cover image Butts: A Backstory

Butts: A Backstory

Heather Radke. Avid Reader, $28.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-982135-48-5

This whip-smart history charts the changing symbolism and meanings associated with the female bottom in “mainstream, hegemonic, Western culture” over the past two centuries. Radiolab reporter Radke delves into the eugenicist underpinnings of Sarah Baartman’s performances as the “Hottentot Venus” in 19th-century London, the giant faux posteriors of Victorian bustles, Jane Fonda’s butt-centered aerobics in the 1970s, the “lineage of butts in mainstream hip-hop,” and the concurrent rise of fashion’s flat “Kate Moss” butt and the Brazilian butt lift in the 1990s, among other milestones in cultural attitudes toward women’s rear ends. Radke also explores the physiology of running and various biological explanations for why humans developed butts, and interweaves recollections on her own early struggles to accept her “generous butt” with details about historical shifts in preferred posterior proportions. Throughout, Radke sharply challenges white women to examine how “women’s butts have been used as a means to create and reinforce racial hierarchies,” describing Miley Cyrus’s twerking “as an almost cartoonish example of cultural appropriation.” Marked by Radke’s vivacious writing, candid self-reflections, and sophisticated cultural analyses, this is an essential study of “ideas and prejudices” about the female body. (Nov.)