Highsnobiety

Summer of Sexy: In celebration of Pride, Highsnobiety explores all the ways personal style transcends what we wear. This special series delves into critical discussions and stories that highlight the body as a site of expression and exploration – social, sexual, and psychological. Check back throughout the week for Omar Apollo’s digital cover, a consideration of underwear as pants, the history of “Lesbian Chic,” and a reported feature on the data that shows just how much the freedom to dress cannot be overstated.

Butt. The booty. The buttocks. A heinie. The azz (thanks, Juvenile!). Your patootie. My glutes. That rump. Like the rose, a rear end by any other name smells as sweet. And yet, each one of the names we’ve given our badonkadonk adds its own twist to the story of our unending obsession with what’s below our waists and behind us. It’s sexy, it’s funny, it’s gross, it’s cute, it’s old. It’s round, flat, big, or maybe not big enough. 

On Right: “I remembered Mollie had one of the most iconic butt tattoos, so I said, ‘can you show me your butt?’”
Highsnobiety / Luisa Opalesky, Highsnobiety / Luisa Opalesky

As far as multifaceted obsessions go, our relationship with our backsides is a fascinating one. For instance, the preferred answer to “does this make my ass look big?” doesn’t just depend on who’s asking but also on the era and which celebrities are trending. And while no one wants to be the butt of a joke, don’t we all aspire for skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom? As the human body’s largest muscle, it only makes sense that our tushies take on so many roles.

In her photo essay for issue 35 of Highsnobiety magazine, New York City photographer and choreographer Luisa Opalesky celebrates the rear end in all its complexity. Her interest in the butt started young. And like many of us, it was a fascination defined by giddy playfulness: “It might have been my eighth or ninth birthday; I asked my mom for a disposable camera so that I could run around with my friends taking pictures of people’s butts at my party. So it’s kinda nuts that Highsnobiety asked me to do this, because I’ve kinda been doing it since I was a little kid.” 

Opalesky, who dynamically honed her visual language around movement, decided to pursue the assignment with variety and whimsy in mind. Oldies, new stuff, 35mm, Polaroids, iPhones, photos from produced shoots of friends and family, street photography, nighttime, daytime, as well as butts from New York, LA, Nashville, and beyond make up the inventory. There are bare asses. And clothed ones. Lots of gorge glutes (but no hole pics)! All of them are head-turning. 

Collectively, as a species, our feelings toward the butt are constantly evolving. We need only look at media depictions for evidence: A keister in a Midwestern suburb in the 1950s, glutes in a 1980s Jane Fonda fitness tape, a booty in the music video for Sisqó’s seminal masterpiece “Thong Song,” Butt-Head of Beavis and Butt-Head, and “tough-tuchus” from a no-nonsense Jewish matriarch. Recently I heard someone use the phrase “cheeked up.” I am not 100 percent certain I understand what that means, but if I have to guess, I would say it has something to do with how pert the rump is.

On left: In Opatija, Croatia, like the rest of Europe, it’s best to wear the tiniest shorts you can find. “I wasn’t even thinking about taking a photo,” Opalesky says. “I was just mesmerized by his little aquatic ass.”
Highsnobiety / Luisa Opalesky, Highsnobiety / Luisa Opalesky

If my assumption is correct, I love the idea of being “cheeked up.” Like my cheeks are alert and prepared to tackle whatever colonialism and the patriarchy have in store for the day. 

Wait: Should we have been backing our azzes up to topple enduring systems of oppression this whole time?! 

As a gay man, the caboose is a not-insignificant part of the culture, whether we like it or not. And I have sneaking suspicions that my personally held ideals of what make for a beauteous butt are a product of those very systems. It is not right. And it is not fair. But the song still goes “a round thing in your face,” not “whatever you got back there in your face.” And systems require time to topple. I’d like to have an upbeat backside during the battle. 

Girls in my high school used to tease that I should have been voted “boy with the biggest butt” for yearbook superlatives. I was bashful about it then, but, gosh, if I don’t love squatting, dead-lifting, and clamshelling during ass day at Barry’s Bootcamp now. And as my relationship with and opinion of my body continue to shapeshift from day to day, so do the ways I look at my own behind. I know I’m not alone.

“Most people want their butt to look a certain way,” Opalesky says. “When I’m shooting, every single person says, ‘Please make my butt look great.’ And what does that mean? Are we talking bouncy and lifted?” Yeah, if you ask me, that’s exactly what I would mean. I don’t post squat videos on my Instagram Stories unless it looks like I’m smuggling tropical fruits back there. I want to look cheeked up. (Gosh, I hope that’s right.)

On left: Addison doing the 1, 2, 3 – —basically a step and bend.
Highsnobiety / Luisa Opalesky, Highsnobiety / Luisa Opalesky

But in Opalesky’s photography, less full-figured tushies have their own artistic beauty. “If someone has a flat ass, and you shoot it from the side, I think it kinda looks like a sculpture,” she says. “At least that’s the way I look at it. That’s your ass. Go with it!”

In the following pages, Opalesky went with it! You’ll find photos of her boyfriend’s booty with a license plate placed above it, a spandex-covered butt sitting on a tree branch, shiny mannequin butts, glutes encased in a pair of pants slashed from waist to leg, and her own bare ass posed against a piece of heavy tapestry. Many are of strangers’ rear ends that she ran up to when she spotted a curious set on the streets. 

“I call on that youthful side of me that’s very willing to just go up to someone’s butt and take a giant flash photo. I love it,” she says, adding, “It’s so alarming, because they’re just nameless asses, but depending on what they’re wearing (leather, something reflective, rhinestones), it can be a really beautiful shot.” And, yes, from a trip down South, there are plenty of Nashville-coded behinds. “Not one person said no,” she says of the subjects she asked to participate. “Everyone wants to be photographed. We live in that kind of time.”

But she also photographed asses that the rest of us may want to avoid entirely. For example, on the scale of “back that azz up” to “sit your tushie down,” most of us would prefer our parents’ butts remain on the latter end. (Besides, “Your mom isn’t likely to randomly let you take a photo of her butt,” Opalesky admits.) But she went there, too. She got her mom to display her ass in a very public, and very proper, setting: Lincoln Center, and on a night when they went to see an opera. “It was offensive to everyone around us to be doing it at the Metropolitan Opera.”

In spaces where we take ourselves seriously (like the opera), what are we to make of our derrières? And when it comes to our parents, do asses cease to exist? For all the names that we’ve created for the butt, are there moments, places, and concepts where every single one of those nicknames is best left ignored and unuttered? Probably. I mean, I’m not planning on twerking while in line for communion at church anytime soon, but what Opalesky’s photos and attitude have convinced me is that I should embrace more silly fun when it comes to my tushie. Or whatever we want to call it. And yes, yes, I’ll keep going after it on ass day at Barry’s, but why not also sit on a piece of sculpture and snap a pic. Because guess what?

Chicken butt.

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