Beauty standards that dictate what is desirable about a person’s hair, face and body have always been in flux. Depending on the place and time, beauty standards can downright contradict each other. From eye shapes and breast shapes to height and hair length, there is not one universally set epitome of beauty. But there is something in common about the range of beauty ideals: control.
Buccal fat removal is the latest plastic surgery procedure that’s caught wind on social media. Though the practice isn’t new, there’s been a fresh wave of curiosity aimed at celebrities like Lea Michelle and Chrissy Teigen who have, respectively, been speculated or confirmed to have undergone the surgery. By cutting out fat from the middle of one’s cheeks, buccal fat removal gives the appearance of a more chiselled face shape where cheekbones are more prominent.
Pronounced “buckle,” this pad of fat that sits between muscles and is used for chewing and facial movements wasn’t on the radar for most regular citizens until its social media saturation. But now, it’s made more people acutely aware of the puffiness of their cheeks — an insecurity that wouldn’t be out of place on a Black Mirror episode.
Vocal commentators have condemned the surgical enhancement by creating makeup tutorials that accentuate their rounded cheeks while comparing the trend to the hypothesised resurgence of the ‘heroin chic’ aesthetic. Thinness and youthfulness are almost synonyms for Western standards of beauty — and if the y2k revival taught us anything, it’s that past trends are never too far behind us.
In a TikTok video, comedian Claire Parker suggests that this era of impossible beauty standards is even further out of reach. “I feel like in the 2000s, in the age of anorexia, it was like a fight for women in the 3D, like we weren’t allowed to take up space. But now [with] skincare trends, [women] are fighting for the right to exist in the 4D… they’re not allowed to take up time, they’re not allowed to age,” she says.
In turn, a ‘nose gap’ refers to the skin between your top lip and the base of your nose. Scientifically, it’s known as the philtrum. Over on TikTok, users are arguing that the smaller gap you have, the more youthful and supposedly attractive you are.
Recently, talks of BBLs going out of style have sparked a larger conversation about the futility of beauty trends. “For so many years I chased this dream body that has been so flippantly thrown away… As a Black woman, seeing these predominantly white creators discuss the body type that I grew up seeing on my family and idolised within Jamaican communities cited as a trend feels like a form of erasure,” Sarah*, a 28-year-old marketing consultant, previously told Refinery29.
The discourse is mirrored in the rapid rise and fall of the fox eye trend. “Fox eye thread lift procedures was a trend that was very popular but now, fortunately, seems to be going out of fashion," consultant ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon Dr Elizabeth Hawkes previously told Refinery29. “But it's a very unnatural look based on a social media trend and generally it looks awful."
What happens to those who fall victim to these fleeting beauty standards once they’ve turned to cosmetic procedures? What happens when they’re not in vogue anymore? What happens when your ethnic features are co-opted into trends that will unavoidably fall out of fashion once more?
“Through my research, I’ve identified what I see as four main forces that combined to create the beauty industry today and they’re basically the same four forces that have formed Western culture in general,” beauty reporter Jessica Defino says on Sounds Like A Cult podcast. “That’s patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism. Basically, any beauty standard, any skincare standard can be traced back to one or more of those things.”
“The skincare industry is offering a physical product solution to what are essentially… anxieties and our emotional response to the pressure under beauty culture. Beauty culture, I think, is inherently traumatic,” Defino continues.
Our unrequited love for beauty standards is telling. Trends change. Beauty standards are fickle. They don’t care that you’ve only got one body and one face for the rest of your life.
“As a person, as a soul, as a spirit, to be reduced to just your physical appearance as your value marker in the world, that is a spiritually traumatic thing,” says Defino.