Butts and thighs are busting out everywhere: the evidence is all around us, so I’m sure you don’t have to be told. In Lift I argue that the recent emphasis on performance in working out “is slowly, though perceptibly, altering the very culture of the body.” One example is the changing status of the butt, which, over the last four years, has given rise to the Butt Test, a semi-serious test of booty size popular among strength practitioners and Crossfitters. To take it, you simply lie face down on the ground and then you try to roll a barbell loaded with standard bumper plates (or 45 lbs. iron plates) over your body from head to toe. If your glutes stop the bar, you pass the butt test; if they don’t, you need to do more squats and deadlifts.
The test arose in response to what had been an aesthetic orthodoxy in pop culture of a flat butt and underdeveloped thighs; the test was a way to celebrate an athletic posterior chain and to test whether or not you have one. Recall that as recently as the early 2000s, having big, muscled booty definitely cut against the grain of prevailing standards of beauty. The reasons for this are many, but I would point to two: a kind of low-grade aesthetic bigotry that regarded a big ass as a Black or Brown thing (as voiced by Becky and her friend in Sir Mix a Lot’s Baby Got Back), as well as the fact that athleticism itself was not a widely held cultural value. Even today, although it is far more pervasive than ever before, athleticism remains a value only among a minority. Go try on any pair of high-fashion sweats not made by an athletic-wear company, and you’ll find they’re made for gluteally-challenged people with matchstick thighs.
Still, as the Butt Test and other celebrations of the athletic body show, fitness is changing how we perceive our bodies. And those perceptions happen to be more in line with health. Leg strength has been shown to be a better predictor of longevity than any other marker, even VO2 max, while having big glutes is certainly protective of our ability to walk, get off the ground, and move as we age.
If only the fashion world would catch up and start making skinny jeans for people who are thin in all the right places.