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The evolution of bodily aesthetics in the 1990s and early 2000s produced, like every decade before then, the faces of beauty. The idealized facial and body type championed the ultra-thin, fragile physique on a narrow frame decorated with glorious, chiseled cheekbones. The faces of the edgy 1990s look were those of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, or Linda Evangelista. Since then, the so-called “heroin chic” aesthetic has been criticized as glorifying unattainable and unhealthy body types. In the mid 2010s, young girls were romanticizing eating disorders to obtain the figures of the most praised supermodels, pushing themselves to hospitalization due to extreme dieting, exercising, or bulimia

While the size-zero physique has since passed its prime, a new silhouette has taken the industry by storm. In place of a thin, straight bodied ideal, an ultra-curvy body has become the new aspiration of women in the late 2010s and into the present day. This body type, characterized by a slim waist atop a wide, curvaceous bottom and equally ample thighs, is referred to as the Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) body. A BBL is a liposuction and fat grafting procedure in which fat is removed from unwanted places—such as the abdomen, back, and thighs—and is transferred to the buttocks. At its most drastic, some women forge a Jessica Rabbit body type; at its most subtle, some women just create a slightly plumper bottom.  

BBL Popularity: Why Now? 

The sudden rise in popularity of the BBL can be attributed to the increase in social media consumption during the mid 2010s. Celebrities, most notably Kim Kardashian and her sisters, and other high-profile “Instagram models” have popularized and almost necessitated the BBL body type. In the United States, the number of BBLs performed has increased by 103 percent in the past 4 years according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons statistics, and by 318 percent in Brazil in the past 7 years according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery statistics.[1] The desire to surgically shape the body to fit new beauty standards has permeated almost every aspect of modern aesthetic preferences. The idea of the BBL body type has even affected fashion trends as brands such as Fashion Nova have been criticized for catering exclusively to the curvy BBL figure. 

Kim Kardashian on the beach
Instagram celebrities showing off their BBLs (Kim Kardashian middle)

Until the last decade, BBLs have been performed largely in Brazil where the procedure found its origins in the country’s eugenics practices. Sophie Elmhirst in her BBL investigation for The Guardian identifies the racial origins of the BBL: 

“The notion of the idealised Brazilian bottom, which some rich white Brazilian women disdain because of its stereotypical associations with biracial women, has become the desired shape among certain white women in the US and Europe, who are in turn emulating a body shape artificially constructed and popularised by an Armenian-American woman, who is often accused of appropriating a Black aesthetic, which some Black women then feel compelled to copy, not having the idealised body shape they believe they’re supposed to have naturally. ‘You steal a version of what a Black woman’s body should be, repackage it, sell it to the masses, and then if I’m Black and I don’t look like that? That’s [crazy].’” 

-Sophie Elmhirst

BBL History, Procedure, and Risks

This procedure was largely in response to Brazil’s “Whitening Policies” which sought to encourage white European immigration and discourage African or Asian immigration. Alvaro Jarrin’s book The Biopolitics of Beauty suggests that the Whitening Policies affected Brazil’s cultural attitudes to strongly favor traditionally white features: small noses, small waists, small breasts, and small bottoms.[2] In 1964, Ivo Pitanguy published an article on early buttock lift surgery which removed excess skin and tissue to correct sagging.[3] His quest for the “right to beauty” inspired him to augment the bodies of elite Brazilians as cultural tides of racial superiority began to ebb. Pitanguy was later credited with perfecting the modern procedure for the BBL and teaching surgeons all over the globe how to perform his techniques. 

The BBL surgery is one of the most dangerous cosmetic surgeries on the market with a death rate of approximately one in three thousand.[4] It is a specialized fat transfer procedure where excess fat is removed from the hips, abdomen, lower back, or thighs with liposuction. This fat is then strategically injected into the buttocks to create a more rounded, full look. The fat transfer incisions are then stitched and a compression garment is applied to affected skin areas to reduce risk of bleeding. Patients are then instructed to avoid sitting directly on their buttocks for several weeks with a special pillow. While aftercare also depends on the patient’s body type, they are all instructed to wear a faja, a corset-like garment that keeps the body shape in place, for about three months as the new fat learns to connect with the existing fat. Sleeping must be done facedown for this time, and painful post-op massages must be scheduled to encourage circulation. 

While the BBL procedure is touted as being low risk and giving a more natural appearance than silicone implants, a major risk in injecting fat stores into the buttocks is the possibility of fat being injected into a large buttock vein and a fat embolism thus forming in the heart or lungs. This can be fatal. Additionally, there is a possibility that the buttock may not take up the grafted fat stores. A certain amount of fat injected is broken down and absorbed by the body; sometimes, an additional one or two procedures are necessary which increases the risk of complications. 

By Getty Images

Miami is recognized as the plastic surgery center of the United States, and it is especially recognized as the BBL capital in part due to its large Latinx population and the fact that bikinis can be worn year round. The typical price for a properly performed BBL in Miami is around $8,000 excluding post-op care. However, the state of Florida—like every other state in America—allows medical doctors to treat patients in any field with informed consent from the patient without proper training. This means that physicians are able to perform low-brow surgeries at a lower cost—around $5,000—to unsuspecting patients. Internationally, this is especially common as patients seek care in Thailand, Dominican Republic, Turkey, and other countries that offer cheaper and lower-quality BBLs. According to Dr. Perry Rubenstein with the American Board of Plastic Surgery, if you are paying less than $8,000 for a BBL in Miami, the procedure is most likely not safe. 

BBL Glorification in the United States

Current TikTok trends both glorify the BBL body type as well as unveil the deep psychological issues that BBL patients battle with even after their procedure. These negative after effects are rarely present in many Instagram and TikToks run by doctors advertising their procedures that are meant to sculpt an hourglass figure. Several doctors have built social media platforms boasting about the results of their procedures, insisting that a BBL means freedom from the gym or how all their patients are having “hot girl summers.” Edward Chamata, a doctor who works under popular TikToker Dr. Jung sees this as a boon to prospective patients who are more knowledgeable about different procedures.​​​​

The rise in Instagram-famous plastic surgeons has worked in conjunction with Instagram models who promote “trendy” body types. This stereotype of the “Black BBL baddie” has now surpassed a physical appearance and has become a persona on TikTok. TikTok user Antoni Bumba has created the idea of “Miss BBL,” a fictitious character who parodies high-profile celebrities and instagram influencers such as Amber Rose and Kylie Jenner. This character showcases the lavish lifestyle that influencers post, suggesting that a BBL is a sign of wealth and beauty. 

@antonibumba

this is literally how i eat now, the bbl effect is so intoxicating 😭😭

♬ knock knock pitched – Tik Toker

Despite pushing this narrative, some women’s body dysmorphia actually worsened after their procedure. Helly Larson, a 26-year-old podcaster in Georgia, got her BBL done in 2019 at a Miami clinic. While she ultimately ended up happy with her results, she describes her relationship with her body after surgery as painful, saying she could barely look at herself in the mirror. She says that if women on TikTok or other social media platforms were more honest about their body surgeries, she doesn’t think she would have gone through with it. 

“I would say to anybody looking into getting procedures, you’re not going to magically be a brand new person that has this work ethic and great motivation. You need to find that before you go in and change your whole body.” 

-Helly Larson

It is entirely possible that within a decade, BBL culture will fade out just as the tiny silhouette did. Regardless of the next desirable figure, the cosmetic industry will be at the forefront promising a life of beauty and ease after undergoing other sketchy procedures, and social media influencers will no doubt remain the faces of aesthetic taste and fashion. What’s important is recognizing that fashion trends are just that– trends. They ebb and flow every decade or so, and it is only a matter of time before BBLs are a procedure of the past. 

References

[1] American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2017). 2017 Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Statistics, 

American Society of Plastic Surgeons. 

https://www.plasticsurgery.org/documents/News/Statistics/2017/plastic-surgery

-statistics-report-2017.pdf

[2] Jarrin, A. (2017). The Biopolitics of Beauty: Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil. University of California Press; First ed. 

[3] Pitanguy, I. (1987). Body Contour, The American Journal of Cosmetic Surgery, 4(4), 283-298. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/074880688700400407

[4] Rohrich, R. J., Savetsky, I. L., & Avashia, Y. J. (2020). Assessing Cosmetic Surgery Safety: The Evolving Data. Plastic and Reconstructive surgery Global Open, 8(5), e2643. https://doi.org/10.1097/GOX.0000000000002643