.”

NOTE: I have been genetically blessed with a skinny and well-proportioned back side (although with Brazilian Butt Lifts all the rage, me and my butt may have taken a tumble in the ratings). There’s no denying the enticement and allure of the “bootyful bounty.” Think Jennifer Lopez who has been credited with single handedly ushering in the new butt beauty or consider the emergence of Michelle Obama’s “solid, round, black, class-A boo-ta.”

And personally speaking, I flinch at the focus on what passes in society as “essentials” for the female form, although it’s good to know we are becoming a more equitably gendered culture. I’m reminded of the line from James Bond’s “Casino Royale” when double crossing heroin, Vesper Lynd, tells Britain’s most revered spy hero “You think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits. So as charming as you are, Mr. Bond, I will be keeping my eye on our government’s money – and off your perfectly-formed arse.”



~ by eaesthete on 01/15/09.

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