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Why Shape-enhancing Jeans Are the Latest Sign That the 'Era of the Big Butt' Isn't as Positive as It May Appear

01/03/2015 22:49 GMT | Updated 01/05/2015 10:59 BST

As any self-respecting female will know, when contemplating one's outfit du jour it's always been about either legs or boobs. It's not a complicated formula, you just pick one of the two features to emphasise and away you go.

So when Vogue decided to declare this 'the era of the big butt' (get with the times Vogue), the whole system was thrown into question. "What do I focus on now?" exclaimed a friend over coffee one morning. She'd been keeping her 'juicy double' under wraps and was confused by its sudden attention. "Should I go with legs and bum, or bum and boobs, or just bum alone? This is so confusing," she wailed.

I envied her dilemma. My non-existent booty wasn't going to be the subject of much emphasis any time soon and I was feeling decidedly inferior.

It was then I stumbled upon Jasper Conran's new shape enhancing jeans (they promise to add inches to even the smallest of posterior) and I wondered if maybe the emphasis on women's bottoms had gone too far?

But don't believe the hype - this supposed new-found celebration of big bums isn't anything new. Well before Beyonce proclaimed her body was too "bootylicious for ya" or Jenny from the block took out a reported $27million insurance policy on her renowned 'assets', an ample derrière had been considered as a source of admiration in many cultures for years.

We don't call it booty for nothing. As a quick bit of research will tell you, today's meaning can be traced back to black slang from the 1920s when the word, originally used to describe a pirate's stash of treasure, took on a new sexualised meaning referring to a female sex object. And rap music's subsequent fascination with the body part has been nothing short of fanatical.

From A Tribe Called Quest's Bonita Applebum to Mos Def's Ms Fat Booty, the lyrical tributes have been endless.

Aside from its roots in black popular culture, a large female bottom has, for years, been considered a symbol of fertility and beauty in Latin and black communities, where genetics mean that having a bountiful bottom is practically a birth- right. Far from rumps being hidden away, they are instead immortalised through different forms of dance or in the case of Brazil, in the annual 'Miss BumBum' competition, where one lucky winner is crowned as having the best bum in the entire country - a feat most of us could only dream of.

But it wasn't until recently that the entire world seemed to go booty crazy and we witnessed the previously neglected body part being placed on a pedestal, or in the case of Kim Kardashian being used as one.

Heralded as an empowering movement for women after years of stick-thin models and Hollywood actresses being held up as the ideal female form, the embarrassingly belated acceptance of a new curvier body type by mainstream culture was met with jubilation from women around the world. No longer would we be rushing to the gym to work our butts off, instead we'd be working our butts on.

And so with this acceptance we witnessed the arrival of Instagram sensation, Jen Selter, a fitness model who is reported to be the proud owner of the web's best butt, as well as an abundance of booty-based workout classes and 'belfies' (booty selfies, in case you didn't know). These all purported to inspire women to feel comfortable in their bodies, no matter their shape and size.

However, with all the so-called positive attention the big booty was receiving, it wasn't long before (excuse the pun) the cracks began to show.

Horror stories of back-alley butt injections gone wrong started to hit the news where, women who felt pressured to fit this new image of attractiveness were taking drastic and sometimes deadly measures to emulate their favourite celebrities.

And those who already possessed such junk in the trunk (paid for or otherwise) like rapper, Nicki Minaj, began to chastise those who didn't.

"I said, where my fat ass big b*****s in the club? F**k the skinny b*****s," she raps in her hit song 'Anaconda'. This is hardly the advertisement for female empowerment.

The problem is that however the big booty revolution is being dressed up, such intense focus on a specific female body part only serves to reinforce female stereotypes, where worth is based on looks.

And while there's no shame in celebrating beauty, especially the kind that has historically been shunned, harsh words like those of Minaj's suggest there can only be one type of beauty and if you don't meet the criteria, you deserve to be bashed and bullied.

Just ask Taylor Swift who was very publicly body shamed by producer Diplo, who mockingly asked his fans to donate to the "Get Taylor Swift a booty" fund.

Is this what we're calling empowerment? In a word, no.

With 2014 now behind us why don't we all jump off the 'perfect female body' bandwagon or who knows where it will take us in 2015? So no Jasper Conran I don't want your revolutionary shape enhancing jeans or what's next? Maybe the ankle will make a comeback and I'll be forced to buy padded socks.

I joke, but the point is that as beautiful as big bottoms are, so are little bottoms, and the same goes for every other body part.

You see beauty is not one-dimensional, Ms Minaj, and who cares if you don't have a big booty, nothing should stop any woman from shaking it in the club with the best of them - regardless of what's in fashion.