Last month photos of Jennifer Lopez's dimpled dump seemed to have dimmed the fashion focus on the female backside. And isn't it about time to shift elsewhere—to kneecaps or pinky toes, for example? After all, it's been a full decade since designer Alexander McQueen's low-cut jeans ushered in the era of derrière décolletage and the ensuing onslaught of thongs, fanny facials, Brazilian butt lifts, and tramp-stamp tattoos.
But now comes the October 2007 issue of King, with backdoor queen Kim KardASShian on the cover. Will she prove the fashion fulcrum for a new wave of ASSentuation?
Why exactly is Kim Kardashian famous, anyway? She is the daughter of the late Robert Kardashian, once O.J. Simpson's attorney and lap dog; stepdaughter of plastic surgery aficionado Bruce Jenner; ex-girlfriend of Ray J; and human accessory to fellow celebutant Paris Hilton.
But Kardashian seems to owe her fame quotient mainly to her ass—or, more precisely, speculation about the origin of its size.
Is it due to steatopygia—the genetic overdevelopment of subcutaneous fat covering a woman's hind parts? Has she simply bought some off-the-shelf strap-on silicone enhancers from eBay? Or has she benefited from a Brazilian butt lift, famously pioneered by David Matlock, Dr. 90210 star plastic surgeon?
Her ass is like a medical mystery.
Putative high-school photos circulating on the Internet purport to show that Kardashian was born with a more pedestrian figure. Kim says otherwise in the new ish of King:
"I'm Armenian; you should see all the women in my family. The women have bigger breasts and bigger butts. That's how I was born."Yeah, my ass!
You have to go back 100 years for the last time Western women devoted so much energy to festooning their derrières. In the 1870's, some ladies sported bustles robust enough to support an entire tea service.
As Bernard Rudofsky first noted in his book The Unfashionable Human Body: "If female dress were designed to follow a woman's contours, the bustle dress would fit the Hottentot woman like a glove. Yet although the women's silhouettes are identical, the American's majestic posterior is but a sartorial illusion."
The bustle of the 19th century made sitting a challenge. Thus the genius of the spring-loaded Langtry bustle. It collapsed, accordionlike, when a lady sat. When she stood back up, the bustle automatically sprang back into place, inspiring James Laver to declare it "one of the most extraordinary inventions in the whole history of fashion."
For today's women with silicone buttock implants, the sitability question is just as pressing. How does one sit when one has silicone appendages on her backside? Very carefully, apparently. As one poster on a blog about plastic surgery recently observed, the prudent implantee should be cautious around cacti.
Bettie Page was Miss Pin-Up Girl of the World in 1955. Her measurements: 36-23-37. Cheesecake entrepreneur Irving Klaw featured her derrière prominently in the peekaboo short films Varietease and Striporama. And yet at the time, the average American woman's derrière was hiding behind acres of poodle skirt.
In the 1970's and 80's, Catwoman Julie Newmar marketed her own brand of pantyhose, "Nudemar," which featured her own patented buttocks-shaping technology. The point was to mold the butt cheeks, rather than accentuate them.
When he patented a "doll with independently articulated buttocks" in 1966, inventor Robert K. Ostrander was a man before his time. Mattel executives would eschew such shaping for nearly three decades, preferring that Barbie—like Playboy centerfolds of the era—sport boyish hips under her famously cantilevered breasts.
Ken would unequivocally remain a breast man until 1998, when Mattel redistributed Barbie's proportions from 39-18-33 to what was hailed as a more politically correct 36-27-38. Cynics, however, concluded that Mattel was merely following new trends in the female physique.
Queen sang, "Fat bottomed girls, you made the rockin' world go round" back in 1978. Yet slim-hippedness reigned until hip-hop and rap brought us Sir Mix-a-Lot's seminal music video line "I like big butts and I can not lie" in 1992, later amplified by Sisqó's "Thong Song" and Lil' Kim's "Shake Ya Bum Bum."
Last week, photos started circulating of Nicole Austin—a/k/a Coco, the hyperBarbie doll wife of rapper Ice-T—displaying haunches that make Kim Kardashian's derrière look positively demur. If buttock implants get any larger, will plastic-surgery devotees have to budget for a retinue to hold up their backsides?
Coco aside, other evidence indicates that the pendulum may be swinging back to the small-if-perky behind. According to a recent survey, women asked what they'd want if they could have any beauty treatment were three times more likely to choose vaginal lip trimming over buttock implants and 50 times more likely to prefer the permanent removal of body hair.
Earlier this year, inventor Eric R. First received a patent for applying Botox to the buttocks. The patent is licensed to breast-implant powerhouse Allergan (which once sponsored a talk I gave). While the company has thus far made no announcements about an impending product launch, the marketing potential speaks for itself. Can Buttox parties be far behind?
By Teresa Riordan