Steatopygia (IPA: /stiˌætəˈpɪdʒiə/) 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. It is specially a feature of the women, but it occurs in a lesser degree in the males (in most genetic variations of Homo sapiens, females tend to exhibit a greater propensity to adipose tissue accumulation in the buttock region as compared with males). It has also been noted among the Pygmies of Central Africa and the Onge-tribe of the Andaman Islands. Among the Khoisan, it is regarded as a sign of 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).
Steatopygia would seem to have been a characteristic of a population which once extended from the Gulf of Aden to the Cape of Good Hope, of which stock Khoisan and Pygmies are remnants. While the Khoisan afford the most noticeable examples of its development, it is by no means rare in other parts of Africa, and occurs even more frequently among Basters of the male sex than among Khoikhoi women. It is also observed among females of Andamanese Negritos.
What seems certain is that steatopygia in both sexes was fairly widespread among early human populations. The discovery in the caves of the south of France of figures in ivory presenting a remarkable development of the thighs, and even the peculiar prolongation of the labia minora, has been used to support this theory. However, the type of Neolithic Venus figurines sometimes referred to as "steatopygian Venus" do not strictly qualify as steatopygian, since they exhibit an angle of approximately 120 degrees between the back and the buttocks, while steatopygia strictly speaking is diagnosed at an angle of about 90 degrees only (Passemard 1938).
- L. Passemard (1938), Les statuettes féminines paléolithiques dites Vénus stéatopyges, Nîmes, Tessier.