At the gym where I train and teach Muay Thai, Function 5 Fitness, we have some extremely qualified and knowledgeable strength and conditioning coaches who are certified out the ass. I try to absorb as much information as I can from them, and lately, I’ve noticed that whenever I hear them ask a female client about her training goals, she often responds with something to the effect of, “I just want a bigger butt.” After the silent, yet respectful, exasperation subsides from said trainer’s face, then a personalized and intricate fitness program is crafted to their general, whole-body health, fitness, and muscle development that yes, will also get them a bigger (stronger) ass. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with wanting a big, trendy shelf-butt that you could change a baby on, but for that to be the entire focus of a fitness regime is undoubtedly misguided and less effective. Let’s explore the new fitness fad of big booty goals.
Bottoming Out on Big Booty Goals
No doubt about it, there has been a hostile ass takeover in fitness and gym culture. Of course, the big booty goal craze has been all upon us for some time no. It is no longer relegated to hip-hop and Kardashian-Minajian pop culture by any means; big, sexy, firm asses are now firmly entrenched in the ethos of the fitness industry, and unavoidable on Facebook and Instagram feeds in the constant form of fitness memes about squats, the casual ubiquity of hard-body, soft-core fitness porn, and ass-glam, faux-motivational gym selfies. Bubble-butts are big business now, celebrated, and fetishized as much as big breasts. Perhaps ‘all that ass’ is simply more to the biological point. I read on the internet (one theory anyway) that our love of large breasts is a case of evolutionary automimicry: zoologist Desmond Morris’ book, “The Naked Ape,” posits that cleavage mimics the “rump,” which we are accustomed to viewing when “mounting from behind in the ancestral way,” though now we “go about it face to face.”
For all you “ancestral way” fans, the shallow good news, seemingly, is you can’t do anything about the size of your breasts in the gym, but you can do something about your butt. And it certainly seems preferable to spend money and time on yourself in the gym or learning a sport rather than go under the knife (not that plastic surgeons aren’t making a killing on butt augmentation now as well.) The lousy news fallout though, is that the prevalent ass obsession in pop fitness can hijack and undermine far superior, whole-body fitness programming. And the worse news is how what a bewildered Bill Mahrer calls “Generation Ass” can manifest itself as a further proliferation of misguided superficiality (especially in the already superficially-bitten fitness world), and let’s be honest, the lift and protrusion of your ass is just another thing to make you feel shitty and dissatisfied. Maybe you spent the last year getting your arms toned and your abs to kind of show, but now you get to hate yourself because your ass is too flat. Or, as feminist scholar Sandra Bartky argues, the feminine body is inscribed with an inferior status, in which the “pervasive sense of deficiency” in the “disciplinary project of femininity” is a self-perpetuating and endless pursuit: “it requires such radical and extensive measures of bodily transformation that virtually every woman who gives herself to it is destined in some degree to fail.” Alas, the Sisyphean task of the poor Angeleno soul, trying to keep up with pornier and pornier beauty standards, unachievable by their very photoshopped nature, climbing to that familiar refrain, “in vain!” They say if you hold a pair of Lululemon yoga pants up to your ear, then you can hear a white girl sobbing on a StairMaster.
What is not destined to fail, however, is the simple pleasure of working on yourself. Even if your initial goals were superficial, or initiated by self-denigrating thoughts of bodily deficiency – as you scrolled past the perfectly taut, posed, pouting derrieres of airbrushed, photoshopped, professionally photographed, or at least filtered, fitness models who are already genetically gifted and literally ass-sculpt for a living – there can still be something genuinely satisfying and transformative about working on yourself. In her book Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies, philosopher Cressida Heyes enrolled in the Weight Watchers program, where she, of course, found a marketing that targets women in search of them, or a more, ideal body. Still, she also had a poignant realization about the appeal and draw of self-care in general: “…I began to understand the satisfaction many women found not only in losing weight but in working on themselves — in however circumscribed a context.” Soft-core Instagram models parading as fitness and lifestyle inspirations be damned, anyone working towards and reaching incremental, long term fitness goals will find the experience transformative in a positive and more sustainable light.
In contrast, crash diets and narrow-minded shortcut workout plans like “8 weeks to a Summer-Ready Body” will soon fail you. That is, if shallow goals and feeling bad about oneself is unavoidable for you in this body-obsessed cultural climate, then at least those negative motivations can be transformed into a rewarding experience with positive results – if you go about it the right, or a better, healthful way. Perhaps after a lot of hard work, your general health and fitness won’t just be the byproduct of having wanted a bigger butt, but the other way around.
(At the same time, more power to anyone in this cultural moment with a bigger ass now being celebrated instead of foolishly labeled as fat compared to previously even worse, waifish standards that gave us, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” But for this “fitness” blog, it’s just that no one in their right mind ever went to a gym to look like Kate Moss, they went to a bathroom stall at a nightclub. I’m not picking on big asses; I’m quite happy for them. However, I do side-eye and take umbrage with the new, collective desperation to turn the gym into an ass laboratory at the expense of better workout results.)
What’s Wrong With ‘Just’ Wanting a Bigger Butt?
Whether abs, pecs, biceps, triceps, calves, glutes or what have you, singling out one specific part or muscle group of your body composition is not an intelligent or very effective way to design an entire workout program. I leave it to Aristotle’s idiom, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Furthermore, “the total effectiveness of a group of things each interacting with one another is different or greater than their effectiveness when acting in isolation from one another” (thanks, Wikipedia).
Or as coach Tyler at F5 will tell you, one needs a baseline of appreciable strength to lift the amount of weight it takes to build muscle – and even to give you the chance to create more shape and lift to your butt and get those big booty goals. The volume of weight you can put up with more complex lifts that incorporate multiple muscle groups (including glutes) like squats and deadlifts will make it much easier to reach your butt goals; they will also afford you significant core and whole-body strength, as well as increased metabolism to burn fat in the process. In other words, it’s easier to target and make your butt, specifically, bigger and stronger if you’re already strong, or getting more robust in general. You should have the fundamental building blocks of compound strength exercises before you isolate single muscle groups for minor tweaking if you want to see significant changes in your body. Not only is it much more effective, but it also takes fewer hours in the gym to build muscle if you are doing intense, compound exercises and lifting more weight than focusing so much time on tedious and time-consuming, low impact, high repetitions with light weights.
Generally speaking, increase your weight and effort, and you will both get better results and have more time to pose in front of the mirror and post those results on social media. People who experience gains in building a bigger ass are putting up a lot of weight, not light lunges and hip thrusters ad nauseam. Some genetically gifted people may find results this way, but that is not the norm, and if you are one of those genetically blessed people, then you can maximize results all the more with heavier weight. This is an especially important point in terms of getting a bigger butt rather than “toning” or sculpting your upper arms or trying to burn fat, so your abs show. When you are trying to get a bigger butt, then you want to gain muscle mass in your glutes; this means you need to exercise with more weight to build some appreciable strength because much smaller amounts of weight in isolation will yield much smaller results and progression.
The “Ancestral Way” – Bigger Butt, Better Sex?
Ok, but what if you don’t care about stupid “fitness” and optimizing your time in the gym? What if you just want to be hotter, have better sex, show off in yoga pants at Whole Foods, look great doing yoga poses on the beach in your Tinder/Bumble profile, fill out your jean shorts for Coachella, or as bereft of substance as a goal can get, simply have something more substantial to wag or twerk with on Snapchat? I honestly can’t argue with the psycho-sexual pull of any of those wants. It doesn’t matter if it’s societal pressure in beautiful body standards or a strong personal desire and propensity – or a complicated, internalized mix of both – to have (and like) a big, sexy rump. Regardless of the reason, superficial or arbitrary, the desire is very real and very compelling. You can read and adhere to all the best feminist and post-structural scholarship available on Procrustean body norms, gendered constructs, and sexual objectification but to quote one of the knighted forefathers of Generation Ass, “when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist and that round thing in your face,” you still get…affected, if not frustrated. You also might get “sprung,” but when faced with the constant barrage of quaking asses tantalizing our pop culture, social media, and now ubiquitous in basic gym culture as well, you probably can’t merely intellectualize it away; you probably also feel a toxic cocktail of envy, simultaneous motivation and inevitable defeat, and the bitter-sweet nectar that fuels the invidious comparison that is all things Capitalism: dissatisfaction.
So, functional fitness be damned, let’s say you’re another dissatisfied customer of the human aesthetic experience and you just want to “look back at it” in all its vainglory, for yourself and the admiration of your partner(s). Trust me, as someone who uses sex as a crutch…an exquisite, glorious crutch (to prop up the emotionally handicapped meat prison that is my body), I am especially sympathetic to any appeal to things carnal. However, while acquiring a plump shelf butt isn’t really about fitness, by the same token, in this current climate, that is the commodification of ass, replete with plastic ass surgery’s injections, lifts, and implants, it’s barely even about fornication either. As body parts and pleasures play a more prominent role as social capital in the marketplace and ‘the club,’ the further removed they become from the actual bedroom. Not that they can’t be both, but there is a problematic sense of sexual dissonance when your ass becomes sexually commercialized for spectacle and public consumption far more than private – social equity, all but divorced from the erotic.
More generally speaking, are you actually sexually attracted to men with the currently rote masculinity equation of beards, tattoos, and motorcycles, or are you attracted to the panache and parade of cultural signifiers that will enable you to be upwardly-mobile in the dating world and social stratosphere? Or, let’s make it worse: do you want to sleep with that girl because of what she looks like, or do you want to sleep with her because she’s technically a model for a living? Is it both? Is there even a difference? Does it matter? Do we care? I know we’re splitting superficial hairs here. Still, if the point is to have a sexier butt for sex matters, it seems like there is an essential degree of difference to suss out between real physical chemistry, sincere big ass fetishization, and just having a sweet tooth for arm-candy (er, ass-candy?). Or put it this way, remember when we were kids, and you and your group of friends were only nice to the lame neighbor kid Billy because his parents had a pool, and then you’d be dicks to him again as soon as summer ended. Well, please tell me that you at least actually really enjoyed swimming and cooling off in Billy’s pool and weren’t only going over there to look cool, take Snapchats chillin’ poolside, and seem like you had a happening, awesomer life to be envied by all the pool-less losers (*in this convoluted analogy your big, manipulated ass is Billy’s parents’ pool).
A happy exception to all this is if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend who has a predilection for big asses and is really into yours and you two both get to enjoy it together. I mean, that just sounds fun. If it makes you proud and is all the more motivation for ‘butt stuff’ to be a big part of your workout, then that seems like a healthy ass obsession. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
An unhealthy ass obsession for both the assor and assee (read: owner and admirer alike) is one that makes it not at all or barely about physical fitness gains, healthy self-image, or even sexual prowess, but too much about the acquisition of a social asset and bargaining chip. And while yes, the majority of sexual arousal is mental when it comes down to it, there’s something kind of sad about self-fetishizing only one currently very trendy part of your body, turning your ass into a product for and to attract someone else, some “consumer” so to speak. In this scenario, Like Marx’s theory of alienation, you the worker are alienated from the hard work you put in at the gym, alienated and disappropriated from the fruit (your ass) of that labor. Perhaps you want to be acknowledged and lauded for your special ass and all the work that went into developing it, but no one wants to be reduced to just that: “Wait, which girl are you talking about?” – “The ass one. The one with all the gym selfies and intentional wedgies on Instagram, with the ridiculous ass…you know, the ass one!” See how the second guy in that dialogue didn’t mention any of the accompanying inspirational quotes or platitudes about self-actualization and improvement, or any of the fun hashtags and emojis that were meant to mitigate and mask the shameless self-promotion and gratuitous fitness porn going on in said posts? Not to mention, he didn’t even notice your college graduation photo or any of the adorable cat pictures on your page. The point is it’s fucking weird and out of balance to put so much physical work, posing, posting, and adornment into one’s ass (a secondary, and sometimes primary, sex characteristic) if it’s SO much about hollow “Likes,” and fleeting attention (i.e., social capital), and so little about sexual enjoyment for yourself and someone else of your choosing.
Big Booty Goals Conclusion
It seems like if you divorce or seriously obfuscate your ass from both functional, whole-body fitness and your own personal, sexual desire in pursuit of conspicuous, plump production – mostly to be envied by other women and consumed by the clicking, Liking, swiping, honking, and hollering male masses – you’re going to end up not just dissatisfied, still, but disappointed. Or, at the very least, your time spent working on your ass and subsequent social media status – instead of truly working on yourself – will be far less rewarding and, therefore, less sustainable. I hope you get gains, get stronger, stay stronger, feel better, “hotter” even, and are happier with your butt in the process, but not in the opposite order. A “better” butt should not be the starting, focal, and finishing point, but just one of many quality results from the process. Because at the end of the day, that peach emoji #DatAssDoe #WifeMaterial that @GQ_fitlife left on your latest ass-centric post is not going to fulfill you. And I highly doubt you want to show that guy your ass in person anyways. Hey, follow your bliss, get a bigger butt, do glute thrusters until Jen Selter and Bret Contreras start following you back, but do it for your health and fitness, do it for yourself, and do it for the people you want to touch your butt.
– Coach Anthony Ristow
(Photo selection and captions by editor Roxy Richardson)