Most Januaries are spent silently making, and then breaking, New Year’s resolutions. But considering the year we had in 2020, it’s best not to make too many plans, namely ones rooted in self-improvement. (Honestly, I haven’t even heard of anyone making resolutions in the last few weeks; a couple friends were attempting Dry January, but a failed coup within the first week of the year really knocked that out of people right quick.) So, since I’m not setting any new goals, I’ve decided to spend 2021 developing a profound anxiety over the quality — and quantity? — of my butt.
My butt has always been a focus of my workouts and my vanity. Any midsize to plus-size person knows that if you’re raised in a culture that values thinness above all else, and that thinness is not in the cards for you, then you can always focus your obsession on whether you have a nice-sized butt. Over the last decade, beauty standards have steadily changed: The physical characteristics of women of color are now a source of envy, a contrast to the waifish white supermodels who have arguably created a few generations’ worth of unattainable body goals. Notably, this shift has become more pronounced as those features have begun appearing on white women (through medical enhancements or otherwise): full lips, shapely hips, small waists, tan skin, laid edges, and, of course, a big fat ass.
Of course, this is how Black women have looked like for years — and they have been mocked for those features for just as long — but the Kardashian/Jenners have been at the vanguard of this cultural shift in beauty standards. Have you seen Kylie Jenner lately? She looks like every ethnicity mashed together and poured into a tall latex glass. In turn, there seem to be a million copycats who, in trying to look like the Kardashian/Jenners, are effectively Blackfishing. The look has gotten more extreme, with an even wilder hip-to-waist ratio to make room for that big, firm, lifted butt.
But for anyone as old as me — in TikTok years, I am a withered crone who should probably just stick to LinkedIn — it’s a fascinating shift from the years of what was then called “heroin chic” (yikes, sorry, but it even has a whole Wikipedia entry), like Kate Moss in a tank top and Calvin Kleins slipping off her visible hip bones or Paris Hilton in an outfit seemingly held together with spit and blue raspberry bubblegum. Being skinny all over was key in the ’90s and mid-aughts, and having too big a butt or too much boob was considered somewhat lascivious — a pernicious idea that stems from racist 19th-century beauty standards.
So it’s not entirely new or surprising that girls and women around the world are yearning for a bigger, thiccer butt since so many beautiful celebrities who dominate culture now have them. TikTok, as the newfound center of most cultural conversations involving young women and their bodies, displays an endless reel of them relishing in their big, cute butts while other girls mourn their lack of meat. (Sometimes both in the same video!) Butts win the algorithm on TikTok. Butts can elevate an okay dance into a viral dance. Videos taking part in the “Buss It” challenge, which is in part about showing off your good butt, have already accumulated more than 550 million views in just a few short weeks. (The #glutes tag is almost at 1 billion views.) And if you want an assurance that straight men are also getting in on the game of making women feel bad about not having a butt, then consider yourself reassured.
But, of course, virality depends on having the right kind of butt. Not all asses are created equally. The butt that’s prized online these days is firm, hoisted up to the sky, bouncy in the right ways, cellulite-free, and perfectly round, as if it were shaped by God’s hand himself — think a fitness model in lycra leggings, posed perfectly so that her butt creates a kind of cleavage over her legs. Flat, dimpled, or sagging butts are hardly more appreciated now than they were 15 years ago. The goal is the peach emoji brought to life, nothing less.
I remember when Kim Kardashian West’s well-known butt got its own magazine cover in 2014, which did indeed break the internet. Now, nearly every Instagram account in my algorithm shows me model influencers sharing tips on how to pose in photos to offer the best butt-first angle, or posts from fitness influencers about butt workouts above all else, as if you want to build a body with a low center of gravity. Workout videos seem to exclusively show an erotic low-angle shot of a butt to make sure you really get it: These squats will make you look like the porn star of your dreams. Glossy women’s magazines similarly want you to achieve your goal of an inflated butt: Last summer, Shape offered its readers “The 30-Day Butt Challenge That Seriously Sculpts Your Booty.” In November 2020, Cosmopolitan published “9 Non-Boring Butt Exercises if You’re Out Here Still Only Doing Squats.” Pornhub’s most-searched terms by state during election week 2020 included “anal creampie” (Montana), “fat ass” (Pennsylvania), “tushy” (Colorado, Jesus, use adult words), “big booty” (Alabama), and “yoga pants” (Iowa).
And if you can’t get a nice, round butt after doing thousands of squats? You can try to inject your way to happiness. Despite being one of the most dangerous forms of plastic surgery, the Brazilian butt lift is steadily growing to be one of the more popular kinds of procedures. In 2017, more than 20,000 people got a butt lift, up from around 8,500 five years before that. Nonsurgical options, like the Sculptra butt lift, gives you more of the lifted shape you may want, and the cost usually starts at $4,000, depending on what you’re working with in the first place. (But don’t worry, it wears off after two years — so if body trends change, you can change with them.)
I think I speak for everyone when I say: God bless. More body diversity is great, even if right now it’s coming in the form of the conventionally attractive Apple Bottoms, small-waist, slim-thicc look. But watching the butt-centric TikTok videos in particular has started to give me a new kind of anxiety about my body. I watch girls twerk and wonder to myself why I seem incapable of making my bones detach that way, of getting my butt to wobble up and down like that, like a jello cake being served on an undulating platter. I look at shapely butts and think, What does mine look like to another person? It’s thrilling, really, to find a new way to pick at yourself endlessly.
Being stuck at home for the last 10 months, combined with a renewed focus on at-home fitness, has forced me to twist myself in front of a mirror and take a good, hard look at my own dumper. If I can’t exercise my way to unattainable perfection, and if I don’t feel like getting a bunch of needles stuck into my ass, then why not buy some magic pants to trick everyone’s eyes, including my own?
So I bought the viral Amazon leggings that half of the internet is buzzing about. I’m not usually a sucker for viral marketing — but everyone, from women at the gym to girls on TikTok, has been obsessed with these. There are already a million spawns and imitations, but they all do basically the same thing: Thanks to a strange texture that resembles a popcorn ceiling, they help shape your butt into a bouncy, flouncy ass, hide any cellulite pockets you may have, and cinch in your waist more than normal weekend leggings can.
On TikTok, women try them for their followers and gawk, slack-jawed, at their own juicy, juicy buns. “Go buy these fucking leggings!” says @bertiesquirt, wearing a black pair. “The booty’s looking juicy,” says @kyleandjade_. “The way my husband put it on me last night, I must be wearing these every night.” The pants are still so sought-after that a medium pair of the black Amazon version is currently on backorder until early February. The price has steadily increased; when I first bought them last year, they were around $18, but now they’re nearly $27. They’re comfortable, they’re soft, and they’re still pretty cheap — what more do you want?
A legging going viral is a tale as old as time, even if the leggings predate Twitter or the concept of virality. When I was in high school, the clothing item du jour was a pair of thin, ultra-stretchy Tna leggings purchased at the Aritzia in Calgary’s Southcentre Mall. These transformed your butt into what we wanted back in the early 2000s: flat, low-hanging cheeks that left enough room for a whale tail to peek out the top, best completed by an Aritzia puffy fur-lined hooded jacket, straightened hair and a mood ring on an index finger. If you really wanted to be cool, you let a skinny cigarette hang from your fingers while you cut class. This, at the peak of my puberty in the early to mid-aughts, was what we wanted our bodies to look like: lithe, underfed, nubile.
But for me, the Amazon leggings are not so much revelatory as they are just...pants. My body doesn’t feel transformed by them, which is such a disappointment. Finally, my meaty butt is en vogue, and I’m still not matching up with any kind of societal standard of beauty. Now I don’t feel like I’m big enough? Isn’t this my time to shine?? Why don’t the leggings work on me??? A friend suggested it’s because I got the “wrong kind”; some of the leggings have a different texture pattern, which maybe isn’t transforming my ass the way I was promised. But even after I got the original leggings in black, my donk remained relatively mediocre. The world is burning in almost every way possible. What better time for me to fixate on the failure of my body to be spectacular???
The focus on bigger butts hasn’t been the body-positive societal transformation I was hoping for. Instead, it’s just created another beauty standard that’s nearly impossible to meet. Once, it was important to be skinny, with no curves — ideally a 00, but a 0 would do. Now, you have to maintain those slender arms, flat stomach, visible collarbone, fold-free back, dip-free hips, shapely legs — but with a lifted, thicc butt, too. I’m not sure this would’ve been much of a comfort for a 14-year-old version of myself on TikTok, and it’s certainly not a comfort as an adult either.
What’s abundantly clear to me is that your insecurities don’t really care how old you are, or how many body ideals you’ve lived through. I suppose it is a comfort to accept that if it weren’t about butts, it’d be about something else. There’s always a way to feel like you’re too much, and there’s always a way to feel like you’re not enough at all. But insofar as body dysmorphia goes, perhaps it’s a slight improvement that the focus is now on a body part I can’t really see in the mirror. I’ll take what I can get. ●