Big buttocks: Where does our obsession come from?

By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News, Washington

Image caption,
Some stars are celebrated for their bigger behinds

Surgeons are warning of the risks of DIY buttock enhancement after a 20-year-old woman died in the US from silicone injections. Why do so many women now want to be big-bottomed girls?

For some people, bigger is better.

But tragically, for Claudia Aderotimi, it was the desire for a more shapely behind which ended in her death.

The student, who lived in North London, had travelled to Philadelphia for silicone injections, but died after suffering chest pains and breathing trouble following the procedure.

Police investigating her death believe she made contact with a supplier over the internet, exchanging text messages and phone calls before flying over.

Image caption,
More women are getting buttock enhancement treatments for a fuller figure

Even though the injection of liquid silicone for cosmetic purposes is banned in the US, there is a burgeoning black market in the substance.

For many, the risks of the banned injections are worth taking, for the reward of a shapelier bottom.

Several internet chatrooms discuss the injections freely.

"I wanna have one of them big ghetto booties that turn heads and make em drool. Just kidding, I just want enough to fill out my jeans," writes one poster.

"I have received butt injections before. I get it done every six months... it is the first thing that men go crazy," writes another, who says she is a dancer.


Claudia was a budding actress and model, who once wrote of how she "dreamt of taking the world by storm".

Some people in the business say the pressure to look like stars who sport larger bottoms, such as Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj, Buffy Carruth and Beyonce Knowles, is encouraging young women to turn to cosmetic procedures.

As a singer and actor who stars in music videos, Tassie Jackson says the urge to conform is powerful.

"I personally haven't one done and I wouldn't. But, in today's society and the world that we live in, a lot of women feel the competition and the need to enhance their features," she says.

"There are pressures to look like our favourite icons and role models."

Some artists will look for women with "more curves" when choosing dancers for a music video, she adds.

References to so-called "booty", a slang term for bottom, are commonplace in hip hop and rap music.

Beyonce Knowles' former band Destiny's Child even brought the word "Bootylicious" to mainstream consciousness. The term, which now even appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, is an amalgam of "booty" and the word "delicious".

But it's not just young people immersed in hip-hop culture who yearn for a bigger bottom.

The number of buttock enhancements across all ages has risen in recent years, with the most desired waist-to-hip ratio standing at around 0.7 - an hourglass figure.

There were more than 5,000 buttock lift and implant procedures (which are legal) carried out in the US in 2009, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Fuller figure

It is difficult to know how many illegal treatments are taking place - but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the number of cases leading to serious injury or death is on the rise.

Image caption,
Victorian women wore "bustles" to enhance their rears

Dr Constantino Mendieta, a plastic surgeon who specialises in buttock implants, dates the trend back to Jennifer Lopez's rise to stardom in the 1990s.

"She showed how nice it can look when you've got the right curves," says Dr Mendieta.

"It's not that we never looked at the buttock before then, but it was a taboo subject. She drew attention to it in a good way."

Demand for Dr Mendieta's Miami Thong Lift operation - which transfers fat from other areas of the body to create a fuller bottom - has risen 20-fold in the last decade.

However, the cost of $14,000 (£8,700) is beyond the reach of some women, leading them to turn to cheaper, but dangerous methods to replicate the look.

"Many people don't have a licence to practise, they're injecting in hotels, spas and apartments - all non-sterile environments," he says.

Cultural differences

Myra Mendible, a social historian who has written books on the subject, points out that buttock augmentation has been around for years - in the 19th Century, women wore "bustles" to exaggerate their behinds.

At the same time, she says, large bottomed-people have historically been a source of ridicule in many cultures.

The most striking example was the Hottentot Venus, a young African woman who was kidnapped and exhibited around Europe in colonial times because she had large buttocks.

"It was almost a freak show," says Ms Mendible. "She was paraded around and exhibited as an example of what made African women different."

Today, buttock augmentation procedures - both legal and illegal - are most common among African-American, Hispanic and transgender communities.

Female body types have always been a sign of what society aspires to, Ms Mendible says, with a lean muscular form preferred in capitalist countries, compared with larger rears in poorer places such as her native Cuba.

"There, if you're thin it's a sign of being poor, it's not a sign of beauty," she says.

"To them the voluptuous body is a sign of good health and fertility."

Further reading

At the time psychotherapist Susie Orbach wrote Fat is a Feminist issue the pressure was on women to reshape their bodies through dieting. More than 30 years on Ms Orbach argues in the Times that the pressure to have buttock enhancement and other cosmetic surgery is wasteful - and therefore as important a social ill as pollution.

"Once you start thinking about cosmetic surgery in the same category as big environmental polluters the argument becomes powerful in a new way. Just like all the other most environmentally unfriendly habits of our affluent world, most cosmetic surgery is unnecessary. Wouldn't it be great if these surgeons could focus their time on reconstructing bodies after cancer or burns, rather than on an industry that makes millions out of pointless body hatred?"

Jan Moir says in the Daily Mail that the tragedy is that Claudia Aderotimi was probably right about a bigger bottom being her passport into hip hop videos. The problem lies in the "relentless misogyny" of hip hop, she says.

"In almost every popular hip hop and rap song and video, girls like Claudia are treated like meat. They wear tiny outfits, shake their booty at rappers and queue up to be treated as sex objects by the likes of 50 Cent and P. Diddy."

In her hip hop blog, Sandra Rose hopes Ms Aderotimi's death will spur US lawmakers to take notice. "Maybe Congress will take some action to put a stop to this hydrogel epidemic that is killing our beautiful black women and turning them into deformed walking mannequins," she says.

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