Kim K is sizing down. But what does that mean for WOC?
We’re witnessing the death of the BBL. Sagal Mohammed investigates what it says about the way society values women of colour
Sunday 28 August 2022 By Sagal Mohammed Photography by Greg Swales
The Brazilian butt lift, better known as the BBL, has been reigning supreme in the world of cosmetic surgery for almost a decade. Yet, somehow, it feels like yesterday that US Vogue – in a tone-deaf turn – declared ‘the big booty, ubiquitous.’ It was around the same time that Kim Kardashian broke the internet with her 2015 Paper magazine cover, showing off her ultra-enhanced curves and officially ushering in an era of big bottoms.
Just like that, curvy, hourglass figures and full lips – an aesthetic naturally possessed by women of colour, Black women in particular – were ‘in’, and the persistent supermodel slim, blonde and blue-eyed look was out. Kim and her sisters, Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner led the charge for white women to begin altering their bodies with lip fillers and BBLs – a procedure that combines liposuction and fat grafting to achieve added volume to your glutes, cinch your waist, and lift your butt. It didn’t take long before the so-called ‘trend’ was all over social media, with Instagram influencers cementing it as the modern beauty standard.
Within a few years, the number of BBLs performed globally had grown by 77.6%, while the popularity of lip fillers continued to surge, even amid 2020’s face-covering era. The bodies for which Black women were historically fat-shamed and hyper-sexualised were suddenly the new ideal. It even reached a point where Black women who didn’t naturally fit the aesthetic (quick reminder that we’re not a monolith) felt a level of pressure to enhance their curves in a similar fashion. It became a cultural phenomenon – that is, until now.
We’ve been witnessing the death of the BBL era in real time, and once again the Kardashians are at the helm of the shift. The family, which has a longstanding reputation of exploiting Black aesthetics and culture (Kim’s March 2022 American Vogue cover being the most recent example), has declared the end of the ‘trend’ by appearing with dramatically reduced versions of the figures that famed them. One particular image of Khloe went viral on TikTok when people noticed just how much smaller her bum looked, while Kim has been loud and proud about her 21lb weight loss ahead of this year’s Met Gala.
The shift has stirred up an important conversation around the way society and celebrities pick and choose the parts of Black bodies and culture they want to appropriate when they serve them a purpose – and more significantly, how quick they are to drop them when they don’t. It reinforces the inherent racist ideologies that have for centuries deemed Black features inferior, and allows the societal gaze to view Black bodies as just another passing trend – like the return of Y2K fashion or the rise of the Miu Miu miniskirt.
As pointed out by many observers under the BBL hashtag on TikTok, the idea that Kim and co can simply cherry pick, glorify and then repackage the natural bodies of an entire race as something as disposable as a ‘trend’ before selling it back to that very same community as a beauty standard says a lot about the state of the world right now.
‘That the Kardashians’ success is attributable to Black appropriation is a fact, whether outrage-baiting by donning braids or stealing business names from Black women,’ read an Instagram post by @kardashian_kolloquim – a popular account dedicated to analysing the behavioural trends of the famous family. ‘Now, as Kim moves on from her marriage to Kanye West — and seems to be having the biggest year her career has ever seen — we are also seeing a starkly #blonde and strikingly thin Kim… [she] is “white” these days. We’ll see how long it lasts.’
It’s not the death of the BBL procedure itself that’s concerning. As one of the deadliest plastic surgery offerings (the risk of a BBL is 10 times higher than any other cosmetic procedures, the NHS reports) I’m pleased to see it go. What I find disturbing as a woman of colour is that wealthy white influencers are calling the shots on when being a Black woman is valuable (at least in the eyes of the mainstream world) and when it isn’t. The fact that they can simply dismiss the ‘BBL aesthetic’ when it’s no longer profitable or the next appropriated look comes along tells me that we’re in a dark place. A place where race, gender and class continue to dictate beauty standards – among everything else.