I have a confession to make about asses.
I find myself staring at them a lot. It’s hard to avoid when you’re standing in any sort of line. I’m waiting for an espresso or something, and there’s an ass in front of me. Sometimes it’s a young ass, other times a much older one. The young asses are usually pert, as yet unravaged by the assaults of time and gravity. Ha ha, I think, it will get you sooner than you think. The older asses are more practical, clad in sensible gear, doing the admirable job of holding up the upper portion of the body. Young or old, however, everyone has a butt, and its main purpose is to act as a hinge that allows for both walking and easy sitting.
Naturally, due to their adorable curves, asses are sexy. Aging boomer folks work hard to keep our asses from morphing completely out of our control. We don’t want to be pathetic old farts who do nothing but sit on our asses in La-Z-Boy chairs, railing about the government. We walk around briskly to stay in shape, which mostly means staying off our asses as much as possible. Younger folks don’t have to worry, because they don’t need to put nearly as much effort into the maintenance of their cute butts. Their butts are naturally cute, and they’re hyper-aware of this fact. And they should be aware, because they’re of mating age. Nature just KNOWS this shit.
Sixty years ago, large asses were still the thing. Prosperity was sexy, and that meant food. Having enough food meant that you could indulge your senses to your heart’s content, and this was considered hot. Over time, however, attitudes changed. Suddenly, as people began to own more and more useless stuff, they started believing that their bodies should be smaller. Stick-thin became chic, and then finally essential. Eating disorders among young women skyrocketed, and prescription drug use did as well. Prosperity wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Though the fashion industry has gotten a lot of flak for its continuing promotion of the anorexic model stereotype, it remains stubbornly insistent upon its right to promulgate it. Sure, they throw in a few “plus-sized” models to throw critics off the track. But the overall message is still overwhelmingly slanted towards thinness as the most desirable beauty standard. Young girls get that message quickly, whether or not they intellectually accept it. And so a whole new generation of eating disorders is born.
I’ve been in a few Victoria Secret outlet stores. Like most women, I like underwear, and I like the idea of my ass looking cute in a pair of them. Sometimes I can find a decent bra/panty set in a dusty plus sized bin that will fit me, and I am happy. When I look around the store, I often see plenty of other women who sport physiques that are similar to mine-women of all ages and ethnicities, just looking for decent underwear. A lot of it ends up being window shopping for us, because Victoria’s Secret persists in the belief that all women exist in sizes under 9 and sport flat, boyish chests that need to be pumped up with extra padding. Still, its fun to look, if only for aesthetic reasons, or for the chance to fathom what the hell goes on in the heads of designers.
I never expect much in the way of political correctness from Victoria’s Secret, since they are one of the most egregious perpetrators of the stick-thin beauty myth. Their underwear is breathtakingly sexy, but their models just keep shrinking. I guess, on a practical level, this puts more emphasis upon the underwear, and showcases its desirability, helping to sell the product. On a deeper level, however, it is profoundly disturbing. Victoria’s Secret was recently criticized for its bizarre decision to Photoshop nearly half a model’s butt cheek out of one of its print advertisements. When the ass shrinks to the point where half a cheek is deliberately obscured, what does that say about us as a culture? Even as we get fatter and more sedentary, we hate our own asses. For God’s sake, get rid of that thing. Don’t just cover it up, make it disappear.
It’s weird, though. For whom are we manufacturing all these tiny, fat-free asses? Do folks actually believe that men are so picky that they demand women with itsy-bitsy butts? Most of the men I’ve slept with were just so goddamned glad that a woman was willing to go to bed with them. Though my own ass has been more than ample for at least twenty-five years, I have received nary a complaint. Was Van Morrison right when he said, “The girls walk by, dressed up for each other”? Does it come down to female competitiveness, the egotistic desire to be the cutest girl in the room? I certainly hope it doesn’t, but I have my suspicions.
Meanwhile, I still enjoy sneaking peeks at asses of all sizes. When I look in the mirror, I have to conclude that my own ass is plump, but not too bad. It’s hard for me to find sexy underwear-my favorite pair is an organic, soy-based laced boyshort number that I bought a couple of years ago at the Northwest Folklife festival. On the rare occasions that I find myself in a shopping mall, I walk briskly past Victoria’s Secret. I don’t need to paw wistfully through the size 34A bras and tiny panties any more. I’m comfortable-both in my skin and in my utilitarian undergarments.
Cover image courtesy of Alex-501 via Flickr
This article previously appeared in Quail Bell Magazine