Body Parts Can’t Be “Trendy,” No Matter How Big Butts Get

In the past, a tone-deaf Vogue feature might’ve been peak Columbusing. But we live in exciting times, so “We’re Officially in the Era of the Big Booty” was just the beginning! First, the New York Times hopped On It with a trend piece, published (where else?) in the Styles section and titled (what else?) “For Posterior’s Sake.” And now there’s the video for Jennifer Lopez’s “Booty,” which looks like the result of the world’s worst record exec hypothetical: “What if we made ‘Anaconda,’ but without the fun, relevance, or gleeful destruction of phallic symbols? Also, let’s put Iggy Azalea in there.”

Twitter handily dismantled the Vogue piece, which manages to cite Iggy in its first sentence and leave Nicki out till the very end, with #VogueArticles, but “discoveries” of “new” beauty standards are like a faux-observational Hydra: when one’s debunked, another springs up in its place. The Times piece is slightly more tongue-in-cheek (the quote “I was never like, ‘Oh, my butt,'” doesn’t make it into the Grey Lady without some irony), but it’s still an extension of the “no one wanted a big ass, now everyone does!” narrative that inspires eye rolls or rants, depending how much coffee one’s had that day.

Needless to say, when Vogue pronounces that “a large butt was not something one aspired to” or the New York Times claims “many women …[now] chase after gawk-worthy curves of their own” (emphases mine), there’s a massive erasure going on. The kind of reader who identifies with that “one” or “many” is a very particular kind: probably thin, probably wealthy, and almost definitely white. Vogue manages to make the assumption that Kate Moss’ body is the default desire and Nicki Minaj’s the trendy one without mentioning racialized beauty standards once. Not even when Miley comes up! To its credit, the Times mentions that those who’ve traditionally gone for a “leaner, more athletic build” — decidedly not the Beyoncé look — tend to be white, but it’s in the form of an aside from a plastic surgeon.

Frustrating as those omissions are, though, they’re less heinous than the underlying message of classifying any body part, or body type, as a “trend.” Both articles mention people going nuts over J.Lo’s butt the first time around, but don’t bother to flesh out the decade-plus period of curves going out of fashion that observation implies. And there’s certainly no mention of the fact that many women just have a certain shape and keep it all their lives, whether it’s Vogue-approved or not. What happens to them when their physical person is no longer “having a moment”?

Because fashion is by nature cyclical, fashion is in constant need of either new things or things to falsely categorize as new. Hence why this is far from the first time a physical attribute’s been held up as the new size zero, just like a color’s occasionally called the new black. Remember “Michelle Obama arms? Or this weird Simon Doonan thing about small boobs? Or the umpteen times someone’s asked whether fashion (and by extension, our culture) will finally, finally embrace models who aren’t stick thin?

There’s a reason, though, why “the new black” remains an expression while the noun in front of it always changes. Categorizing something as a trend inevitably means there’ll come a time, and soon, when it’s not trendy anymore. And when that time comes, the rail-thin ideal we’re all supposedly ditching for squats will remain squarely in place. Encouraging the misconception that this isn’t the case is innocent enough when we’re talking about bell-bottom pants or Coachella-core fringe. Applied to women’s bodies, it’s gross — especially so in the case of “Anaconda,” “Booty,” and the speculation they’ve left in their wake.

The faux-genuine judgment that J.Lo, Beyoncé, and even Kim K have unseated the Gwyneths and T-Swifts of the world does more than obscure the fact that there are plenty of women who’ve always looked like the former, and plenty of people who’ve always found them beautiful. It obscures the reasons why certain body types aren’t automatically assumed to be desirable, reasons that have a lot to do with institutional prejudices we’re a long, long way from eradicating. (Though we might be on our way, given Vogue‘s recent string of un-Vogue-like cover subjects.)

Most importantly, though, the trend-ification of bodies makes an immutable part of women’s identities subject to a biased culture’s arbitrary whims. There are a lot of things women are entitled to that they don’t currently have, and the right to be a person who isn’t white, or thin, or in possession of a body that’s not Angelina Jolie’s without needing a “trend” to get Vogue‘s attention ranks high on the list.