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Once only little girls had skinny legs, but now grown-up women aspire to thighs that don't meet

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 Kim Kardashian's 'belfie'

Kim Kardashian's 'belfie'

Kim Kardashian's 'belfie'

NOT that long ago today's newspaper was tomorrow's fish and chip paper. After publication, stories lived only on microfiche or in a cuttings library.

In these libraries, rows of filing cabinets housed carefully cut out and filed pieces of newsprint that yellowed alphabetically in brown cardboard folders.

Unless someone went looking, the newsprint version of events slid quietly into oblivion.

For better or worse, the internet affords no such edge-blurring. Good, bad or indifferent, once posted, and certainly once copied or shared, there is no way of knowing what chunks of the past can come flying out of the ether even years later.

A prospect that becomes scarier with every passing day because I have seen more pictures of other people's bodies in the last few months than in the entire rest of my life.

I'm not studying medicine or life drawing and have no special penchant for porn. It's just that bodies have become ubiquitous.

Bottoms are the body part du jour, launching a whole new wave of images into cyberspace, posterity will soon enough be posteriority.

The logic seems to be why post a picture of a book you're reading or a painting you saw or a fluffy kitten or a tree when you could be sharing a picture of your bum?

I'm of the generation, the last I think, that slumped in photos.

Between the self-conscious hunch, the eternal embarrassment and obligatory modesty, topped off with our crappy hair and heinous jumpers, I'm willing to bet there is not one attractive Irish teen photo from the 1980s.

STEREOTYPE

Yes, the pouty standardised hand-on-hip pose that young ones favour today conforms to a stereotype and can be a bit over-sexualised, but, it's nice to see people who are confident in pictures.

The confidence and the omnipresence of camera equipment have led to a very different attitude to self-portraits. Social media has changed that further and so we have the "selfie", self-portraits posted online.

It can be vain, borderline narcissistic, vapid and often tedious but for a generation or two coming up now it's just what you do.

Posting a picture of yourself in your new dress with the high heels you can't walk in and badly applied fake tan pooling at your wrists is a rite of passage. In itself it's not harmful. But as a symptom of what becomes "normal" it is perhaps less benign.

Actor Jennifer Lawrence is often lauded for her "normality", for being "down-to-earth" and just like us. She says she hates exercise and likes lying on the sofa watching telly. She fell up the Oscar stairs and laughed it off. She does seem lovely.

But she really isn't just like us. Success, talent and accolades aside, she is approximately 187pc more attractive than Josephine Soap. Measuring yourself against a 'normal' that stars Jennifer Lawrence is a doomed venture.

Lawrence's desire to present herself as ordinary does mark her out as a particular kind of celebrity.

Many others prefer to base their fame on just how not like everyone else they are, and for "not like" read "better".

As soon as the hoi polloi got in on the selfie act it was time to ratchet it up a gear. Celebrities, not generally of a type that frequent A, or even B lists, found headlines in more specific, less clothed selfies.

The need to keep photographers informed of your holiday plans so you could be papped in your bikini, or half your bikini, was usurped first by Twitter, then by Instagram.

Any wannabe could not only papp themselves but control the image, make sure there was no unflattering light or angles, and post it online. And we, your friendly media dopes, duly reposted it, packaged as news.

There is a strange duality in our image of the human body, especially the female form.

While we, westernised humans in general, have grown fatter, and from a younger age, the female body type we aspire to has become less realistic.

For generations people never saw much in the way of naked other people. Any nudity was intriguing so it follows that we'd have been less picky. But then along came pornography in which certain body types were favoured. Men were presented as super-muscular with somewhat atypically scaled and persevering um, equipment.

For women, the surgically-adjusted cartoon proportions of Barbie became an ideal. The generations that learned from this contrived image got a very different set of sexual expectations and an almost entirely unrealistic sense of normal body type.

CELEBRITIES

The selfie and its offshoots have taken this further. Porn is still a step too far for the average celebrity. It's also fantasy. Social media, however, is perceived as being about real people. But it's not real. It's idealised.

A place for us to present our best selves and to have fake real interactions with celebrities, many of whom are famous in the first place purely because they are nothing like us. It offers a dangerously confusing mix of mainstream and exclusivity.

The need to keep being better than normal has led to some odd focus points. The thigh gap, for instance. Where once only little girls had skinny legs, grown women are now supposed to aspire to thighs that don't meet.

The bikini bridge is the latest body should-have, a stomach so concave that hip bones are the highest point on a reclining female.

And of course the bottom, photos of which have become so commonplace that they have their own name – the belfie. Obviously, as every punter has a bottom not just any butt will do. The ideal bottom must be shapely, cellulite-free and preferably large. A combination impossible for most of the population.

Twitter and Instagram are a daily parade of bums. New Yorker Jen Selter owns what is apparently "the most Instagrammed ass in the world".

Kim Kardashian, famous for her frankly unusual bottom, invited ridicule when she posted a picture of what it looked like after she had her baby last year.

Ridicule but also copycats, we've been treated to plenty of celebrity buttocks in recent months, from the coy to the rather more revealing. Showing your bum has traditionally been viewed as less intimate than showing any of the other bits generally kept under wraps, for men and for women.

Most social networking sites nudity rules reflect that, so while exhibitionists would have a lot more difficulty posting regular photos of their breasts, bottoms are fair game.

But as the poses get more extreme it's fair to say that I, and thousands of others, have seen more of some people than we might ever have expected or intended.

It's accelerating in the new year body blitz panic as minor celebs compete to out-juice and out-squat each other on Twitter.

And while the trend began with KK taking photos of her own bottom, a true belfie, which presumably involves some variation on the thought, "Oh, I must take a picture of my bum (and post it online)," it is already morphing.

Some of the more recent offerings have moved on a step, clearly requiring the photographic talents of a third party and presumably involving some variation on "Will you take a picture of my bum, (so I can post it online)." This phenomenon awaits a moniker. The internet being the bully's paradise that it is, only those who feel they conform to a very specific set of standards offer their bits for public perusal.

This automatically warps what is considered normal. Not only what a normal body looks like, but what is a normal kind of picture to post.

CREEPY

You should have a thigh gap, a bikini bridge, a pert bottom and be willing to prove it all with an online photo. In one way I'm grateful the demographic who tends to share photos of their own bodies – with or without the #nofilter hashtag (subtext: this glory I'm sharing with you is all my own #gloat) – isn't broad.

Stephen Fry, Dara O Briain, An Garda Siochana, Great Minds Quotes, Caitlin Moran, Jane Fonda, Amy Huberman or Adele have not, to my knowledge, yet shared photos of their buttocks. In another way I'm horrified that the demographic who tends to share photos of their own bodies is not too broad. If we were being presented with pictures of buttocks from every gender, age, size and race it would fine. Odd perhaps, and not always pretty, just a moment in history when humanity went through a look-at-my-bits phase.

But precisely because the belfie phenomenon is almost exclusively the preserve of young women there is something truly creepy going on.

To top it off, with the internet nothing really goes away. Not only is it faster, more easily and widely accessible but there's no filing cabinet tomb for stories and pictures. What's out there is out there for good.


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