You could be forgiven for thinking that this is the year of the butt. The particular body part is bigger and bouncier and rounder and more exposed than ever. Wander down any beach or scroll through Instagram, and you will be confronted with nearly bare butts whether you like it or not. Oh, look! There’s Kate Hudson’s! Yikes, is that Jason Momoa in a loincloth? Hey, Sharon Stone! Nice ass!
The actual year of the butt was 2014, not because the calendar said so but because popular culture coalesced around the territory. That’s when Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” Jennifer Lopez’s “Booty,” Kim Kardashian’s Paper magazine cover, and the belfie (butt selfie) twerked into the mainstream.
Perhaps a year is too brief for this body part. Let’s agree to call it the era of the butt, shall we?
Want more proof? The controversial plastic surgery procedure known as the Brazilian butt lift (B.B.L.) is still growing in popularity, according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. Or just take it from SZA. “I always wanted a really fat ass with less gym time,” she told Sylvia Obell for a profile in Elle magazine, suggesting she did the deed.
“Recent headlines are basically saying that the B.B.L. is over,” says Dr. Matthew Schulman, a New York–based board-certified plastic surgeon who specializes in the procedure. “But I’m doing more B.B.L.’s today than I was a few years ago.”
Like many things butt-related, the Brazilian butt lift is a misnomer, involving no lifting and no Brazilians. “By definition, it’s a fat transfer,” says Schulman. “It’s not really lifting; it’s giving the appearance of a lift, but it’s filling.” He liposuctions fat—usually from the waist and thighs—and injects it above the gluteal muscles. He doesn’t use implants to achieve volume; few responsible doctors do. “I don’t like an implant in that area because you’re sitting on it, and it has to be durable and comfortable.”
And even though it’s premature to declare an end to the butt era, the dream shape is not quite what it used to be. “Five, six years ago, people were coming in and mostly asking, ‘Make my butt and hips as big as you can make them,’” Schulman tells me. “‘I want a really big butt and a really tiny waist,’ that kind of dramatic, video-vixen appearance. Currently, they’re asking for more subtle changes. They don’t want things as big, but they still want things rounder and fuller and more shapely.” I get it—nuances.
Some patients are even going so far as to get a B.B.L. reduction. “We’re not trying to erase the B.B.L. they had,” Schulman says. “Maybe they gained weight and their butt has gotten larger because those fat cells are going to grow. Or now they’re 45 and have kids and they don’t want that attention.” He doesn’t just remove fat from the butt willy-nilly, because that would cause sagging. And no one, so far, has come to him requesting a droopy bum.
Meanwhile, the beauty industry is churning out products to capitalize on all the attention directed at the butt. No pun has gone unspoken. No alliteration left behind.
Might they interest you in a jar of Buns of Glowry for a “fuller, perkier-looking peach in less than a month”? How about the B-Thicc Booty Enhancing Mask, the maker of which helpfully reminds us, “It’s O.K. to just want to look hot.” Thanks for that! Perhaps you’re more of a B-Tight Lift & Firm Booty Mask person. If not, there’s the Berry Cheeky Clearing Butt Butter and Bleame’s Booty Boost Mask, which asks only that you “simply apply on booty and let it work its magic!” I’ll bet.
Stick the word “Brazilian” on a butt treatment and prepare to swim in revenue. Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream—pronounced “boom boom”—comes in a package that looks a whole lot like a bum, pronounced “bum.” It claims to visibly tighten and smooth the skin and reduce cellulite, even though your cellulite might not agree. And it’s been one of the biggest success stories in recent years.
Katie Sturino, the founder of Megababe, introduced Le Tush Butt Clarifying Mask because, Sturino tells me, “my sister was pretty much sitting all day in yoga pants and started to get butt acne.” Her sister must be thrilled to have this fact shared with the reading public, right? “Absolutely not,” says Sturino. “I don’t usually tell that.”
Stick the word “Brazilian” on a butt treatment and be prepared to swim in revenue.
Sturino set out to make a superior mask for an area that was traditionally considered inferior. She calls it “a facial-grade butt mask” and assures me that “I actually use Le Tush on my face more than I do on my butt.
“It makes me laugh! ‘I’ve got a butt mask on my face!’”
But seriously, Sturino sees something important in these products that address various bodily embarrassments. “In the beauty space, we’re in a time where we’re talking about things that we haven’t been able to talk about without shame,” says Sturino, whose hero product is a balm called Thigh Rescue, which prevents chafe. “Something like butt acne? You weren’t talking about that 10, 15 years ago.”
Heather Radke, author of Butts: A Backstory, credits the popularity of these products in part to the belfie phenomenon. In these images “your face and your butt are in the same plane,” she tells me. “When the butt becomes part of the visual representation of the self, you want it to look good, like the way we manage our faces. You want it to look unblemished and clean. Which is funny and shows how strange and bananas we are. Because the butt is in some sense the dirtiest part [of the body].”
Still, the urge for a smooth butt isn’t abating. Schulman says there’s a promising new surgery that addresses cellulite, which, despite thousands of products and all their flamboyant promises, hasn’t succumbed to anything over the counter or under the skin. “People have been trying to figure out cellulite for a hundred years,” he says. “We’ve historically been really bad at treating it.”
Cellulite results when a band of collagen pulls the fat down and causes a dimple in the skin. Schulman employs a device called Avéli, which looks like a small cannula. It hooks the band of collagen beneath the skin, and then “I push a button and the device cuts the band,” says Schulman. “It’s so simple. It’s unbelievable.”
It’s enough to tempt you to shove a cannula under your skin, slather a mask on your bottom, step into a dental-floss bikini, and go to Rio. Bum, bum!
Linda Wells is the Editor at Air Mail Look