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Before Sports Illustrated released this year's Swimsuit Edition, Jezebel published this entertaining and revealing history of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit covers through the years. Placed one next to the other, the 50 covers made for an impressive milieu, rife for examining in relation to America's ever-evolving definition of "sexy." You’ll note that many things changed, but one thing stayed the same -- tons of T and not much A.
But then. Then! We were gifted with this year’s cover. And it was revelatory! Minimal T, and so much A! SO MUCH A. It was a huge departure, and it was the final straw for me, confirming what I had been feeling for a very long time.
Do you remember when everyone was fretting over what to call this newest generation of young adults, all of us having collectively realized way too late that there just aren't that many letters in the alphabet after X?
Well, somehow, suddenly, we became Millennials, and I hated it and I still hate it, and I am here before you now to humbly submit an alternative:
Generation Butt. Or Gen Butt, if you will.
I guarantee anyone in the "Millennial" age bracket is either nodding enthusiastically or at least working with a skeptical but intrigued raised-eyebrow situation. Because the fact of the matter is that we are young, we are bright, and we are awash in butts. We love butts. They're important to us. We love dude butts and girl butts and the butts of folks with non-binary gender identities.
We love them so much that when Pinterest was hacked and all the pictures were replaced with butts, the most common reactions were pretty much “oh hey, butts,” “yes, butts!” and “aw man, I wish my Pinterest was full of butts.”
Butts are high culture and low culture. Butts are mainstream and butts are alternative. Put simply, butts are having a cultural moment.
It feels like substandard reporting not to include some charts and graphs to support my claim though, so I conducted some highly scientific research in the form of typing naughty words into Google Trends. The results, below, are awesome.
I love trends -- food trends, fashion trends, trends in pop music, etc. In particular, I love speculating about the rationale behind them. For an example involving food, why, say, deconstructed comfort foods? Well, maybe Americans were needing the simplicity and nostalgia of their old, safe standards, but also the clarity and the transparency that is sorely lacking in the news, in politics and economics, and really everywhere. (It’s fun, right?)
This same mode of thinking can be applied to butts. Why are butts trending? There are so many possible answers and I can’t even begin to cover them all here, but I have my theories.
Remember, we Millennials (or, Gen Butters) were once the preteens going through puberty during the low-low rise jean trend, the ones who sat at home watching reality TV stars march around in velour sweatpants with rhinestone words spelled out on their asses. I think we took those glittering messages of butt confidence to heart, while still understanding, somewhere deep inside, that butts deserved better.
After the shiny, indulgent, synthetic late 90s and early 2000s, after the chaos and disappointment that followed, after all the outsized hope and destruction thereof, I think at this point we’re drawn toward humbling ourselves. And asses are humble. They’re egalitarian. Everyone has one. And everyone poops with it. My ass poops just as Kim K’s ass does, just as Beyoncé’s ass does. While not aesthetically equal, all asses are functionally equal, and I think that resonates with people, even if only subconsciously. Don’t you feel a little more okay knowing that both you and Beyoncé pooped today?
Butts have become a way for women to exert more control over their sexual desire as well. Once it was, and in some circles still is, “common knowledge” that women just don’t get aroused by visuals. We’re just now getting to the point where women are even acknowledged as having sexual desires of their own, and we’re moving (slowly) toward a place where women can freely express their sexual appetites and desires.
Let’s be honest, the Female Gaze has always been drifting towards dude (and lady) butts. But only recently have we had the means, the venues, the societal standing, to express this publicly. Thanks to the Internet, we’re far more vocal about how much we love to look at sexy stuff, and while we recognize that yeah, chests and arms and abs and stuff are nice, we want butts.
It should also be noted that butts owe a lot to the queer community. The more accepting we are of all people, regardless of what they do with their genitals, the less we start to fixate on straight-up penis-in-vagina sex, and the more our discussions of sex broaden to include all these others awesome means of getting off. Shout out to anal sex and rimjobs! Folks are doing those more than ever before. Added shout outs to the clitoris and the prostate!
Five years ago, if I saw a Facebook post or tweet that read, “I love butts,” I’d cringe and sigh, knowing that it was an unfortunate gag posted by a probably-homophobic friend of the account-holder. If I saw the same thing today, I’d smile and think “Me, too, pal,” because the likelihood at this point is much higher that it was a thought shared in earnest, and not a prank. That’s pretty wonderful.
Mostly, butts are a hell of a lot of fun. They’re round, and often soft, and they jiggle, and hey, in this ever-changing world in which we’re living, they’re something that we can hold onto.
Butts also don’t have any really effective euphemism, which is great. While you might be able to talk clinically and conservatively about “breasts” or “penises,” no one is going to take you seriously no matter what word you try to replace “butt” with. Derriere? Bum? Ha! Behind? Bottom? Those are just sad words that kindergarten teachers say, to choruses of giggles. The only thing to do is dive straight in, with “butt” and “ass,” which I would say hold equal charms depending on your mood.
Butts are for people who are kinda weirdos, and the fact they’re having such a moment right now indicates that we’re all pretty much huge weirdos these days. And it’s true. And it’s great. And it’s why an awkward, butt-loving, stereotype –challenging TV character like Tina Belcher of Bob’s Burgers has become so beloved and soimportant.
There are many more things to say about asses, significant things I haven’t even touched on: feminist issues, religious issues, race issues, queer issues, socioeconomic issues, the politics of sexuality and the body, and politics in general, just to name a few. Unfortunately, as I told myself repeatedly while writing this piece, this isn’t a dissertation.
But, oh how I am hoping that someone out there is writing a dissertation on asses. Please, someone more scholarly than myself, tell me you’re formally studying butts in grad school. Tell me you’re working on a degree in ass. America needs more heroes like you.
Everyone, fill the comments section with thoughts and feelings about butts! What butts have you thought about recently? Do you like the term “Gen Butt,” or am I totally bonkers? Butts butts butts.