Steatopygia

hottentot venus

Steatopygia [stee-at-uh-pahy-jee-uh] is a high degree of fat accumulation in and around the buttocks. The deposit of fat is not confined to the gluteal regions, but extends to the outside and front of the thighs, forming a thick layer reaching sometimes to the knee. This development constitutes a genetic characteristic of the Khoisan, an African ethnic group, where it is regarded as a sign of feminine beauty: it begins in infancy and is fully developed by the time of the first pregnancy. It is often accompanied by the formation known as elongated labia (labia minora that may extend as much as 4 inches outside the vulva). This was historically known as the ‘hottentot apron’ — now deemed a very offensive term.

It has been suggested that this feature was once more widespread. Paleolithic Venus figurines, sometimes referred to as ‘steatopygian Venus’ figures, discovered from Europe to Siberia and presenting a remarkable development of the thighs, and even the prolongation of the labia minora, have been used to support this theory. Whether these were intended to be lifelike or exaggeratory, even idealistic, is unclear. However, these figures do not strictly qualify as steatopygian, since they exhibit an angle of approximately 120 degrees between the back and the buttocks, while steatopygia is diagnosed at an angle of about 90 degrees only.

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