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The Hidden Dangers of BBLs

The cheap clinic centers are undercharging as much as 7,000 dollars and often include speedy processes that can result in complications down the road. At one plastic surgery clinic, eight women, all Black or Latina, died over the course of six years from complications.


“Ayo Plastic surgery checkkkkk,” sounds off as images from a viral Tik Tok depict the creator’s waist purged of belly fat, flexing in her newly formed hourglass figure. The “#BBL” trend has spread across Tik Tok, Youtube, music videos, gyms, studios, and Instagram. Across the globe, the controversial procedure's use has increased by 77% in the last decade. Often hailed as both a weight loss and butt lifting surgery, the operation is notorious for having one of the highest death rates in the world for all plastic surgeries. Although seemingly innocuous in American beauty and flex culture, the Brazilian Butt-lift trend bears a dark history of eugenics, cultural appropriation, and medical malpractice.

The rise of the Brazilian Butt-lift movement is rooted in Brazil’s history as a nation that propagated the use of eugenic studies and experimentations at rates higher than those of other Western-adjacent countries in Latin America. The "Política de Blanqueamiento,” or “Whitening Policies,” enforced by the Brazilian government in the early 20th century attempted to increase the white population and slowly decrease the African and Asian populations. In Alvaro Jarrin’s book, “The Biopolitics of Beauty,” she states that plastic surgeons often talked about racial physical defects meant to be eradicated to create a homogeneous beauty standard in the country. After the abolition of slavery and the rise of second wave industrialization, Brazil encouraged white European immigration through quotas that restricted Black and Asian immigrants. The Brazilian Central Committee of Eugenics soon formed its first conference in 1917 after the Whitening Policies were passed. The Committee called for miscegenation laws to go into effect after public health scientists teamed up with economists to study European-based industrialization and culture. Although these laws failed to pass the legislative bodies during the time, the conferences influenced immigration policy against immigrants of color. The “Whitening Policies'' affected Brazil's cultural attitudes to strongly favor physical features of whiteness. These features included small noses, small waists and breasts, and small butts.

It’s no surprise that a country so closely linked to the eugenics movement produced the first practitioner of the Brazilian butt-lift. Ivo Pitanguy invented the surgery in the early 1960s in his quest for the “right to beauty.” This “right to beauty,” involved an arduous and long process of removing belly fat and transplanting it into the buttocks. Wealthy elites in Brazil began augmenting their bodies as cultural tides of racial superiority began to shift.

As cultural tides in America began to favor bigger butts in the 1990s, the seeds for a butt-obsessed influencer culture were planted. The rise of third wave feminism that promoted sexual empowerment allowed for women to become “sexual beings” through their own agency. The rise of Nicki Minaj, “Baby Got Back,”and the popularity of Jennifer Lopez started influencing mainstream fashion culture. White audiences began to favor beauty traits associated with blackness and propagated these uses through sexual empowerment mantras (cue “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor). A trait once demonized and shunned in Brazil soon became a luxury for rich white Americans to purchase and augment. These wealthy Americans then promoted these body type features for profitization and have now created a culture of influencers obsessed with their derrieres.

The rise of Brazilian butt-lifts has now created a large market for working class Americans to receive the treatment in unreported and dangerous ways. Miami, Florida has become a hotspot for women across America to receive the surgery, often by untrained professionals. Under medical practice laws in the United States, doctors are allowed to treat patients from across all medical fields. In Miami, huckster doctors have started to pop up shop, creating a cheap market for weekend surgeries. According to a Vox article that interviewed Adam Rubenstein, a board certified plastic surgeon, “You can set up your own clinic and you could be doing liposuction tomorrow with no training in liposuction whatsoever, and it’s perfectly legal.” The cheap clinic centers are undercharging as much as 7,000 dollars and often include speedy processes that can result in complications down the road. At one plastic surgery clinic, eight women, all Black or Latina, died over the course of six years from complications.

The lack of regulations for liposuction certification have created a culture of rushed procedures that are putting working class clients at high risk. The marketing for the butt-lift procedures has increasingly targeted working class Black women. The out-of-pocket expenses usually end up being about 3,000 dollars, and often include no at-home care assistance which increases the likelihood of infection and injury. The small clinics established for these quick procedures are often understaffed and each doctor services about five patients in a day. According to an article published by the Guardian, the procedure should take about five hours, meaning that a doctor should only perform surgery on two patients at maximum each day.

Culturally, the concept of body trends must be reevaluated for their racist and sexist standards. White influencers must ask themselves if they’re promoting tropes of racism by co-opting black beauty standards for profit. The lack of government oversight means that virtually no legislative efforts have been produced to address the lack of safety regulations for these students. Legislators at the state and national level must enforce regulations to increase standardization practices of BBL clinics and end the loophole that allows all types of medical doctors to perform plastic surgery operations. We all must be critical of the cultural influences that promulgate new beauty trends and of the ways we enforce them ourselves.

Jack DiPrimio is a first-year Political Science major at the School of Public Affairs. He is a Staff Writer at the American Agora.

Image Credits: HippoPx

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