“It’s safe to say this time around, the world is thoroughly ready for this jelly,” claims Vogue writer Patricia Garcia, in the magazine’s latest article, celebrating the rise of the posterior in the year 2014. But many people on Twitter have been challenging that statement using the #VogueArticles. On September 9, Vogue published a piece entitled “We’re Officially in the Era of the Big Booty”, documenting the rise of women with large rear ends such as Iggy Azealea and Kim Kardashian. Presumably, we can all agree that the derriere has received quite a lot of attention this year. From Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” to the celebrated butt of Instagram model and fitness guru Jen Selter, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the backsides of female celebrities. However, the Vogue article, opened up an old discussion (in a new medium) about the complex relationship between ethnic bodies, cultural symbols and mainstream media. Hoards of bloggers and online users have criticized the article for overlooking the seemingly obvious representations of the curvy body in women of color for decades. Soon, the #VogueArticles was born mocking the magazine’s ignorance (whether accidental or deliberate) to cultural tradition and ethnic identity.
In this essay, I will not discuss whether or not this is the year of the butt (I’ll leave that to NPR’s Erica Nicole Kendall). Rather, this essay will examine the role social media plays in reframing discussions about topical social issues. #VogueArticles and other phenomenon like this are able to draw attention to culturally sensitive topics such as race and gender in a humorous and often thought-provoking way.
The ubiquitous nature of social media has ushered in a new era of online social activism through awareness and open conversation. Traditionally, there have been gatekeepers that dictate the public’s exposure to certain cultural norms and values (Shirky, 2011). However, social media sites such as Twitter have allowed for the cultivation and connecting of diverse communities among a variety of cultures and social groups. More importantly, social media has removed issues of class, education, and pedigree in cultural discourse. For the first time, in a very long time, everyone has the opportunity to express how he or she feels, whether they are inspiring or inane. As writer Susan J. Douglas states while discussing Manuel Castell’s work on ‘interactive horizontal networks’, spaces such as Twitter give individuals the opportunity to “challenge institutionalized power relations”. These horizontal networks change the conversation, incorporating viewpoints and perspectives often left unheard.
The #VogueArticles is just one incident that documents this phenomenon. About four months ago, Marie Claire tweeted a picture of model and Keeping up With the Kardashians star, Kendall Jenner, celebrating her “provocative” and daring new hairdo.
It did not go over well.
Concurrently, Christina Fallin, singer and daughter of Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, posted a picture of herself from a fashion editorial in a Native American headdress, entitled ‘appropriate culturation’. After massive uproar on social media, the singer and her mother released apologies, reaffirming their commitments to diversity and equality (though Christina’s apology remains somewhat dubious).
This proverbial checks and balances, or online policing, is not limited to the fashion industry. A few months ago the hashtag #YesAllWomen took hold, following the tragic shooting spree at UC Santa Barbara. The hashtag brought to the forefront issues of accepted misogyny and instances of inequality that are often overlooked. As New Yorker editor, Sasha Weiss, so succinctly puts it, “There is something about the fact that Twitter is primarily designed for speech—for short, strong, declarative utterance—that makes it an especially powerful vehicle for activism, a place of liberation.” Whether the topic centers on misogyny in youth culture or cultural appropriation in fashion and music, 140 characters lends a lot to social issue’s of today, especially when the conversation incorporates millions of people.
Vogue has remained mum on the reactions to its latest article, refusing to give a statement. Yet the conversations continue to flourish online, thereby exposing the beauty of digital media. As they stay silent, the rest of the world continues to discuss, debate and debunk fiction from facts. The digital revolution continues to create new channels of understanding and growth.
Shirky, C. (2011, February). “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, The Public Sphere, and Political Change”. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved September 2014, from http://www.bendevane.com/FRDC2011/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/The-Political-Power-of-Social-Media-Clay-Sirky.pdf
Weiss, S. (2014, May 26). “The Power of #YesAllWomen.” The New Yorker. Conde Nast Publications. New York, NY. Online. Retrieved fromhttp://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-power-of-yesallwomen
Garcia, P. (2014, September 9). “We’re Officially in the Era of the Booty”. Vogue Magazine Online. Conde Nast Publications. New York, NY. Online. Retrieved from http://www.vogue.com/1342927/booty-in-pop-culture-jennifer-lopez-iggy-azalea/
Douglas, S. (2014, August 26). “#BlackTwitter and the Revolutionary Power of Horizontal Networks”. In These Times Online. Institute for Public Affairs. Chicago, IL. Online. Retrieved from http://inthesetimes.com/article/17121/how_blacktwitter_made_michael_browns_death_front_page_news
Duca, L. “Actually, Vogue, The Era Of The Big Booty Began A Long Ass Time Ago”. The Huffington Post. New York, NY. Online. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/11/middlebrow-vogue-booties_n_5803704.html
Kendall, E. N. (2014 September 12,). “We’ve Been In The Era of the Big Booty For A Long Time”. NPR Online. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/09/12/347759125/weve-been-in-the-era-of-the-booty-for-a-long-time