“The wait for big booty is over.”
That’s sentence number one in an article posted today in nydailynews.com’s entertainment section, trumpeting the release of the video for Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea’s simply titled song, “Booty.” At the moment, it’s the second-most read and shared story on the site. Bet y’all didn’t even know the world was on hold for big booty to show up.
This piece is part of white media’s latest and apparently growing fascination with women’s backsides. A few days ago, the New York Times, that apex of respected journalism, ran a story about the national spotlight on butts. The piece opened with Jen Selter, the round-bottomed Instagram-famous White girl who is giving her fair-skinned sistren hope for their sagging back pockets, one set of squats at a time.
The article—whose best, most sense-making input comes from writer and fitness enthusiast Erika Nicole Kendall—then explored the source of all of this flurried rump worship and stopped, not at all surprisingly, at Jennifer Lopez. Because certainly no one ever had a bangin’ backside before she showed up in Selena. Nah. Not at all.
Selter, for her part, is just basking in the light of fleeting pseudo-stardom. Featured in a Vanity Fair spread photographically depicting America’s new lust for curves, she’s not to be blamed for hopping on her moment of glory and riding it until the gas runs out. She didn’t create the dynamic of getting credit for doing nothing new. But she’s darn sure gonna capitalize on it. So too is Iggy Azalea.
The mainstream is always late to the party and don’t even have the decency to bring cake or a bottle of wine. Neither one of these women are queens of anything, much less the queens of booty. They are—no shade—pretty White girls with cute shapes. The tradition of racial hierarchy has made women in that world careful not to envy Black women too much, even the high and mighty Beyoncé, so these gals make it safe to wholly and openly glorify a physical trait that is largely the invention of African genetics and not, shockingly enough, the creation of Jennifer Lopez’s parents.
Let me insert a disclaimer and save a tweet or two: Not all Black women have big butts. Not all White women have small butts. And I do not in any way dislike J. Lo’s mama or daddy. I’m sure they’re very lovely people.
There are truly bigger issues to balk at and debate over than whose hindparts have been the biggest for the longest. But it’s interesting for weekend dinner discussion at the least. Black women, once again left out of the conversation that’s happening around us and, inadvertently, about us. Our beauty, parceled out as a commodity but still valued only when it’s not directly attached to us. It’s tanned skin and full lips all over again, just like the 80s and 90s. Folks are making money off of looking like us but nobody really wants to be us. Clearly we’re not the only ones wearing the mask.
The part they seem to miss about “Baby Got Back,” the oft-referenced and pop culture iconic song that is still—20 years after its release, cropping up in everything from Papa John’s commercials to animated blockbusters—is that “oh my God, Becky look at her butt” mimics the appall and disdain White folks have traditionally had about Black women’s girthy backsides. (Now would be a good time to Google Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman if you’re skeptical.) It’s glazed over as a fun part of the song, but it’s telling about how our bodies have been spectacles and still, to a very large degree, are.
Booty is big business. Well, literally and figuratively. To be fair, what NYT and Vanity Fair and Jen Selter and Iggy are doing is not much different than what Nicki Minaj is doing too, which may be even worse because she has actual talent but has reduced herself to common, bottom basic rumpshaking behavior to sell it. Everybody has butt on the brain and is trying their hardest to translate that to dollars.
As I write this post in the café seating area of my favorite Wegmans in PG County, Maryland, an east coast mecca of Blackdom, women with curves are passing me at every turn. There’s a lady, petite with short hair, with an enviable bump in the back of her work slacks. There’s another, thick with a gorgeous, make-me-jealous twist-out, who’s got butt for days. There’s nothing new about booty and nothing wrong about celebrating it, White girls included. But the wait for big booty, as we know, is the wait that never was.
Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and opinion-oversharer in Washington, DC. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.