WATCH: The BBL discussion – TikTok’s real-time tracking of evolving beauty standards

During a Brazilian butt lift (BBL), a doctor moves fat from your thighs, lower back, hips, or abdomen to your buttocks. Picture: Pexels/Cottonbro Studio

During a Brazilian butt lift (BBL), a doctor moves fat from your thighs, lower back, hips, or abdomen to your buttocks. Picture: Pexels/Cottonbro Studio

Published Jul 14, 2023


The Brazilian butt lift. You've probably heard about it, seen it, and are curious about it. For the past 10 years, the BBL has captivated social media, becoming part of celebrity culture and women's body ideals.

In this procedure, fat is suctioned out of one area of the body and then injected into the buttocks to give them a fuller appearance.

However, many of TikTok's culture theorists think it is in a reported decline amid claims that the Kardashian family, including Kim and Khloe, who are generally acknowledged for pioneering the change in women's body shapes from the early 2000s, have had their fat removed or dispersed.

So much so that it has created a complicated discussion on other social media platforms as well.

From the outfits she wears to the Instagram filters she may or may not employ, Kim's body has long been discussed online. One prominent instance was when, in the winter 2014 issue of “Paper” magazine, she was shown bare with a champagne glass resting on her gluteus maximus.

The image broke the internet and her body type became the ideal for many women.

Similar body types, including those with a small waist, wide hips, and a round bottom, can be seen if you navigate through social media.

While fast-fashion company models and influencers spread BBL culture on Instagram, TikTok has evolved into a platform where people can lift the veil on the risky procedure (BBL surgery has a death rate of 1 in 3 000) and its frequently agonising aftermath.

Users started to share their own experiences of BBL surgery, including hospital stays, the process of changing bandages, the kinds of food they can and cannot eat after the procedure, and of course, the outcome.

CORQ reports that #bbl has 1.9 million Instagram followers and 6.3 billion TikTok views to date.

Social media not only offers a stream of visual representations of what young women can and should look like, it also allows us to measure how socially successful such performances are.

Invasive cosmetic surgery may seem all the more desired and worthwhile as girls and women see others on TikTok proudly flaunt their evolving post-surgical bodies to the tune of millions of likes and positive comments.

Though many of the films also feature young girls and women who appear battered and unhappy, it's interesting to note that the final image frequently features a happy, dancing, satisfied consumer.

Thus, our perception of how many of our peers are getting cosmetic surgery and our view of problem-free outcomes may both be skewed by the social media landscape. When you sum it up, the exponential growth in acceptance of techniques such as BBLs begins to make logical, though depressing, sense.

These TikToks sparked a conversation on BBL toxicity and the extreme measures taken by young women to conform to shifting beauty standards.

Miss R Fabulous, a YouTuber, has posted multiple videos on her channel warning young girls and women to avoid the risky operation. She admitted that as a result of her botched BBL, she now has a damaged thigh and permanent negative effects.

She added that some doctors are not forthcoming about the potential risks associated with the procedure, and her current push to tighten the laws around it includes urging women not to be swayed by social media body standards.

BBLs have also frequently been under fire for mimicking the natural body types of black women to fit in with the latest fashions, only to reject them once they are deemed unattractive.

Different body shapes have been considered to be in style throughout history and, like fashion fads, each one has an expiration date.

Cassey Ho, a US-based TikTok fitness guru, posted a video on her profile documenting the evolution of the “ideal figure” over time by altering her appearance to match the fashion. It is an eye-opening look at how swiftly preferred body types may alter in a decade.

She begins by describing the BBL body, which became popular from 2012 to late 2021. She then went on to discuss the thigh-gap craze in the 2000s and the dangers of diet culture.

The 1990s followed, when being supermodel skinny was fashionable and was referred to as “heroin chic” on social media.

She also discussed the body shape popular from the 1400s to the 1700s, which was rounded with full hips and large breasts, and separated the rich from the poor.

We neglect to consider who is impacted and what message is sent when a body type is no longer in vogue.

During a Brazilian butt lift (BBL), a doctor moves fat from your thighs, lower back, hips, or abdomen to your buttocks. Picture: Pexels/Cottonbro Studio

It is obvious that body types should not be used as a trend since it creates a negative example for young people and, as we have seen with the increase in BBL operations, it has left black women wondering where they fit into the discourse about beauty standards.

It serves as a reminder for marketers to be careful about the influencers they partner with and the part they play in spreading contradictory messages about body image.

Without major plastic surgery, women cannot all have the same body type, and can’t change this when it becomes unfashionable. It is therefore essential to include a variety of body shapes in fashion and lifestyle advertisements.

Destroying beauty culture from the outside in might be considered an improbable goal. Another strategy might be turning up the degree to which girls and women learn to value themselves in ways that have nothing to do with physical appearance or even social media.

My money is on the next generation of young men, women, nonbinary, and trans adults who are redefining how we think about gender, sexuality, and beauty as we speak.