Dear Vogue, et. al.: Can We Get Off My Booty Please?
My youngest kid, Totally Lila, announced recently that when I stomp away in frustration or anger, my booty jiggles. She’s taken to singing the chorus to LL Cool J’s, “Jingling Baby,” when this thing occurs. Like a soundtrack to my exits. Occasionally, she’ll punctuate the antics with a pat on the shelf part of my butt to assist said jiggle. “The way it moves is cool,” she snickers.
I’m not sure what to do about that information. Or her. What I do know is that all that hard work I’ve been doing to get both her and her big sister to both embrace and love their own bubble, bounce and jiggle is paying off. Not too long after Lila starting singing to my ass, Mari announced that, like her mother’s, her booty is “fabulous.” For all that hand-wringing and talking and shoving of pictures of Serena Williams’ bodacious badunk in Mari’s face (after she announced at age 12 that she hated the way her round derriere looked in her clothes), Girlpie finally not only understands but believes mightily in the power of the booty #MissionAccomplished
Still, even as I work overtime to help my girls love every one of the curves they inherited from their mama, like an overweight doctor who preaches to his patients to eat better and exercise, I struggle with my own counsel. For their sake, I lead the charge toward body acceptance, desperate for my girls to avoid the many years I stood in front of mirrors and picked myself apart for not fitting “alla this” into pop culture’s narrow, whitewashed definition of beauty. But most days, when I am outside their presence and taking stock of my reflection, I don’t believe my own hype.
For me, there is, you see, almost 46 years of baggage, heartbreak and a severe absence of modeling to overcome. I’m from the generation that spent its most formative years—those critical moments when self-esteem is beginning to set—being told that the pancake asses in those Jordache jean commercials were the standard. That Kate Moss’ “high water booty” (as defined by then-boyfriend Johnny Depp) was the standard. That calling Black girls with bubble butts “fat”—not to be confused with “phat”—was the standard. That swimming in oversized t-shirts over your bathing suit and tying thick sweaters and lumberjack shirts around your waist to hide your donk was the standard. That wearing pants that (kinda) fit in the butt but didn’t even skim your waist or skirts that hiked up in the back and stretched across the hips were the standard. That wedgies were the standard. That exercising to get that weight off, even when the scale said you were actually underweight, was standard. Each of these things were a big booty girl’s sorry lot in life.
Bubble booties were to be covered, not coveted—worked off, not worked with.
And no amount of Amber Rose twerk videos, Kanye West booty homages or ass smacks from my husband, daughters and good girlfriends can pull me out of that funk when something triggers those four decades of self-hate—a snug-fitting pair of pants, a glimpse of my butt in the mirror, waking up in the morning—and I’m feeling like that awkward, misshapen, fat Black girl I thought I was when I was 15.
That pain sears just as much today as it did back then.
Which is why Vogue magazine’s ham-handed declaration earlier this week that “We’re Officially in the Era of the Big Booty” made me want to shank the internet. Citing J Lo, Kim Kardashian, Iggy Azalea and Instagram’s self-proclaimed “belfie” star Jen Selter, Anna Wintour’s crew insists that today—like, right now at this very damn minute—they’ve decided for the entirety of the world that “people are ‘ready for this jelly’ to become the ultimate standard of beauty.” Notes Vogue:
As we await the premiere of Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea’s new music video, it would appear that the big booty has officially become ubiquitous. In music videos, in Instagram photos, and on today’s most popular celebrities, the measure of sex appeal is inextricably linked to the prominence of a woman’s behind.
For years it was exactly the opposite; a large butt was not something one aspired to, rather something one tried to tame in countless exercise classes. Even in fashion, that daring creative space where nothing is ever off limits, the booty has traditionally been shunned.
In other words, the entirety of the world was all, “ew fat butts = gross” but now phat asses are “in” because Vogue and its league of snobby fashion deciders say they are. Get like Iggy, Kim, Jen and them and drop into those squats so you can have a sexy phat ass, too!
Nevermind that Beyonce annem was hollering about being bootylicious in 2001.
Ignore that Buffy the Body been bringing all the boys to the yard since the early 2000s
Please don’t mention that Sir-Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back” been spinning since 1992.
To hell with knowing that Juvenile was telling “big fine women” to “back that thang up” (that’s twerking for you Miley Cyrus stans) in 1999. Or that Big Freedia and New Orleans Bounce music exists.
Screw KING magazine.
Middle finger to Serena Williams. And Josephine Baker. And Saartjie Baartman, a.k.a. The Venus Hottentot.
Kim Kardashian and Iggy Azaela exist so now, so do bodacious booties and our infatuation with them.
Here’s the thing: I am categorically, emphatically not here for a bunch of white women filling their asses with silicone and plaster and parading themselves across the pages of magazines and blogs and concert stages, rearranging history and blatantly jacking yet another piece of our cultural capital, all while very conveniently side-stepping all of the baggage, agony and shame they create when they dream up these “ultimate beauty standards.”
As my friend Akiba Solomon said in my Facebook timeline yesterday, “The constant disregard is exhausting.”
Plus, really Vogue? An entire staff of women thinks it’s okay to reduce women down to… a body part? As if these thick thighs and these wide hips and these pronounced calves and these round breasts and this brown skin and this kinky hair and this big ass beautiful brain and heart—as imperfect and perfect as they all are—are all irrelevant?
On a macro level, their choice to objectify women like some dirty, sweaty construction worker on a busy city street at lunch hour is disgusting. On a personal level, it’s a trigger. I get it: celebration of booty is at fever pitch (and had been far before Vogue Columbused our asses). But it makes me feel some kind of way when people—cultural purveyors and critics, husband, friends, and yes, even my daughters—ogle, fondle and build conversation around my ass. Yes, it is glorious. Today. But for all but a few years of my almost 46 years on this earth, it was not. And I am still reconciling with that. Constant discussions about my ass are not helpful in the process. Particularly as I consider what it means TO ME that the piece of me that so many—myself included—hated for so long is now something that is being revered. That people are literally dying to have.
It’s taking mettle and gut and a smidge of “I don’t give a eff what you think” to run head first through the pop cultural brick slab that walled me off from my self-confidence. Excuse me while I ram.
In the meanwhile, can we get off our asses and talk about something else, please?
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
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THIS. Thank you, Denene, always for keeping it real and getting straight to the point. As a teenager and college student I nearly starved myself into oblivion because I was teased and was so self-conscious about my butt which is apparently now in style – oh, wait, no it isn’t because women of color don’t count in the universe of fashion and mainstream popular culture except to jack our style and claim it as their own. I just had to laugh out loud when I read the Vogue article. Maybe to keep from crying at how we continue to see this BS even in 2014. The writer of that article (I’m not even going to give her credit and mention her name) and the editors are silly and clueless. It’s why I stopped reading Vogue 15 years ago.