The Italian Butt Grab: To Like or Not to Like

The year was 19??. I was in high school. It was Memorial Day weekend, and I was out with my friends at a local water park. It was packed with young, half-naked, hormonal teens, and I was loving it! I can still remember the bathing suit I chose for my outing: a dark blue, triangle tankini, with boy shorts as bottoms. My hair was long and flowing with my signature side part. Apart from my outer appearance, what I remember most about that day, was how I felt: Pretty. Confident. Comfortable. I was definitely in my element.

And with one quick slap on the butt it all melted away.

In the midst of seeing and being seen, none of us had noticed the group of men lined up on the side of the walkway. If we had, we would’ve definitely found another way to get to our destination. I remember that the walkway was very tight to get through, which looking back on it was pretty odd. I assume the group of men had situated themselves in such a way that any unsuspecting girls would have no other choice but to walk very close to them. As my friends and I squeezed through the crowd in front of the line of men, each of the guys, one by one, slapped each of us on our butts. I felt so small. I was angry. I was embarrassed. I felt violated. None of us found this funny. But as young girls, we hadn’t yet developed the strength or courage to communicate our outrage. So, we continued on, and put in the back of our minds.

Having lived through this experience, I was so surprised when, one evening, I found myself yelling at the TV screen “I want one!” I was watching one of my favorite reality shows, The Braxton Family Values. I was super excited to watch the episode because they were vacationing in Rome, Italy, and it was great to see some of the places I was set to visit in only a few months. As I watched the sisters walk to lunch, I noticed a man quietly walk up behind them. My first thought was, “Oh, gosh paparazzi in the middle of their show. How rude!” But I was quickly proven wrong. In one quick yeah-I’ve-done-this-many-times-before motion, the man grabbed a plethora of Tracy’s behind, squeezed, and quickly scurried away. I was astonished. They laughed. And unlike my butt grab years before, I laughed hysterically. One of the other sisters went on to describe what had just occurred: the Italian Butt Grab. Upon learning that this was an official Italian “thing,” I unashamedly came to the conclusion that I.Had.To.Have.It.  In fact, at the first sight of a commercial, I quickly called my mom and, with childlike giddiness, exclaimed “We have to get our butts grabbed while in Italy!” Although I will probably never come out and admit it, I have a strong feeling that I subject myself to butt firming exercises simply to increase my chances of being the recipient of the butt grab while in Italy.

Since then, I’ve been trying to understand the inconsistency of my feelings between that day as a young girl at the water park and my desire as a young woman. Both violate a woman’s personal space. Both have the ability to incur insecurities and negative feelings. But for me, this touch from an Italian man, from the “other” was different. In that moment, I was excited to see a European man be attracted to a Black woman. Not only attracted to, but actually had a desire to touch her. My shock probably comes from the fact that I’ve probably read too many articles and studies that suggest Black women are considered the “least this” and the “not so good that,” that I’ve internalized this idea that other cultures don’t find us attractive. I’ve intentionally not done research on the topic. So, I have no idea about the history of the Italian butt grab. I didn’t want anything to sway my feelings. (But I did come across an interesting article that listed it as the #1 thing Italy does better than anyone else.) What I do know is that, if the action should occur, I will tell EVERYONE I know with nothing but a grin on my face! Sidenote: American men, please don’t try this at home. Check out the video below for the the butt grab seen all around the… TV.

Am I wrong? Should I be appalled by this action? Have you experienced the Italian Butt Grab? How did it make you feel?

Image Attribute: By Sejenade (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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