Sat upon, sculpted, reviled and revered, the butt is an unlikely cultural touchstone. Our standards of beauty, fashion and art all, in some way, trace back to the backside. Whether we’re hiding it or flaunting it, shaking it or faking it, the derrière says more about who we are (and who we were) than it would appear when we view ourselves head-on. Here, we take a look at history from behind.
Proto-Porno, Ca. 5th Century BC
The cave paintings in the Tomba della Fustigazione (Tomb of the Floggings) in Tarquinia, Italy, might just be the earliest depiction of S&M. Squint and you can make out a sexy scene of two-on-one spanking. Oh, those kinky Etruscans.
Buns of Stone, 3rd - 1st Century BC
She goes by a few names—Aphrodite Kalipygos, Venus Callipyge or the Callypygian Venus—but they all mean the same thing: Venus of the beautiful buttocks, from the Greek kalli- for beautiful and pyge for buttocks. The original statue (lost to the ages) is dated back to the Hellenistic period, but it’s been copied from Roman times right on up to the present. Various definitions underscore her “shapely” and “well-proportioned” backside, which she is exposing in the erotic gesture of anasyrma, or the lifting up of one’s skirt, as much for her own admiration, it seems, as anyone else’s.
Fun fact: In 2002, scientists at Duke University identified a gene mutation that causes sheep to have large, muscular rumps. They dubbed the unusual ungulates callipyge sheep.
Battling from Behind, 1204 AD
Looking back through the, ahem, annals of history, it seems that the first documented instance of mooning took place during the Fourth Crusade. Bent on sacking Constantinople, the crusaders steered their ships toward the city’s harbor walls. But their first attempt flopped and the crusaders, suffering quick losses were pushed back. To add insult to injury (and fatality), the resisting forces reportedly dropped their pants and showed their bare buttocks in a show of derision to the fleeing army.
Ass Master, 17th Century
Anyone who says big ain’t beautiful should spend some time with the works of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. Considered a master of the Baroque period, Rubens often painted soft, full-figured women—hence the term “Rubenesque.” Our own Attraction Expert, Viren Swami, Ph.D., studied the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of women in Ruben’s oeuvre. (A lower WHR represents a nipped waist, while a ratio of 1.0 means no difference between waist and hip circumference.) He found that Ruben’s female subjects had an average WHR of 0.776, significantly higher than the oft-cited ideal of 0.7.
Colonial Curiosity, 1810
Though few knew her name, Saartjie Baartman was a top attraction in London for several years. Onlookers knew her as the Hottentot Venus and flocked to Picadilly to witness firsthand her steatopygia, or enlarged buttocks. Baartman was brought to England from her native South Africa around the age of 21 so that the British could revel in delight and disgust at her extraordinary posterior. She was promptly put on display in a cage sparsely adorned with beads and ostrich feathers. Outraged abolitionists lobbied for her freedom, but Baartman chose exploitation and a share of ticket sales over returning home.
Hustle and Bustle, Late 19th Century
Between 1870 and the 1890s the bustle went into, out of, back into (and back out of) Victorian fashion. In what’s known as the first bustle period, between 1870 and 1875, women ditched the massive hoop skirts and crinolines of previous years, but they still had to support their heavy gowns. Enter the bustle, pads of horsehair, wires or boning to hold up fabric gathered at the back of the dress. Then slim was in until 1883, when designer Charles Frederick Worth, the so-called father of haute couture, brought bustles back into style. These latter bustles—comprising cushions of straw, mesh and steel—produced a more exaggerated, gravity-defying silhouette.
The Original Booty Shaker, 1920s
Dancer Josephine Baker wiggled and jiggled into the heart of Paris scene with her exotic, erotic and unprecedentedly uninhibited Danse Sauvage. Her famous performance at the Follies-Bergère Theater in 1927, in which she wore little more than a string of bananas for a skirt, cemented her star status and helped her earn more than any other entertainer in Europe. (It’s worth a visit to YouTube.) American audiences, unfortunately, were not as receptive to a black performer, and she failed to gain success until the end of her career (and her life) in the 1970s.
Beach Bums, 1946
Making waves, headlines and history, Micheline Bernardini modeled the first bikini on July 5, 1946, in Paris, a high-cut string number in newspaper print. Beaches, pools—and fitting rooms—would never be the same.
Birth of the Pinups, 1940s-50s
Norma Jeane Mortenson was working the assembly line at an aeronautics plant in 1945 when a photographer snapped her picture and changed her life (and ours). By the end of 1946, her brown hair gone blonde, Norma Jeane was Marilyn Monroe—and Marilyn was a star. A few years later, in 1950, another hourglass beauty, Nashville native Bettie Page, met New York cop and amateur photographer Jerry Tibs, who put together her first portfolio. She began posing for magazines such as Wink and Titter and was named Miss Pinup Girl of the World in 1955—the same year Jayne Mansfield was Playboy’s February Playmate of the Month.
Skirting the Issue, 1960s
Women’s lib was heating up, but school girls were still required to wear dresses and skirts to class. Dress codes typically kept skirts to no more than an inch above the knee, and prohibited trousers outright. But by 1969, public schools got the hint and let girls put on pants. And not a minute too soon. The scandalous new fashion trend from London called the “mini skirt” was sweeping the nation and threatening the decency of America’s homerooms.
Beyond Bellbottoms, 1970s
Pants for women really hit their stride in the 1970s. We can credit the decade with such iconic bottom-hugging styles as tight, high-waisted jeans, disco jumpsuits and hot pants. (1970s to Urban Outfitters: “You’re welcome.”)
Tight Buns to the Betamax, 1980s
Butts became glutes in the health-conscious 80s. In 1982, Jane Fonda released the first aerobics video, “Workout Starring Jane Fonda.” “Buns of Steel” followed in 1987. Every woman and girl owned at least one contrast-colored leotard.
Oh My God, Becky, Early 90s
Kate Moss dominated magazine covers and runways with her heroin-chic physique. The 1992 release of Baby Got Back struck back against the lithe leanings of the day. Sayeth Sir Mix-A-Lot to the beanpole dames in the magazines, “You ain’t it, Miss Thing.” Indeed, when it came to females, Cosmo had nothing to do with his selection.
Butts Blow Up, 1999
The end of the decade gave butts a lift in pop culture. Brazilian import Gisele Bündchen brought curves back to modeling. She had a big year in ‘99, with a Vogue cover and being named model of the year. Meanwhile, former Fly Girl Jennifer Lopez worked her bottom to the top with the release of her first album, “On the 6.” A few years later it would be reported that she insured her moneymaker for $27 million.
Slipping Through the Cracks, 2000
At the dawn of the new millennium, Sisqo made his infamous (and inescapable) request:
She had dumps like a truck truck truck
Thighs like what what what
All night long
Let me see that thong
Badonks Get Bedecked, 2003
The year after his song “Hot in Herre” topped the Billboard charts, Nelly launched the clothing line Apple Bottoms. The brand’s mission: “Celebrating and liberating the natural curves of a woman’s body.” Turns out the jeans go well with those boots with the fur.
Mounds of Cash, 2005
The Black Eyed Peas turned the world’s eyes on Fergie’s lovely lady lumps with their release of “My Humps.” What did they do with all that junk, all that junk inside her trunk? Went triple-platinum and banked millions.
The Kardashian Takeover Begins, 2007
It was a big year for big-bootied Kim Kardashian. Her sex tape surfaced, the E! reality series Keeping Up with the Kardashians aired for the first time, she got together with New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush and she posed for Playboy. Rumors of butt implants swirled.
Hot Coco, 2011
Who knew E! was going to become the HQ of T&A? In 2011, the channel started broadcasting Ice Loves Coco, about the wedded bliss of gangster rapper Ice-T and spectacularly endowed “body model” Nicole Austin (Coco), whose record-setting rump has graced the pages of numerous urban lad mags such as Smooth, Silk and American Curves, and earned her a full chapter in Taschen’s 2010 release “The Big Butt Book.”
Next Gen Junk, 2012
It was a year of butt upsets. Nicki Minaj unseated Kim Kardashian as the subject of cheek-enhancement debates nationwide. (Kim K.’s pregnant body would, somewhat sadly, take back the spotlight in 2013.) Meanwhile, across the pond, Pippa Middleton upstaged her sister the Duchess at her own wedding, showing off her tight bum in that tight white dress.
The Butt That Launched a Thousand Belfies, 2014
Meet the fitness buff with a heart of gold and an ass of, well, gold. Jen Selter's butt-focused selfies (aka "belfies") earned her over 2.6 million Instagram followers (at press time) and catapulted her into that nebulous realm of Internet celebrity. The motivator and captivator coined a term for her posterior-promoting poses, seltering, and hashtag-seltered her way from a Long Island gym to web stardom to endorsement deals and a spread in the April 2014 issue of Vanity Fair.
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