The politics of the booty: Is there more to our obsession with women’s bottoms?

Ruth Mumbi Gatonye (left) a fitness enthusiast  and content Creator and radio vixen Caroline Ng’ondu. 

What you need to know:

Is there more to our obsession with women’s bottoms?  Gloriah Amondi writes that our relationship with the beloved body part reveals a bigger story about our species, our histories and ourselves

The world’s most unifying question presently- other than “Do you want me to come over?” which comes a distant second only because geographical constraints are sometimes involved- is, without doubt, the ‘Ass versus Boobs’ question.

The question divides the world into near-perfect half-butt people and half-boobs people (I’m told there are foot people and thigh people, but whoever gives a hoot)? This is a universal language that all men understand. 

But if popular culture is anything to go by the ass-men have it!

“A lot of women nowadays are not shy about how they want to look,” says Carol Becky (@_carol_becky_), a social media influencer. 

Content Creator and radio vixen Caroline Ng’ondu says there is a lot of peer pressure for women to get a great booty. Photo | Pool

“There's a lot of peer pressure but if you want to have a great booty go get it. I tell people to go get the bum they want. Sometimes, I get attacked by people saying my booty is fake. That's their problem. If it's products, use them. If it's lipo (suction) go for it. If you tell them (women) not to, they will think you're jealous. If they have money, I tell them to get one like the Kardashians. To me the gym is a scam,” Carol says. 

The video model and online influencer gained popularity on social media for flaunting her bum mostly in the videos she posted on her timelines. Currently, she has about 15,000 followers on TikTok and a total of about 55,000 likes across her videos, one of the videos (of her twerking) having managed to garner over 30, 000 likes. On Instagram, her followers are slightly above 26, 000 and her posts (mostly of her body) gain an average of 3,000 likes (and often more) per post.

There is a booty obsession going around town currently. You just have to peruse through your social media reels, and you will notice countless images and videos of women shaking what their mama gave them and a heated comment section. This trend is sweeping everyone, with even the conservative Mokorino ladies showing off their twerk moves. 

While many women have always taken pride in well-developed glutes, the emphasis on a firm, or “juicy”, bottom has now overtaken the flat stomach and an ample bosom as the holy grail of ultimate beauty.

The heightened craze to have this body part pop up and out has now seen most women willing to risk it all, taking shortcuts to enhance this soft muscle.

Ruth Mumbi Gatonye a fitness enthusiast and content creator based in Nairobi says a rigorous workout course has given her an enviable backside. Photo | Pool

Ruth Mumbi Gatonye a fitness enthusiast is one woman who is not shy to comment about her backside which she religiously posts on her Instagram page @justmohfit. In a Business Daily interview she noted that in her pursuit of the perfect booty, she had moved from 56 to 72 kilos.

“I used to be very tiny when I started my fitness journey, I wasn’t like this (point to her lower body part). Lifting weights got me here and this to me is proof that any woman can achieve their desired body goals,” Ms Gatonye who is proud of her peachy bottom says. She says a rigorous workout course has given her what others have paid at least Sh850,000 for a “Brazilian butt lift” (BBL).

“As a lady you want to look good and having a well-worked nyash will give you that. The pressure is also from social media where we grow up seeing how people who get certain things, for example, look a certain way. On my Instagram whenever I hold live sessions, I get a lot of people who send in questions about how to end up with a butt like mine,” the fitness influencer says. 

In a data insight conducted by an adult website based on the searches, butts came the overall winner which was noted to be preferred in South America (with Argentina as an exception), Africa (with the exception of Egypt) while breasts came top in Europe. Butts also took a slight lead in North America, possibly because of the Kardashian influence, while Asia was predominantly boobs.

The obsession with butts is actually not that surprising considering that there are so many pro-butt agendas going on in the world right now. 

While the jury is still out there on whether women dress up or adopt a certain look to impress men or not, the lads are not being left behind in making their preference known, if twerking videos comments are anything to go by. 

For Malik Maina, 23, the booty craze is all about aesthetics. “Men like things that look nice. We are very visual beings. I find that a good ass is sexy. The type I like is that which is not too big. Something I can hold in my hand and play with. Something that will not overwhelm me (with size).”

There’s not a single part of the body about which thousands of songs have been composed and are being composed like the butts.

Butts (also known as ‘booty’ or ‘nyash’) are everywhere. On the streets, in music, in films, in art and even literature. Granted, there’s the heart (but it’s only sung about because of its foolishness). Ever since a black musician called Sir Mix a Lot sang about liking ‘Big Butt’ in 1989, and added that he cannot lie, followed by the \Wiggle It\( Just A Little Bit) monster hit in ’90, most modern hit songs, from concept to lyrics to video visuals involve booties in varying creative degrees -  which are shown in different stages of cover all the while undergoing all sorts of varying activities, i.e., gyrating, being held, being smacked, being admired and sometimes, in extreme sensual circumstances, being cuddled.

So, what is this butt obsession all about and what does it mean to a society like ours?

“There’s just something about a good-looking ass,” says Kelvin Gachanja, 34. “It makes a woman attractive. I’m not saying that beauty depends on physical appearance only, but truth be told, I’m sure a lot of men find a good ass attractive.”

According to him “big, but nicely shaped and soft bum’ is the ultimate while a taut ass or an overly wobbly one is a turn-off.

According to Dr. Khamati Shilabukha, an anthropologist from the University of Nairobi, “Body image is culture-specific. Every culture has its own construction of body images. For instance, in Western societies, a smaller body frame was for a long time favoured, hence the runway models and celebrities mirrored this particular body frame,” he notes. 

In African societies, the construction of body images differed from one society to another. Particularly in West African tribes like Ewe (Ghana) and Bamileke (Cameroon), fattening sessions were held before marriage for women who were considered not to have the right size for carrying a baby. 

Notably, historians note that curvaceous women were associated with fertility in the caveman days. Ancient carvings (about 15,000 years ago) reveal that prehistoric women were revered for their curvaceous bodies and prominent buttocks. A well-presented bottom was a sign of wealth, health and a good diet.

“Today, our construction of body image is influenced by mass media which has secularised the physical functions of the body into aesthetical ones,” the anthropologist notes. 

According to Evans Nyangira, men’s preference for big booties is not as complicated. For the 27-year-old chef and footballer, “People think that we [men] sit and think deeply and philosophically about such things. It’s never like that. For me, when I see a curvy woman, I automatically like her. Sometimes I don’t even want to sleep with her, I’m just appreciating that she looks good,” he says.

But a ‘good’ butt is not only appreciated because it makes the woman attractive but also because it reflects well on the man or the partner of that woman. Men sometimes seek and date attractive or curvy women because it boosts their ego among their fellow men.

“Since a lot of us men go for women with curves, these women are always in demand. There’s nothing as good as to be accepted [dated] by a woman who each of your mates has been trying to bag. You feel like you are some kind of king,” says Japheth Stephen Onyango, a 24-year-old Communications student.

But while booty politics might seem harmless, it is not. 

“It manifests in the way women dress, how they relate to men (and to each other) and sometimes their self-esteem. Our societal definition of beauty currently is also determined by how curvy a woman is. Beauty in turn determines who we are attracted to,” says psychologist Beryl Aluoch. “If a woman thinks of herself as beautiful, you will witness more confidence compared to another who does not find themselves attractive.”

In extreme cases, it may affect who gets what job or opportunity.

“There are some women in workplaces who are unfairly promoted because they have a big booty that perhaps one of the bosses finds attractive, then there are others who are perhaps merited but miss on promotions because they are not physically endowed,” notes Judith Marjorie.

Anthony Mayaka, 42, thinks that “sometimes women are rewarded unfairly for the things they don’t deserve just because they look ‘hot.’ I have never had to face such problems, thankfully. In my field of work (photojournalism) your work is what speaks for you.”

Tons of black women have always had voluptuous derrieres but the heightened obsession with big booties may have gained popularity 10 to 20 years ago with the introduction of the reality TV stars such as the Kardashians, who were big-assed, American white socialites.  They made it a brand. 20 years ago, celebrity Jennifer Lopez, was a pioneer in overthrowing the slim for the voluptuous trend!

The truth is over the last decade alone, our cultural obsession with twerking, peach emojis and Brazilian butt lifts has reached its utmost high. 

Vera Sidika, now out of the popular scene, was often described by a famous popular gossip columnist as having a ‘bright future behind her…’ On Tik Tok, curvy or big-bootied women earn a living online through their following on social media platforms. They get endorsements and some are paid by companies to advertise products on their pages. 

In Kenya, influencers such as Njoki Murira have over a million followers and get millions of views on their dance videos (of them flaunting their booties).

Women with big booties are portrayed as deserving of society’s finest life and of men’s attention. While they may also be portrayed as ‘gold diggers’ and slay queens, the society does in fact, encourage them to seek rewards (often material) for being ‘fine’. 

To achieve this high standard of beauty, some women go to unimaginable lengths. Butt enhancements come in different options depending on the amount of money a woman has or is willing to spend.

Butt lifting exercises are a craze in many gyms and fitness programs. Jemima Wairimu, the proprietor and instructor at GymRocks in Kasarani, explains that many women try fitness as an option to achieve the desired body shape.

“In the gym setup, there is both the option to lose extra body fat or to build muscles. Depending on whether someone wants to lose or gain weight, we put them on fitness routines with professional instructors. Many people come to us to say they want to achieve certain looks, especially of celebrities. For butt enhancement, there are simple routines such as squats and hip thrusts that can even be done at home, but there are also more intense ones like lunges and glute bridges and leg deadlifts that we have as part of our routines here.”

In both US and the UK, a number of popular gyms are now offering a range of classes focused only on glutes. Such include Bunda (Los Angeles) and ‘Kylie Butt Lift’ and ‘BadAss’ (UK).

While physical exercise is seen as a natural way to enhance butts, it may be unpopular with some women because it takes a longer time, comparatively, and a lot of energy for the results to show.

A walk down River Road reveals, amongst the beauty shops, some that sell artificial butt enhancers.

“There are oils you can use, and there are also pads. We just have the pads at the moment. The butt pads come in different sizes, just like bras but they also expand. They are mostly black, white or brown in colour. There are those you just place inside your pants,” says Zarita, a sales girl, “but then there are some you wear. Those ones come as a biker (shorts) so you just put them on and then add the trousers or dress on top. 

Some come with both the pad and stomach trimmer, but they are a bit expensive. The pads sell from Sh2000 a pair, the biker shorts start from Sh3000 depending on the material. So, somebody like you can get the Sh4000 one. It will serve you well,” the sales lady tells me. 

Butt enhancement injections and silicone implants are another comparatively cheap option (if surgery is the standard). Local socialites and influencers such as Vera Sidika have been rumoured time and again to have gotten implants to enhance their looks. 

“I have heard a lot of negative things about those injections,” says Judith. “I hear that sometimes one side of your butt can be bigger than the other, and if the injections go wrong, you can catch an infection. You can even die.”

The ultimate option for a money-loaded woman is the Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) which is a procedure that involves surgery. 

Data shows that butt enhancement procedures commonly known as Brazilian Butt Lifts (BBL) are very common in Kenya closely following breast surgery as the top procedure done by plastic surgeons. 

Dr. Martin Ajujo a Consultant Plastic Surgeon at AJ Plastic Surgery Center based on Ngong Road, Nairobi. He says he does 15 Brazilian Butt Lifts (BBL) per quarter and each cost around USD 6500. Photo | Pool

“I do approximately 15 per quarter,” says Dr. Martin Ajujo a Consultant Plastic Surgeon at AJ Plastic Surgery Center based on Ngong Road, Nairobi.

“They cost an average of USD 6500 depending on the size and other procedures included in the contour and they are more popular among young ladies, below 45, in preparation for occasions such as a wedding, as a birthday gift or after one is done with child-bearing as part of Mummy Make-over package,” Dr Ajujo says. 

BBLs involve the surgeon using liposuction to remove fat from other areas of your body, such as your hips, stomach, and thighs, then injecting the processed fat into specific areas of the buttocks to create a more rounded, full look. Depending on the type of surgery, the duration can be between an hour to six or even eight hours if it is a cocktail surgery. After the surgery, the patient stays in the hospital for monitoring for a day or more. Recovery time can take a week to three weeks.

On the side effects of the surgery, Dr Ajujo explains, “BBL is a surgical procedure with risks like any other surgery. Additionally, one must be in a good medical condition. There are no shortcuts to proper Butt enhancement procedures and some gels or drugs injected can be dangerous. One should seek these services from a qualified registered plastic surgeon,” he advises. 

As I wrote this I read a Western Magazine predicting, rather prematurely, that the butt era is coming to an end. They based the argument on claims that pop stars like Cardi B and Nicky were already taking off their implants. I suspect though, that they are probably getting rid of them to pursue other (less risky) options. 

The era of butts is (still) upon us, and since we can do little to change such long-term societal biases, may we be visited by the god of ‘nyash’ or of high self-esteem.