Amanda Holden’s “shapely, well-toned and, above all, proportionate and understated rear” has made headlines, proving that, when it comes to the way we speak about women, we still have a very long way to go.
Amanda Holden’s name is everywhere this week. If you’re the sort of person who takes tabloid headlines at face value (you poor naïve lamb, you!), then you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Britain’s Got Talent judge has beaten the likes of Carol Vorderman and Holly Willoughby to win an incredibly prestigious award.
You’d be wrong, though. Because, while Holden has won an award, the award in question is Rear of the Year 2019. Which means that, yes, some 12,000 people genuinely took the time to sit down and vote Holden’s bottom the best of all the (female) bottoms in the UK.
Yes, really. Yes, in 2019. I know, I know. But as if that wasn’t already enough to take on board, Rear of the Year organiser Tony Edwards – seemingly in a bid to hammer home the unreality of the situation – has now done us the courtesy of explaining why Holden won.
His theory in a nutshell? Because her rear end is in proportion with her body, of course.
“She has a particularly shapely, well-toned and, above all, proportionate and understated rear,” he said, as reported by The Mirror. “It is a contrast to the somewhat exaggerated, fake, cosmetic look for bottoms, recently imported from the USA.”
Right. Well, I think I speak for everyone when I say, “Argh, wtf is happening? Did we accidentally fall through a rip in time and space and tumble backwards into the 1950s? Etc etc etc,” but, hey, here we are. So let’s take a closer look at the hand we’ve been dealt, shall we?
Launched in 1976, Rear of the Year was initially awarded annually to the woman judged by the British public to have a prize-winning gluteus maximus – but in 1986, a men’s trophy was introduced. Of course, you’d never know there was a male contingent of ROTY winners unless you really looked for them, as the press rarely organises photo calls with the likes of Andy Murray, Idris Elba and their fellow winners.
Female recipients of the Rear of the Year awards, though, are pretty much guaranteed to find themselves front, back and centre of every tabloid almost as soon as their name is announced. Picture teams pore through archives, digging out suitable shots of ROTY winners (read: tight dress or jeans, sideways on or back to camera). And the people behind the ROTY website set to work penning bios for its winners, shoehorning in as many butt synonyms as possible in the process.
“Michelle Keegan’s pert bottom gained its first adoring fans during her time as Tina McIntyre in TV soap Coronation Street,” reads one such bio, “but the award winning rear really came to prominence during [her] starring role in the 2018 TV series Our Girl in which she plays an army medic with particularly bum-hugging combat trousers – setting off an avalanche of votes on the Rear of the Year nomination system.”
Our Girl, just as a reminder, is the same military drama which has seen Keegan’s Lance Corporal Georgie Lane kidnapped by Boko Haram rebels, uncover a child trafficking group connected to the Taliban, and become involved in the activities of a Kenyan terrorist group. But sure, she also wore “bum-hugging combat trousers,” so we guess that’s a fair summary of her work.
As well as the musty scent of dismay that tends to accompany dinosaur relics such as the ROTY Awards, the title is not without its controversy. Charlotte Church was just 16 when she won back in 2002 – which means that, yes, voters that year were salivating over a schoolgirl’s bottom. And Fiona Bruce – as in, BBC newsreader, self-proclaimed feminist, Antiques Roadshow presenter and (sorry) 2010 Rear of the Year’s Fiona Bruce – famously disavowed her award in 2011.
Unable to justify why she ever accepted the dubious honour in the first place, she told the Sunday Times: “If someone had offered me Rear of the Year when I was 20, even 30, even 35, I wouldn’t have given it the time of day.
“I did think it was the most hypocritical, ridiculous, ludicrous thing I’ve ever done, and I know intellectually of course I shouldn’t do it because it’s demeaning. Then I just thought, ‘Sod it, what the hell?’ So I did it, but can I justify it? No, so I won’t even try.”
Natasha Hamilton, who was named 2003’s Rear of the Year, has likewise since said that the competition made her feel “uncomfortable”.
“I just didn’t like it,” she told The Guardian. “It seemed a little bit crass and seedy.”
The most damaging aspect of the ROTY competition, though, isn’t that it demands we examine women in the same detached manner we might a lump of meat on a slab. Instead, it’s the way it perpetuates this notion that there is some ‘ultimate’ blueprint of womanhood. It promotes a ‘compare and despair’ attitude – one which forces us to crane our neck, peer down at our own bum and critique it through the eyes of the voting public. Is it proportionate? Is it understated? Is it shapely and well-toned? Is it too big, too small, too flat? Is it good enough?
Of course, it’s worth noting that the ROTY Awards is based solely on public votes. That “a pre-event list of contenders is never published”. That “bookmaker speculation on the outcome is pure conjecture”. That they people behind the awards don’t force certain sections of the media to loudly consider all other possible contenders for the award of ‘best bottom’.
And yet… well, in 2019, this game of ‘rate or slate my bum’ feels ridiculously outdated. It pushes ever-narrower beauty demands that trigger this compulsion to compare, not to mention the idea that women must constantly out-do one another.
Sure, it’s an institution that’s been around for decades. Sure, people view it with the same appalled fondness that they might an inherently offensive elderly relative (think Catherine Tate’s Nan, if you need the mental image). But it’s an institution that feels entirely at odds with our forward-thinking feminist world: every time we take a step forward, the likes of ROTY drag us two steps back.
And so, with that in mind, I reckon it’s high time we consign the Rear of the Year Awards to history. No ifs, and certainly no butts.