If The BBL Era Is “Over”, Where Does This Leave Black Women?

Photographed by Daantje Bons.
“It got to a point where I felt like if I didn’t get a BBL [Brazillian Butt Lift], I wouldn’t be able to even think of myself as a Black woman,” says Sarah*, a 28-year-old London-based marketing consultant. “In 2019, everywhere I looked in my life there was yet another push toward the procedure. I would watch videos about the aftercare in various clinics on the way to work most mornings, so after a few months my whole feed was filled with advice – who to go to, who had the best care, whose [BBL] ‘settled’ well.”
Sarah is one of a number of people, specifically Black and brown women, who have felt the unrelenting pressure to subscribe to the beauty ideal of ‘bigger bum, smaller waist and thicker thighs’ and was prepared to get a  Brazillian Butt Lift (BBL) —  a cosmetic procedure that sees excess fat removed from the hips, abdomen, lower back, or thighs with liposuction, and a portion of this fat is then injected into the buttocks — to achieve it. She’s not the only one. 
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Bigger bums, booties, and bottoms (however you prefer to describe the derriere) may have always been held in high regard within Black communities, yet over the past few years, it’s impossible not to have noticed the uptick in conversation about bootylicious booties in mainstream beauty. Although size zero figures and waif thin frames were championed in the noughties, since the late 2010s a perky derriere has become an essential part of western beauty ideals. 
Thanks in part to the heavily co-opted body-positivity movement of the late 2010s —which although birthed by Black, queer and nonconformist women now readily amplifies socially desirable hourglass-shaped white women — a curvaceous frame has become the new beauty benchmark. It’s a shift that has seen celebrities like Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence and mostly notably Kim Kardashian garner increased cultural and commercial success thanks to their bodies — much to the chagrin of Black and brown people. The shift towards a more curvaceous body type has spiked an increase in women undergoing the BBL cosmetic procedure, costing around £2,000 - £8,000 according to the NHS. Since 2015, the number of butt lifts performed globally has grown by 77.6%, according to a survey performed in 2020 by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Yet in 2022, there appears to be a turning tide. According to TikTok and numerous mainstream media platforms, it seems that the so-called ‘BBL body’ is officially on the ‘out’. Influencers like Kim and Khloe Kardashian are now rumoured to have undergone BBL reductions, and over the past few months, creators like @kardashian_kolloquium — a TikTok account that breaks down the Kardashians through an academic lens — have begun to speculate why and how the family of influencers have begun to bring their ‘big booty era’ to a close. While the hashtag #BBL on the platform has 6.5 billion views to date, in amongst aftercare advice and BBL effect memes’, you’ll find that many creators note this view. 
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"I see posts on TikTok that are ‘like BBL’s are no longer trendy, or that they are so accessible that they make you look cheap. For so many years I chased this dream body that has been so flippantly thrown away.”

*Sarah
The marked end of the so-called ‘BBL era’ has made way for the rising resurgence of a stick-thin body — an ideal exacerbated by the return of the uber mini skirt. Given the fickleness of mainstream beauty trends, it’s easy to see why many people online have begun to discuss the demise of the BBL aesthetic. Whilst celebrating the end of a  largely unattainable bodily beauty standard is not inherently negative, many users have begun to call out the hypocrisy of this change of attitude, years after Black women and people online voiced numerous issues with the praising of curves on predominantly wealthy white women. There’s been ample criticism about the commodification of Black body types and whether it is a form of  ‘Blackfishing’ – a term used when non-Black public figures emulate ‘Black’ characteristics in order to appear Black or racially ambiguous. Cultural appropriation aside, the negative impact of both BBL culture and discussions around its demise on Black women is undeniable. 
Prior to going to her own BBL consultation, Sarah explained that she had explored other non-surgical avenues. “Before booking in for a consult [I looked into] things like Apetamin (an illegal appetite-stimulating, weight-gain supplement often promoted on social media as a quick, non-surgical way of achieving a 'slim thick' hourglass figure)” she says. “I found out about extreme side effects that can occur when taking it,” she shared, explaining that after weighing both options, getting a BBL was an “equal risk”.  Sarah opted for Sculptra orhip dip injections'' to achieve her desired physique but now she feels conflicted.  “I see posts on TikTok that are ‘like BBL’s are no longer trendy, or that they are so accessible that they make you look cheap. For so many years I chased this dream body that has been so flippantly thrown away. I know in my immediate circles people still appreciate the ‘slim thick look’ but 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.” 
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“Although for the most part BBL culture in the mainstream wasn’t for us, it being the norm did make things like fashion more accessible for those of us who naturally had the body type. So what happens to people like me that still want to have that ‘bum’?"

Joy
Black women and people who naturally have the ‘BBL’ body are beginning to feel the impact of this erasure. Joy, a 27-year-old creative strategist, says mainstream dumping of the curvaceous body type “will have a much large impact on the daily experience of Black women who naturally have this body type.”  
However, Joy sees a small silver lining. “It's been great to see how collectively calling out Blackfishing —for years I might add —  now means that people are starting to see the issue with picking and choosing what part of ‘Blackness’ they want,” she explains.
“I can’t help but see how problematic this whole ‘[BBL] demise’ conversation is,’ she adds. As a Black woman who grew up in predominantly white areas, the creative strategist says she remembers distinctly what it was like to not meet then size zero beauty standard.  “The idea that we are going back to that fills me with dread – it feels like a beauty version of the post-Obama whitelash in the US.’” Perhaps most poignantly, the 27-year-old adds, “although for the most part BBL culture in the mainstream wasn’t for us, it being the norm did make things like fashion more accessible for those of us who naturally had the body type. Now as this shift begins you can see its effect on skirts that are now straight cut, HITT classes are now Pilates – so what happens to people like me that still want to have that ‘bum’?” In response to this question, Joy says, “I’ve been thinking a lot about that ‘Black women are the blueprint’ saying because ultimately it’s so true, and we have to remind ourselves that something that was naturally ours can only be ‘over’ if we want it to be.” 
This shifts in beauty standard might mark the end of the inane back on forth over whether or not white people can tan, don canerows and have a large bum all at once or whether it’s appropriation, but when wealthy white influencers simply discard an aesthetic still so heavily attributed to a section of people when it’s no longer profitable, it sends a clear and harmful message: Black beauty is disposable. Seismic beauty shifts are inevitable over time. However, now as the focus changes more and more to be on ephemeral trends, for Black women the ‘fall’ of the BBL sparks the question: who gets to set the trends for us? Before the internet, what was seen as beautiful in Black communities often came from 90s music video vixens or older aunties to cousins.
Now, although it’s impossible to not worry about the societal impact of the death of this trend on people who are naturally shaped with bigger bums and wider hips, for many Black women, including myself, mainstream media’s decision to call time on BBLs inspires a flashpoint in efforts to continue to centralise and uphold Black beauty on all fronts, long past their public sell by date.

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