At first sight it left me flabbergasted. There I was, 14 years old, examining myself in the full length mirror in my parents’ bedroom — trying to make sense of my body.
I thought only women — well, black women — could have these. So what was I doing with one? I shuddered watching the small of my back slope into a big booty, made even more prominent in the pair of jeans with elastic waistband that I was outgrowing.
Some might call this idle rambling, while others may call it something else. But I guess this is a tale of the Big Booty Blues and how, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the most prominent feature that once set me apart from the pack would become a valued asset. But I was too young to understand that then, and naïve enough to fall for anything.
Just the idea of what passes for manhood is enough to send a teenage boy cowering and calling for his momma to console him through those growing pains. It’s a period that got me to questioning things: How could I come to grips with the idea that my booty may grow to resemble those shaken by bikini-clad women in almost every rap music video? Or what does it mean that my big booty evokes a history of oppression and degradation?
In her essay, “Big Booty Beauty and the New Sexual Aesthetic,” Myra Mendible illustrates this point. “Buttocks have long been a source of cultural capital in the West, serving as emblems of sexual, racial, or ethnic difference,” writes Mendible, who teaches media and culture studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, where she also chairs the Literature and Languages Department.
An example of this “cultural capital” was Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, who was born in 1789 of the Khoikhoi tribe in South Africa. Perhaps she’s better known as “Hottentot Venus,” who was exhibited as a sideshow attraction around Britain during the 19th century. These “shows” involved her entertaining people by gyrating her nude buttocks, what Europeans thought were highly unusual bodily features.
If that made her unusual, what did it make me? S. Pearl Sharp, whose commentaries and essays have been broadcast on National Public Radio, gave me an idea of the source of my discomfort. In her essay, “A Tail Tale,” she mentioned the European myth of black people — mostly women — having tails as an explanation for our big booties.
This propaganda came in the form of “trade cards” in the late 1800s and early 1900s. “The postcards, which used Black images to sell products, sometimes showed Blacks with tails going about the business of selling thread and gadgets,” Sharp writes. “You can see a tail sticking out of Negroes in drawings on some of the early popular sheet music.”
And if this wasn’t enough, another form of irony surfaced as U.S. soldiers went abroad to fight both Nazism and racism during World War II. White soldiers were spreading rumors about their black counterparts having tails “in hopes that it would preclude European women’s natural attraction to the brothers,” Sharp writes. “Didn’t work. The veterans have revealed that some women would put soft pillows on the chairs so that the Black soldier’s tail would be comfortable.”
I was never rumored to have a tail, but like the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my prominent feature made me the subject of ridicule.
Rudolph was Santa’s ninth reindeer who was picked on by others in the pack for having an unusually red-colored nose that gave off its own light. It wasn’t until inclement weather almost threatened Santa’s chimney runs that Rudolph’s nose became significant. The light from his nose was powerful enough to illuminate the team’s path.
It wasn’t until college when my big booty became an asset in getting the attention of some sistas. According to Mendible, there are a range of terms that both affectionately and derogatorily refer to the butt. “’Booty’ holds the promise of illicit pleasures,” she writes. While “’Fanny’ desexualizes the…behind, turning it into a sweet but inconsequential body part.” She continues: “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.”
And that’s where I make the switch. While ‘booty’ “holds the promise of illicit pleasures,” I’m not one to boast about his moves in the bedroom. Since what I have is far from a “fanny,” a “tush,” or a “can,” it would be appropriate to say I have a “rump.” It’s what causes a group of women in passing to slow their strut, turn back and admire before giggling and whispering to one another as they go on their merry way. It’s also what’s grabbed in the heat of passion. Lurk the message boards long enough and the conversation is bound to pop up.
“Seriously, I love men who kinda have a big butt,” bobosensei, who describes herself as a 27-year-old woman, says in a post on freetrainers.com. “The guy I am seeing now has a big rear even though he’s in shape…. I love to see a pair of thighs hugging their pants more than a 6 pack on their tummy.”
On a forum at connectingsingles.com, Sommerauer71, of Austria, couldn’t agree more. “I hate bony, skinny arses, that are all flat,” she says in a post. She likes something “neat, looks fab in a pair of jeans and one of those you just want to grab all the time.” When a comment is made about fearing guys with big butts are well endowed in other places, tainogirl, who started the post, reassures her sistas that it could be a good thing. She says, “Can’t the poor man have a little extra junk in his trunk?”
I don’t know how I would have taken that question at 14.