We can no longer turn the other cheek to the posterior problem

Western society’s obsession with the derrière has triggered a range of cosmetic solutions to get in shape, but the bottom line is, is it at the cost of our health?

Now this column would be lying if it were to deny that its thoughts occasionally stray in the direction of female buttocks, but let me preface my comments by swearing, hand on heart, that what follows is prompted by the newsworthiness of the subject and not by a morbid fascination.

Female bottoms are in the news because it has become fashionable to seek their enlargement, and, ours being a dynamic economy, science has rushed to meet this need. In doing so, however, it inadvertently raises questions of health and beauty and how they might be opposed to each other, questions that must concern every conscientious marketer.

Not that we should sneer at the contemporary desire for buttock enlargement. Throughout history and across continents humans have sought to mould their bodies to meet the requirements of fashion. In China it was once the custom for women’s feet to be bound tightly in childhood; among certain African tribes women stretched their necks by encasing them in metal hoops; elsewhere in Africa men hung heavy weights from the procreative organ until it was sufficiently extended to permit a knot to be tied in it.

In every case, however, these mutilations prompted a frown of disapproval among the medical profession. Shrunken feet, they said, might be attractive, but not much good for walking on. Long necks were better left to giraffes. As for male elongation, I have little doubt that even the most forgiving of witch doctors, when invited to examine a privy member into which its owner had tied a clove hitch, would wag a reproving finger, a gesture made more awful by the fact that the digit had long since been removed from the corpse of its former owner.

In this country the desire for an outsize aft deck is being met in two ways. First, there is surgical enhancement, known as buttock augmentation surgery. Silicone implants are placed into each buttock area through a single incision overlying the tailbone. The buttock muscle (gluteus maximus) is lifted up and a pocket is made just large enough for the implant. Having one’s gluteus maximised costs between &£3,800 and &£5,500. It is more economical to opt for the second method and invest &£25 in a Shapes Contour Panty. These padded knickers are designed to “define and lift” and thereby achieve the perfect “ledge” after which a lot of women, and not a few men, lust.

So, depending on your budget and taste, you can have false buttocks sewn either directly into you, or into your pants, it’s up to you. It is in such choices that economic liberty consists. Strange to think that there are still parts of the world whose deprived inhabitants are destined to progress through life with the buttocks bequeathed to them by nature, with no scope for enhancement other than might be attained by a blend of indolence and cream buns.

But before we congratulate ourselves on the gifts that technology bestows, we must, as always, confront the pursed lip of the medical profession. For while one group of physicians is busily stuffing silicone into the rear ends of its patients with a hey and a ho and a hey-nonny-no, another is struggling, red-faced with exertion, to push a hypodermic needle into the fundament of its clients. Last week, despairing doctors announced that needles cannot penetrate the excess bottom fat of many patients, particularly women. To be effective, many drugs have to be injected into the underlying muscle. But, Dr Victoria Chan, of the Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Dublin, said: “A majority of people, especially women, are not getting the proper dosage from injections to the buttocks. There is no question that obesity is the underlying cause.”

Ah, but there is a question. If fatty tissue will not yield readily to the needle, how much more obdurate must be pads of silicone. It seems that you can have a bottom of the dimensions and weight, though not colour or texture, of a prize pumpkin, or the approval of your doctor, but not both.

There is, however a blessed relief from pain. A female BBC reporter who tried a pair of contour panties said: “The reaction was mixed. Men loved them but said they felt cheated when they found my curves were down to padding. One stranger even felt the urge to pinch my more voluptuous bottom, but I had to be told by a friend that he was doing it as I couldn’t feel a thing.”

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