FREAK SHOW: Sarah ‘Saartjie’ Baartman’s large bum was an object of curiosity, ridicule and disgust
FROM HUMAN freak shows to modern day music, the appetite for a big bottom has grown into a cultural phenomenon.
There is no shortage of female celebrities whose public existence is as much, if not more, to do with their butts than their work or talents.
Last month, reality television star, Kim Kardashian attempted to ‘break the internet’ with pictures of her bare bum plastered on the front cover of Paper magazine.
The mother-of-one may have failed her mission to bring the world wide web to a standstill, but she did prove one thing – we’re fascinated with big bums.
BREAKING THE INTERNET: Kim Kardashian on the front of Paper magazine
Commercially speaking, it was arguably singer and actress Jennifer Lopez who originally kicked off the butt fad and brought it into the mainstream back in 2000 when she wore a plunging, derriere-hugging Versace ensemble to the Grammy Awards with her then-partner, rapper Puff Daddy.
“It started when J.Lo showed up in that green see-through dress at the Grammys,” says Dr Constantino G Mendieta, a Miami-based plastic surgeon who is the author of The Art of Gluteal Sculpting and a globally recognised expert on the subject of bum augmentation.
“After they saw her, people started asking us, ‘Hey, how can I get a backside like that?’”
CURVY: Jennifer Lopez in that Versace dress with former partner Puff Daddy also known as P Diddy
The love of large bums was first expressed musically in 1992, when Sir Mix-a-Lot announced that he “likes big butts and I can not lie”.
Turn the radio on 12 years later, and R&B singer Jason Derulo is instructing girls to Wiggle their “big fat butts” and singer Meghan Trainor is “bringing booty back” and wants to ensure everyone knows it’s All About the Base.
And there’s countless other songs, including Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda, Destiny Child’s Bootylicous and Sisqo’s Thong Song that have been entirely devoted to a woman’s derrière.
But while these tracks and the latest photos of Kim K celebrate the love of a big bottom, nearly two hundred years ago, a similar posterior was put on show to the lewd amusement of Europeans that caused worldwide scandal.
The bottom in question belonged to Sarah ‘Saartjie’ Baartman, who came from a herding community of the indigenous Khoisan people in what is now known as the Eastern Cape – the remote part of South Africa.
Born around 1790, Baartman’s home area was, at the time, being ravaged by a series of frontier wars.
After a European-led commando ambushed her betrothal celebration, killing her father and husband, Baartman was taken to Cape Town where she worked for a black South African master, Hendrik Cesars and his wife as a house servant and wet nurse.
BOOTYLICIOUS: Singer Beyoncé is said to have one of the best bums in showbiz
The physique of Africa’s indigenous people had long interested white colonialists, and Baartman was an object of great curiosity. At just 4ft 7in tall, her bottom was particularly well-developed.
So in 1810, Cesars and Alexander Dunlop, a British military doctor, smuggled Baartman into England with a hope that her rather large posterior would make their fortune in London’s human carnivals.
Dubbed the ‘Hottentot Venus’ – Hottentot was an offensive term for the Khio people – Baartman made her first appearance on stage in St James, London.
To play up to the white prejudices about “sexually-unrefined” black natives, she wore a skin-tight, flesh-colored outfit, complete with an extensive collection of African beads and ostrich feathers.
The stage was a muddle of rainforest and savannah iconography, to fit into every African cliché.
One national newspaper advert said: “The Hottentot Venus – just arrived…from the banks of the river Gamtoos, on the borders of Kaffraria, in the interior of South Africa, a most correct and perfect specimen of that race of people.”
Baartman’s body was the object of constant lecherous gaze, scientific fascination and disturbed bewilderment.
“It was almost a freak show,” says Myra Mendible, a social historian.
“She was paraded around and exhibited as an example of what made African women different.”
VENUS HOTTENTOT: Illustrations of Baartman from Illustrations de Histoire naturelle des mammife
Her appearance sparked something of a riot with white female members of the audience jumping up to pinch and poker her.
The promoters fed into the idea that African women were nothing like the English, even suggesting that Baartman’s genitals were also over-developed.
In 1814, the South African was sold to a Frenchman who showed her off to audiences on the other side of the Channel. She died a year later.
Even in death, the exploitation continued with a surgeon removing and preserving her genitals while artists sketched her extensively. Her genitals remained on display in Paris until the 1970s, along with her skeleton.
It was only in 2002, after a personal appeal by Nelson Mandela, who also hailed from the Eastern Cape, that her mortal remains were sent to South Africa for official burial.
Ironically, within a few decades, European women started to wear a bustle – a framework worn under a dress that made bottoms appear much bigger.
Together with a corset, the overall effect was to accentuate the backside, waist and breasts which had become an idealised form of sexual identity.
Nowadays, women are using different methods to try and enhance their figures.
It’s been said, that the shapely derrieres of celebs like popstar Beyoncé, tennis player Serena Williams, Kim Kardashian and rapper Nicki Minaj are inspiring females to take desperate measures in hopes of achieving a curvier physique.
TRAGIC: Claudia Aderotimi
Two months ago, a family mourned the loss of 23-year-old Joy Williams who died after travelling to Thailand to have cosmetic surgery on her bum.
Williams, from Thamesmead, southeast London, died in October following surgery at a Bangkok clinic, which was allegedly carried out by an uncertified surgeon.
She reportedly underwent the surgery for the cost of £2,000, while the average price of the procedure is between £7,000 and £8,000.
Doctors have warned people about going abroad to have cosmetic surgery because it is cheaper.
Plastic surgeon Michael Cadier, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, says: “This tragic case highlights how, if lured by the prospect of what is essentially ‘cheap surgery’, patients can be left vulnerable.
“Standards for healthcare may vary, and patients frequently undergo ‘consultations’ with company representatives who have no medical background, and are therefore not being given the appropriate knowledge in order to give informed consent.”
He adds: “In some cases, patients are even being treated by a person without proper surgical credentials – if any at all – which breaches all the fundamental guidelines for safe practice in cosmetic surgery in the UK.”
Williams, who was born in Lagos and moved to London in 2007, is not the first British woman to have died from buttock augmentation.
In 2011, 20-year-old Claudia Aderotimi died after having an illegal operation on her bottom in Philadelphia.
Aderotimi, from Hackney, east London, suffered from chest pains before dying in hospital after having implants inserted into her behind.
Aderotimi, who was an aspiring dancer, believed that a bigger butt would make her a “hip-hop star.”
It’s sad and ironic that women nowadays are killing themselves with life-threatening surgery and dangerous injections to achieve a look that Baartman was chastised for centuries ago.