Jiggle in My Walk
The Iconic Power of the “Big Butt” in American Pop Culture
Wendy A. Burns-Ardolino
In 1978 the British rock band Queen proclaimed “Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin' world go round.” This move to reappropriate the negative stereotypes of women's big butts and to revalue them as desirable, however, is conflicted and may be co-opted by the fluidity of cultural signs and meanings flowing freely in American popular culture. The image of the big butt continues to be a site of contestation in popular culture, as evidenced in music, fashion, and beauty cultures. Only thirteen years after Sir Mix-A-Lot argued, “So Cosmo says you're fat, well I ain't down with that” (1992), the Black Eyed Peas beg the question, “What you gon' do with all that junk, all that junk inside that trunk?” (2005). Not dissimilarly, advertising campaigns echo the multiple and mixed messages concerning the big butt. A 2006 Nike advertisement states, “My butt is big and that's just fine and those who might scorn it are invited to kiss it. Just do it.” An advertisement for Sunsilk hair products, however, heralds the return of big hair and small derrieres with advertising copy that reads, “I wish my hair could borrow volume from my butt” (Sunsilk-Unilever 2006). These cultural signs, images, and representations signify the conflicted meanings of the big butt in American popular culture.
Although some may simply claim that women with big butts should either live their lives on the margins of society or get with the “ideal body” program and diet and exercise their behinds into submission, many women see this logic as problematic. In her seminal text Fat Is a Feminist Issue, Susie Orbach argues for the radical right of women to love their bodies whatever their shape or size. Orbach maintains: “For a woman to take pride in her body for herself, rather than as an instrument or as an object, is a radical act. For women to proclaim that comfort and pride at whatever size they may be creates a chink in the armor of a patriarchal order. Taking this stance is difficult and hard to do on our own. But as more women reject the stereotype of driven slimness and exhibit a pleasure in women's physical variety, individual women can draw on that collective strength to build acceptance and confidence” (1997, p. 206). When I read Orbach's mantra for the first time, I felt empowered to experience my body as a capacity for action rather than an object to be scrutinized. As I have read around in the fields of feminist theory, cultural studies, and body studies,