Learning To Respect My Big Butt

Big butts on women are suddenly popular again, according to the music industry. But I’ve always had one. And it’s been a source of both embarrassment and pride.

Recently, there’s been a, shall we say, “re-discovery” of rear ends in the media. Entertainment Weekly called the last four months of pop culture “The Summer of Butts,” which would sound like some kind of terrifying epidemic, like the butt-bonic plague, if it wasn’t referring to glamorous women like Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, and Jennifer Lopez. Well, not those women, exactly—those women’s butts.

I watched J.Lo and Iggy Azalea’s newest music video for their new song, aptly named “Booty (the Remix),” and felt—how to put this delicately?—an ass kinship to the singers. They wriggle and writhe in one-piece bathing suits, a staple for us big booty gals who want to avoid the eternal-wedgie of boyshorts. When they stomp, their legs quiver, their butt-cheeks shake. I thought I was supposed to be embarrassed when my butt-cheeks shake. J.Lo pours what appears to be baby oil all over herself and her bare butt. They shine, orb-like, and jiggle like two bronzed Jell-O desserts.

Sure, it’s exciting to hear that the Internet, a dungeon of “thinspiration,” has decided that butts are “hot” now. But I’m not so keen on headless, close-up shots of Iggy and J.Lo over lyrics like, “It’s his birthday/Give him what he ask for/Let me show you how to do it.” One minute, J.Lo owns her booty, and the next, a man does. For me, this back and forth can be kind of bewildering. I’m still exploring the difference between empowering and debilitating.

Are you shaking it for you? Or are you shaking it for him?

I’ve never poured baby oil over my ass cheeks like Jenny from the Block, but I have struggled with my booty’s identity. Does showing it off in tight clothes mean I’m empowered? Does hiding my junk in the trunk mean I’m embarrassed?

These aren’t new questions. My whole life has been a “Summer of Butts.”

When I was 11, Rebecca S. told me I had a huge butt.

We were wearing the exact same Catholic school uniform—clean white polos and pressed navy shorts—but she was right: My butt protruded out behind me, and my belt was tight to hide the gap between my backside and the rest of me. I began checking the behinds of other girls in my class. Flat, casual, not soliciting attention.

Those were other butts. Not mine.

Until I got too self-conscious to be seen in public with my parents (see: all of high school), my mom took me clothes shopping at Sears twice a year. She came into the dressing room with me and tsked as I yanked up pants, pair after pair.

“You’ll need a bigger size. You can’t walk around in jeans that tight,” she’d say.

I wore bottoms two sizes too big for years because I thought they were supposed to be baggy. Now, I realize my mom didn’t want me to look like one of those accidentally sexy middle-schoolers, curvy and unaware.

Once, under the dim purple lights of the ladies fitting room, she apologized to me: “I’m sorry that of all the things you inherited from me, you got my butt. You could have been born with your dad’s butt—it’s like a pancake, but no.”

As early as middle school, guys started making comments, sometimes disguised as compliments. “I’ve always been a butt guy,” many have said, as though the human race was separated, not just into blood types and personality types, but also boob types and butt types.

I can’t help but wonder where a 7th grade boy learns to talk like that, just like I wonder why, at 13, I let one take me into an empty stairwell after school and rest his hand on my butt. We just stood there, him on crutches from some P.E.-related incident, his hand unmoving on my derrière, me watching the door in case a teacher and/or Jesus Christ walked in to find us. It wasn’t fun, and I never got what I really wanted, which was my first kiss. I didn’t think about whether that boy really liked me, and more importantly, if I really liked him. I just liked the attention.

In college, insecurities about my body were eschewed—or maybe it’s more accurate to say they were buried—in an effort to have the type of fun I thought I was suppoed to be having. Fueled by the Svedka my roommate and I hid in our closet, I wiggled into every party, jumped on the bar in under-21 haunts, and plowed my way through crowds, rubbing myself like a cat around as many people as I could in hopes of finding someone to buy me a drink and ask me to dance.

My butt got touched a lot—by guys I didn’t know and by some I did, who’d had too much to drink. The only time I questioned it was when I’d discover the culprit had another girl hanging on his neck. Even then, though, it felt like collecting points.

Now, as an adult who consumes a responsible four to five alcoholic beverages a week (none of them Svedka), I associate ass-grabbing with violation. I’ve realized that the most important people in my life would never squeeze my butt without permission (well, except my grandmother, who is a serial pincher, but I forgive her).

I wish I could say that the change came abruptly, after a long afternoon of contemplating my reflection in a full-length mirror while trying on bathing suits in a Target dressing room, but it’s taken (still taking) a long time to understand that having low expectations for how strangers treat and touch me, leads to even lower ones for people I want close to me.

To be honest, my butt is still a source of confusion. I shy away from skinny jeans, but I love when my boyfriend tells me he likes my tight skirt. I compare my body to friends’ who exercise less and eat more than I do, jealous of their naturally lean backsides. On a good day, I walk with extra sway, thinking of Marilyn Monroe.

My booty can still be a source of confusion—does it empower or embarrass me? It all comes down to this, I guess: When I dance to Booty (the Remix), I will do it for me. I will love expressing myself with my body. I will not worry about jiggling. And if someone touches me disrespectfully, I won’t turn the other cheek.

Photo provided by the author.

Christina Wolfgram likes to cuddle her Masters degree in professional writing from USC. She recently worked with Los Angeles Magazine to launch their first ever car culture blog, L.A. Driver, and writes about everything from uteri to Pretty Little Liars. Her work can be found on BuzzFeed, FunnyorDie, YouTube, TVMix, and—once—in one of Russell Crowe’s tweets. Follow her on Twitter: @thecwolf

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