Perhaps like me, you were a little surprised to open the newspaper Sunday morning and find a full-page ad featuring a stark-naked Jennifer Lopez. If you were on Sunset Boulevard, you might have seen the same image on a 60-foot billboard.
There she was, on her knees, staring at the camera with a sultry expression. In the photo, her lips are parted in a come-hither expression, and her long, tousled hair extensions fall below her tiny waist.
The curve of her famous posterior calls to mind Dana Carvey’s beloved “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of British singer George Michael describing his own backside: “It’s a perfect circle, can’t you see? … It’s so perfect that English scientists use it to calibrate their instruments!”
If I had to choose, I would describe the aesthetic of the JLo ad as that of a tasteful Playboy centerfold. Well, why not? We live in a world where exhibitionism is rewarded, and it’s not as if her naughty bits are actually on display.
So what, besides her ability to defy age and gravity, is Lopez pitching?
That’s not exactly clear from the ad, but a cursory web search reveals that she has added a new product to her eponymous beauty line — a cream called Firm + Flaunt, which is described on the label as a “targeted booty balm.”
How I would love to believe that targeting my booty with JLo Body balm would turn it into a firm, rounded muscle with a glow that makes me seem as if I have been lit from the inside.
But I live firmly in the real world and am completely aware that nothing short of painful, expensive and risky surgery would be needed to give me anything like the curves for which Lopez has long been famous.
Lopez was at the vanguard of what I see as the booty positivity movement, exemplified to the point of cultural exhaustion in recent years by the Kardashian clan, whose hind parts appear unnaturally, cartoonishly large and seem to expand as their waistlines contract. They also raise uncomfortable questions about the fetishization of the Black female body and its appropriation by white women. But that’s a subject for another day.
A type of cosmetic surgery known as the “Brazilian butt lift” is booming — fat is taken from one part of the body and added to the backside at an average cost of $5,000, but it can cost up to three times that, depending on the quality of aftercare. Recently, the New York Times magazine ran a photo feature on the process with the headline “Butt lifts are booming. Healing is no joke.” It showed women post-surgery in uncomfortable-looking blood-stained girdles to mold their new shapes, either standing or flat on their bellies, because they are not allowed to sit at first while they heal. In 2021, the story said, 61,387 “buttock augmentations” were performed in the United States.
Nearly 25 years ago, a young Jennifer Lopez posed for the photographer Firooz Zahedi in Vanity Fair, wearing only high-heeled slides and satin undies with a lace-up back. In 1998, the photo shocked, not because she was half-naked, but because her curvaceous backside so defied the nearly emaciated ideal of the moment, embodied by the wispy Kate Moss and Gwyneth Paltrow, and the atrocious modeling aesthetic known as “heroin chic .” Lopez, then approaching 30, helped shatter that standard.
The fact that a 53-year-old woman now stands — or kneels, in this case — as a beauty icon in a culture that worships youth is refreshing and maybe even a little empowering for those of us who think of ourselves as 30 until we look in the mirror and remember we are twice that.
That she is also a new bride, reunited with long-lost love Ben Affleck, is also a nice twist on the theme that one is never too old to start over.
“As women, people are so ready to write us off, once we’re past 25, 35,” Lopez says in a video on her beauty website. “And I just kept waiting for that to happen, and then I realized, no, I am swimming gonna let that happen…. Beauty doesn’t really have an expiration date.”
(Relationships do, though. During part of that video, she is sitting next to her then-fiance Alex Rodriguez. They broke up last year; A-Rod, 47, is now dating a 25-year-old competitive body builder and dietitian .)
Sadly, no amount of body cream, not even one that costs $65 for a 4.2-ounce jar, is going to do for any of us what excellent genetics, a punishing workout schedule and access to top-notch cosmetic alteration have done for the new Mrs. Affleck.
Years ago, I interviewed the director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Cosmetics Technology for a story on the proliferation of creams, ointments and serums claiming to reverse the aging process.
He told me that if his wife came home with an expensive cream she claimed would erase her wrinkles, he would demand she return it. However, he added, if she said she bought it because it made her feel good about herself, then more power to her.
Bottling hope, after all, is a tried-and-true way to get rich. Or in the case of Jennifer Lopez, richer.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.