“Does my bum look big in this?” We’ve all asked this question of our significant other at one time or another. And if we have trained them well, they always reply without missing a beat (or even looking butt-wards), “Oh no, it doesn’t!”
Well, apparently, this is no longer the right answer. In a pop culture that venerates the lush behinds of Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, which worships at the shrine of the Kim Kardashian butt, and marvels at the well-aerobicised roundness of Michelle Obama’s booty, the big bum is where it’s at.
A skinny arse no longer cuts it, no matter how shapely or well contoured it is. You need more meat on your behind if you want to be seen as sexy and desirable.
If you want to get all philosophical (or do I mean sociological? Who the hell knows!) about it, the triumph of the big butt signals the mainstreaming of black and Latino culture in the West. A generously proportioned, well-rounded derrière, that curves out to make that much-admired S-shape is the gold standard in places as far apart as Brazil and the Bronx.
So much so that butt implants, where a silicon gel implant is inserted beneath the gluteus maximus (the bum muscle, in layman’s terms), have become all the rage in South America, where you apparently lose your bikini-wearing rights unless the thong rests between two large, firm globes. Those who want to go natural, get their own fat (harvested from the thigh or belly) injected into their posterior to give it a nice, rounded shape.
The popularity of this procedure has now hit Europe and North America as well, though the ideal aspired to is more Gisele (Bundchen) than Jennifer (Lopez). But either way, the goal is the same: to fill out a pair of jeans nicely.
For some reason, though, bootylicious behinds are yet to catch on in India. Which is kind of strange given that we were the ones to fetishise voluptuous figures to begin with. Remember Vyjanthimala, all dancing eyes and swaying behind, as she grooved to such songs as Ab Aage Teri Marzi in Devdas. Or even Asha Parekh, whose generous butt spawned a million jokes (sample: Asha Parekh goes to a temple and says, “Bhagwaan, main aap ke saamney ek bahut chhoti si aas ley key aayi hoon.”)
Oh, how we laughed! Though it now turns out that the joke was on us. According to industry insiders of that era, Parekh actually had a standard-issue ‘aas’ which was padded out generously to create the desired silhouette of the day, so that she could stand up to the likes of the naturally bountiful Padmini, another scorcher of that era.
This ideal of feminine beauty endured right into the Bollywood of the ’70s, ’80s and even ’90s. Whether it was Zeenat Aman or Parveen Babi, Hema Malini or Neetu Singh, Madhuri Dixit or Sridevi, Hindi film heroines were drawn on generous lines. Their flowing maxi-dresses and chiffon saris drew maximum attention to their curves. And the obligatory ‘rain dance’ (remember Sridevi in Mr India?) added a certain frisson to the mix.
But those days of beauty and the booty are long over. Bollywood actresses today sport washboard abs, not generous butts. Whether it is Kareena Kapoor or Katrina Kaif, Priyanka Chopra or Deepika Padukone, they are all slim and slender. The only one who kind of bucks the trend is Vidya Balan. And it is telling that her biggest hit in recent times was Dirty Picture, in which she plays a ’80s bombshell, loosely modelled on the late Silk Smitha. (Though, to be fair, Southern Indian heroines still tend to be built on more voluptuous lines even today, though their proportions have been dampened down somewhat.)
In our popular culture (and sadly, that basically translates as Bollywood) the Cult of the Big Butt has singularly failed in making an impact. I’ve thought long and hard to come up with the names of our own bootylicious celebrities, and the only one that comes to mind is Malaika Arora, whose butt is such a kick-ass performer in such song sequences as Chaiyya Chaiyya and Munni Badnaam Hui that it deserves star billing on its own.
If you look beyond Arora, however, all you see is an arid landscape of impossibly small behinds, all tight and taut with the effort of doing a thousand squats a day. Our reigning stars – be they in the movies, on television, or in the music and modelling world – are all whittled down to bare bones through a combination of diet, exercise and a little light liposuction. There isn’t an average-size butt in sight, let alone a truly bootylicious behind.
And that’s a pity, if you ask me. The natural body shape of most Indian women has always been curvaceous (just look at the sculptures at Ajanta and Ellora or even Khajuraho to see what kind of idealised body shape we worshipped) and will always remain so. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could embrace it, in all its voluptuous excess, instead of starving ourselves to conform to some outdated standard of Western beauty?
Maybe it is time that the Kareena Kapoors and Sonakshi Sinhas of our world took a cue from the likes of Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, and revelled in their natural body types. I know that we’ve all been told that size doesn’t matter, but there are times when big is beautiful. And bigger is even better.
From HT Brunch, October 25
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