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Backside Billboards

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"Love Old." It's not a sentiment I'm used to hearing from a teenage girl in our society. Actually it's not a sentiment one hears much at all in our botoxed, knee-lifted, 50-is-the-new-30 society. So you can understand why I was intrigued when I saw this phrase splayed in bright green and yellow letters across a young sweatpants-clad butt. It wasn't until she slowed to look at something that I realized I was missing a letter. Somewhere in the middle. She bent over. Aha! A "G" emerged from her crack! Love GOLD! It still didn't make much sense but at least now it fit within my 21st century paradigm.

Backsides as billboards is a fairly recent phenomenon. Besides free advertising for their favorite brands, women have long used the ample open space on their chests to announce their political preference ("Mamas for Obama!"), their hobbies ("I'm not just running. I'm running faster than you."), their sexual status ("Virgin" - on a maternity shirt), and a general screw-you aesthetic ("I'm kind of a big deal.") but only in the past five years or so has the advertising spread southward. Where "Surfer Girl" on a shirt is blasé and practically screams Old Navy, the same phrase printed across your baby-got-back takes on a whole new meaning.

As far as I can tell, this phenomenon started with high school and college sports teams where it is certainly advantageous to proclaim your affiliation both coming and going. After all you don't want the opposing team becoming confused as to just who is beating them. But it became more widespread (ahem) and socially acceptable with the Victoria's Secret PINK campaign - an effort to extend the brand to a younger market. Why they couldn't just go with skully-printed thongs like everyone else, I don't know, but without it we would be forever in the dark as to just what color the wearer's lady lumps are. Unless you mean to tell me that Pink wasn't meant as an adjective. Next thing you'll say is it only comes in one color. How racially insensitive.

Now don't think I'm a hater. I love good irony as much as the next hoochie. My favorite are the writings of the instructional variety - like the hand print on one cheek, just in case you need a visual target of where to spank when you walk by. Or the humanitarian command "Save Britney!" Girl can use all the help she can get, even if it comes via a bouncing biscuit.

My problem with all the booty bon mots (besides coming up with endless euphemisms for the gluteus maximus) is all of the sticky ethical dilemmas it presents. Is it rude to stare? Even if you're just trying to read their favorite yoga position? How about following someone trying to figure out the small type that moves every time they take a step? Is one block okay? Does two move into stalking territory? And lastly, is it all right to ask a perfect stranger to pick their wedgie so you can stop playing mental Wheel of Fortune? Because you will get no prize money for figuring out the friendly "Hey!" is actually just the generic "Hockey!" spread across a too-ample badonkadonk. Clapping, maybe. Depending on which subway you ride.

I am not the only one vexed by these questions. Yahoo answers has a whole thread on the look/don't look controversy. The general consensus seems to be that if the wearer goes to the trouble of printing Juicy across their double, then you are permitted to look. But not stare. Pervert. Unless the writing runs down the legs, then of course you can stare as you will need extra time to take it all in. Just try not to trip.

In the end, though, it is the last comment by an avatar-less Leah L. who says it best: "What in the world could be so important and earth-shattering that you would waste time reading it off anyone's butt?"

I love old.