Very few women are naturally blessed with a tiny waist, flat stomach, big hips and an arse that sits on their backside like a shelf. But these days, the slim-thick physique is easier to achieve than ever, thanks to one surgical procedure – the Brazilian Butt Lift, or BBL.
The surgery, which grafts fat from the body – often the stomach or flanks – and re-deposits it in a person’s ass, has become so ubiquitous over the past decade that a quick glance on Instagram and TikTok could trick you into thinking that most women exclusively come in this shape. By 2019, it was the world’s fastest-growing surgery.
But are the BBL’s days numbered, or it it simply evolving into a new shape? Kim Kardashian – one of the women most responsible for its skyrocketing popularity, despite her famously X-raying her butt to prove that she had a non-augmented posterior – might be one early indication. “[Kim] made having a big butt more of a white mainstream look,” says Lorry Hill, a YouTuber who focuses on celebrity surgery and the culture around it for her audience of 269,000 subscribers.
In August 2021, tabloid newspapers began reporting that Kardashian’s orb-like derriere looked markedly smaller in Instagram posts, leading to speculation that she had gotten any implants removed. In September that year, actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Willow Smith discussed BBLs on their chat show Red Table Talk, with both explaining why they ultimately decided against it. “I considered getting the tiniest little bit, but then I just got in the gym and got it anyway,” Willow explained.
The origin of the BBL is in its name. It began in Brazil in the 60s, thanks to a pioneering surgeon named Ivo Pitanguy. Three decades on, it grew popular among Latinx and Black communities in the US – cultures that had long celebrated curvier figures, in contrast to the fashion industry’s dominant norms of thinness.
At the start of her career in the 2000s, Kim Kardashian’s shapely body type was similarly opposed to those ideals. But as the star continued to borrow and appropriate the physical features of Black and Latinx women – braids, skin tone and ass included – she grew increasingly famous and sat on ever more exclusive front rows. Kardashian and her growing butt became the beauty ideal, effectively marketing these features to a wider white audience.
“I think there’s no question that celebrity icons have a significant impact on the popularity [of surgery trends],” Dr Mark Mofid, a leading BBL surgeon based in California, tells VICE. “We saw this same impact in the 90s with Pamela Anderson and the ‘Baywatch’ effect.”
The dangers of the BBL are well-documented. In 2017, Mofid and a group of other surgeons published a paper in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal that revealed that one in 3,000 BBLs result in death, making it the world’s riskiest cosmetic procedure. “I think we made it a much safer operation and subsequent studies have shown that the mortality rate has gone way down,” he tells me now.
But over the last few years, Mofid has seen the transition to smaller BBLs, even among his own client base. Women from across the world used to fly in for this one surgery and request a very specific look – the bigger, the better. Now, the procedure is usually bolted on as part of a package of overall procedures such as breast augmentations and abdominoplasties (i.e. tummy tuck) for women who have recently given birth, he says.
Kardashian didn’t just set a beauty ideal. She also created an entire economy for anybody who looks like her. If the BBL eventually goes the same way as the trout pout and the Croydon facelift, where does that leave the thousands of women who got the procedure at the height of its popularity?
Model and actress Christie Anne, 24, got two BBLs over the last two years. She didn’t explicitly name Kim Kardashian as an influence but told VICE that the growing popularity of the “slim thick” body type – the physique Kardashian made mainstream – was a determining factor.
Getting a BBL meant Anne gained 333,000 followers on TikTok and 30,000 more on Instagram, she said. “I’ve even made a move to Los Angeles from New Jersey because of the opportunities [the BBL] has given me.”
London-based influencer Caitlin Jessica, or @caitlinjessicax on Instagram, got a BBL in May 2021 in Turkey, and has already clocked Kardashian’s smaller butt. “It could be the start of crazy, crazy big BBLs becoming less trendy,” the 24-year-old tells me.
Jessica doesn’t think the slim-thick body will go out of fashion completely, but she’s now reconsidering her future look. Just a few months ago, she was weighing up a second BBL as the results from her first procedure was more natural than she liked. Now she’s not so sure: “I don’t know how it would look in ten years time and if I had kids,” she says.
Anne isn’t too worried, explaining that she doesn’t care if it goes out of fashion. “I was bullied all my life about my ‘flat butt’,” she tells me. “Over time, it became a huge insecurity for me, along with an ex-eating disorder that does still pop up. Since getting my BBL, I’ve become more self-accepting and loving.”
Will the BBL ever truly die out? Lorry Hill predicts that it’ll simply evolve into a new iteration – think very thin women with large hips and butts, “like Kendall Jenner’s body”, she explains. Hill’s not a fan – the look would be “even harder to achieve for anyone”, she says. There’s even already a name for it: the skinny BBL, though the phrase is currently also used to indicate a BBL done on a slim patient where surgeons might struggle to collect enough fat to use in the procedure.
The BBL and its ballooning popularity has shifted culture in ways that were unthinkable in the noughties, where Kate Moss’s “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” diktat reigned supreme. “In the early 2000s, I remember movies and people making fun of big butts, which wasn’t so long ago,” Anne says. Less than two decades on, she and many others are still sitting on certified moneymakers.
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