Bria Bryant awoke from what felt like a 30-minute power nap. She’d been under anesthesia for three hours and the LED lights in the hospital room beamed brightly as she gradually came to.
She was lying flat on her back, and the soreness kicked in immediately. She was cold, as though she had been submerged in a deep freezer.
“I didn’t even know where I was at,” Bryant said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I feel like I just went to the gym. I’m so sore.’ Then, I open my eyes. I just see a light, then it clicks to me, where I’m at and what happened. Immediately, I’m like, ‘Turn. Me Over.’”
Bryant, a 28-year-old service worker in Baltimore, had just undergone gluteal augmentation with fat grafting, better known as a Brazilian butt lift or BBL. The procedure originated in Brazil in the 1960s and was pioneered by Brazilian plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy as a way to give people rounder, fuller-looking butts.
“A Brazilian butt lift is really us augmenting the buttocks by adding fat. It’s a double bonus for the patient because they have fat removed from areas where they do not want it and they have it added into their buttocks where they do want it,” Dr. Wright Jones, a double board-certified plastic surgeon, told HuffPost. “A BBL does add some lift to the butt, but it’s really filling the butt. A more appropriate term would probably be a Brazilian butt fill. We’re filling the butt with fat and we’re adding volume, which inflates and lifts the butt.”
BBLs became more popular in the U.S. in the middle of the last decade. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) called 2015 “another year of the rear” in its annual report. That year, there was a buttocks procedure — such as a lift, implant or fat grafting — performed every 30 minutes. Coincidentally, 2015 was the year after Kim Kardashian’s infamous internet-breaking cover of Paper magazine, where she showed off the derriere that launched 1,000 think pieces.
With the rise of social media, butt augmentation has been tacitly touted by influencers and celebrities who often refute any claims of getting work done. Notably, members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan have famously contributed to the procedure’s popularity with their hourglass figures. Musical artists Cardi B. and K. Michelle have both talked about getting below-board butt injections; Blac Chyna said she got “something done” after giving birth to reduce a previous butt implant.
In recent years, the BBL has gone more mainstream: Some patients are Instagram baddies who endorse products like detox drinks as a means of “naturally achieving” an artificial figure. Others are everyday people who simply want to keep up with the trends that are constantly promoted on their screens.
Some find the pursuit of the BBL trend unfruitful and dangerous; for others, the procedure is wholly unrelated to the cyclical nature of pop culture. Rather, it’s a form of health care, a form of self-love, or another means of simply exercising bodily autonomy. With social media and TikTok democratizing and destigmatizing cosmetic work, questions have arisen about how far is too far — and who gets to set those standards.
Jones is based in Atlanta, which he calls “the BBL capital of the United States.” The plastic surgeon, who has been in practice since 2013 and was featured on the Lifetime television series “Atlanta Plastic,” he believes the BBL trend is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Board-certified physicians in the U.S. performed just over 61,000 butt augmentation procedures last year — a 37% increase since 2020 — that amounted to $245.8 million in revenue, according to data from The Aesthetic Society. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of butt augmentation surgeries went up by 90%, Business Insider reported, citing data from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Bryant said that as a young Black teen in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez were the women of the hour. Their bodies were perceived as the ideal, posing a stark contrast to the mainstream culture of flat butts seen on rail-thin white supermodels and celebrities. Bryant felt like she lacked an hourglass figure and wanted a natural-looking BBL to “feel more womanly.”
“I felt like my figure before did not go with my age whatsoever,” she said.
When Bryant began searching for a surgeon in 2018, it was imperative to her that she find a board-certified physician to conduct the procedure. She perused YouTube testimonials, Googled reviews of various facilities, and read sites such as RealSelf, a health care marketplace where consumers research aesthetic treatments and connect with physicians. She was worried about the recovery more than the procedure itself, since two of her friends had told her aftercare had caused them incredible pain.
She finally decided on Dr. William Schwarz at 305 Plastic Surgery in Miami, the city with the second-highest concentration of board-certified plastic surgeons in the U.S., according to Business Insider.
As an out-of-state client, Bryant said she first underwent an online consultation with a nurse that included sending in photos of her body and disclosing her full medical history. She also had to receive medical clearance from a physician about two weeks before her surgery and send related paperwork to the practice. The morning of the procedure, Bryant said she also had to undergo a series of evaluations, including a pregnancy test, a substance use evaluation and a procedure to measure her iron levels.
Bryant became increasingly nervous. Hour after hour, test after test, she kept waiting. She hadn’t had food or water for hours, since eating is prohibited after midnight the day of surgery. After getting undressed and slipping into the hospital gown, the nurses gave her an IV. She was finally ready. At 2 p.m., the three-hour procedure began.
Bryant woke up lying on her gurney. After a nurse flipped her over and rolled her out in a wheelchair, Bryant was placed into the care of Roxanne Ramsey, her friend of over eight years. Ramsey picked up Bryant in a rental truck, where she lay on her stomach in the passenger seat, and took her to the Airbnb she’d rented for her recovery.
The stiffness began setting in. Bryant was peeing constantly. Sleeping comfortably was borderline impossible. For the next week, Ramsey was at her friend’s every beck and call. She couldn’t find the Percocet Bryant was prescribed for her pain at any nearby pharmacy and had to drive 90 minutes to get it.
“I could not bend any type of part of my body whatsoever. Getting in and out of bed was the worst part of it all,” Bryant said. “Roxanne had to take me to the bathroom; she had to bathe me. At one point, I put a diaper on, which did absolutely nothing. It literally soaks through everything. You never realize how much you take for granted, and sitting is one of them.”
When it came to relieving herself, Bryant had to insert a urinal through a slit in her compression garment, also known as a “faja,” while Ramsey held her up.
The purpose of the compression garment is to keep fat from migrating to other parts of the body and to help mitigate swelling, Jones said. He added that aftercare can vary depending on the patient and the physician.
“Healing is not straightforward,” Jones said. “Patients vary tremendously in the characteristics of their skin, the characteristics of the inflammation that they get from surgery, how they respond to surgery.”
For the first six weeks, Bryant said shehad to wear the garment for 22 hours a day, with her abdominal skin pressed tightly and uncomfortably around her torso. Throughout the 12-week healing process, she received 40 lymphatic massages to help drain fluid through a thin tube inserted into the skin following surgery.
During those 12 weeks, Bryant wasn’t supposed to sit on her butt without a special pillow. The horizontal cushion was placed under her thigh, allowing her to sit down without putting any pressure on the new fat transferred to the buttocks. By week 10, Bryant couldn’t wait anymore: She started sitting down normally again, butt to seat.
“The actual BBL pillow itself is very uncomfortable because it’s like literally under your thigh,” Bryant said. “Your feet actually start to go numb because the blood supply isn’t flowing how it should be. You actually need some sort of back support while using it.”
Bryant paid $8,000 for the surgery and an additional $12,000 on aftercare and transportation — altogether, the procedure cost her about $20,000. But she said it was worth it.
“If anything decides to take a turn, Kim Kardashian has the money to look different. Meanwhile, these girls are getting these bodies you can’t just reverse easily.”
– Roxanne Ramsey
“I like my results from my BBL. I do feel like I need a tummy tuck because I have a child and the liposuction [portion of the BBL procedure] didn’t really get what it needed to get,” Bryant said. “It’s very natural. Someone can’t look at me and be like, ‘She had surgery’ or ‘That looks ridiculous.’”
Bryant was pleased with her results, but she warned people to remember that bodies and trends change over time. She advised people to consider that what may be popular now might not be in 15 years.
“Not all Black girls have big butts. Not all Black girls have full lips. I feel like it’s moreso a trend to have that perfect Coke bottle body shape,” Bryant said. “Not all Black women are voluptuous.”
When Social Media Imitates — Or Rather, Dictates — Real Life
Ramsey posted a viral video on TikTok talking about her experience helping Bryant, describing the surgery center as “a trap house for BBLs.” She recalled watching waves of women being rolled out of the location and into cars, like a factory assembly line. “Literally, it was 30 chairs in the waiting room and every single chair was taken up. Girls were coming in right off of a plane, and their luggage was in the waiting room with them,” she said in the video.
Schwarz, the doctor Bryant saw for her procedure, declined to comment to HuffPost.
On TikTok, there are several videos of long BBL patient wheelchair lines at airports in the Dominican Republic, Miami and Atlanta. Airline passengers have filmed people flying after their surgeries, leaning forward with their tushes on their BBL pillows.
“You hear people talk about BBLs all day, every day, but just to see the room just filled up with young Black girls being cared for by people that had no type of gentleness or softness with them,” Ramsey told HuffPost, “if anything decides to take a turn, Kim Kardashian has the money to look different. Meanwhile, these girls are getting these bodies you can’t just reverse easily.”
For Antoni Bumba, the BBL phenomenon has personal meaning — online and off. In 2020, they transported their friend home after getting a BBL. Then last year, their aunt, who was in her early 50s, died following her BBL procedure in Brazil.
Three months after her death, Bumba, a 24-year-old Congolese American social media influencer in New York, launched a viral TikTok trend: “the BBL Effect.”
Using a note-higher version of the song “Knock Knock” by Atlanta rapper SoFaygo, Bumba embodies the character of someone with a BBL doing random activities, from exiting and entering Ubers to posing in a maternity shoot to promoting diet products on Instagram. The successful videos — the trend has been picked up and remade hundreds of thousands of times — have led to a merchandise line and viral clips with members of the “Gossip Girl” cast. The latest video series they’ve added to the trend? The BBL wave, a ladylike greeting that shows off one’s acrylics and can be added to their “BBL Effect” arsenal.
Bumba said their videos were about celebrating the power of hyperfemininity. Contrasting hypermasculine, overbearing “gym bros,” Bumba wanted to present a new archetype for women and femmes who indulge in highlighter and blush, never miss their lash extension appointments and emulate daintiness. They said the TikTok trend really has nothing to do with endorsing the procedure; rather, it’s a state of mind.
“What the BBL Effect is, is it’s the most beautiful thing about women and femininity,” Bumba said. “It is graceful chaos. That’s the superpower of the BBL Effect right there.”
They also drew on their past to create their viral BBL persona. They recalled being outed as the only queer individual at their high school in their home state of North Carolina. Back then, they emulated a haughty attitude as a means of survival and way to lean into their personhood.
“All of these gorgeous Black women and Black women that I come from who naturally have these bodies, if it were not for their powerful femininity, I don’t think I wouldn’t be the person that I am today,” Bumba said.
The commodification of a figure that many Black women naturally possess — as well as the distortion of what that looks like — reinforces the phenomenon of appropriation. Bumba recalls growing up being ridiculed and physically beaten for their full lips, only to watch their peers get filler years later. They recalled their sister being hypersexualized in Catholic private school for having a bigger butt than her classmates.
“I feel like there’s a lot of people that see Black people on the internet being like, ‘You guys only want to use us for a trend,’ and they feel like it’s really repetitive. Well, this is what we’re talking about,” Bumba said. “You make it seem like this sort of body is a fucking trend, then when you’re done with it, there’s no longer any acceptable space.”
“So you’re trying to make Black bodies skinny jeans? You’re going to tell me that my body is very 2016?” they added. “I feel like we should just nip the issue in the bud, which is actually racism. The problem here is not Black people.”
Social media has made it more and more difficult to figure out how you actually feel about yourself and what has been imposed upon you via the internet.
Body dysmorphia is a disorder where people become so obsessed with their body’s appearance that it begins to impede their ability to live life normally — and to have an accurate perception of what they look like.
Increased time on social media can contribute to poor body image and even body dysmorphia among adolescents, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care in 2020. Additionally, internal research performed by Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — concluded “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” according to a Wall Street Journal investigation published last fall.
“Someone who’s less susceptible to pop culture and its influence is going to be less likely to get a BBL,” said Dr. Nia Banks, a board-certified plastic surgeon who treats patients in the D.C. metropolitan area.
“The heart of the matter is that when we embark upon these procedures, we should be doing it for ourselves, for our own satisfaction in terms of body image and confidence,” Banks said. “I impart no judgment for someone who owns that their confidence in their body is part of their self-worth. Positive body image is a good thing.”
More Than The Pursuit Of A Bigger Butt
Positive body image is a good thing, and cosmetic surgery can help patients achieve that goal. But for some, access to cosmetic procedures is about more than looking good — it’s a matter of health care, of life and death.
For Yves B., a Black transgender woman in the D.C. metropolitan area who asked to not be identified by her full name so she could discuss this sensitive topic, getting a BBL was part of gender-affirming care. She first started thinking about BBLs 10 years ago following discussion within the trans community.
Her relationship with her own body was fine when she was a child, but discomfort came up as puberty started. Yves was uncomfortable with the societal constructs of gender, and she felt like people were always attempting to force her into a box. For Yves, the BBL was a means of body feminization.
“I really started developing things like body hair, facial hair, those sorts of things. I didn’t like that at all,” she said. “I was always very thin. It wasn’t anything that I was made fun of in particular. But it was mainly the secondary things that were happening during puberty, like my voice deepening, and things like that that made me uncomfortable.”
From the BBL to cut crease eyeshadow techniques, transgender individuals have pioneered and innovated beauty trends for ages. Inevitably, cisgender women end up usurping and commodifying those trends, profiting from them in competition shows and their own makeup tutorial videos.
“This was something that I’ve wanted for a long time, but it was something that I never thought that I would actually be able to do.”
– Yves B.
“I wasn’t seeing a lot of trans representation directly,” said Yves, noting that she’d later realize many aesthetics adopted by cisgender women were first pioneered by trans women. “I would see an aesthetic that I admired and one that I felt I could attain, one that I looked forward to growing into.”
This brings up complex feelings for Yves: On one hand, it’s a source of pride and reflects the community’s resilience and determination to make a beautiful life for themselves. On the other hand, it can be hard to see the masses capitalizing on transgender women’s aesthetics.
“I think of femininity as innate within us and something that can be shared, even though we are usually attempted to be pushed out of it. When you see Beyoncé, Gaga, Janet, Diana Ross, you see us. But at the same time, you don’t see us,” she said regarding visibility of Black trans women’s impact on culture. “It’s very sad to me that so many of my sisters die in poverty without ever having been included in that celebration, been able to make a living off of the things that we’ve done and innovated, or been celebrated for our contributions to society.”
Yves started a GoFundMe to pay for her procedure in June 2020 and shared it with her 28,000 Twitter followers, although she was afraid of putting herself at risk of harassment. She hit her goal that August.
“This was something that I’ve wanted for a long time, but it was something that I never thought that I would actually be able to do,” Yves said. “I took [the horror stories] into account, but they never deterred me. Nothing was going to be more dangerous to me than living in an environment that was foreign to me, that didn’t feel like my own.”
Yves said her first introduction to body modification was hearing about silicone injections and shots from other Black trans women.
“We would see girls who went to a pumping party, got shots, and looked incredible,” she said, recalling underground events where unlicensed individuals would administer silicone injections. “That’s exactly what we want to look like. Years down the line, they would deteriorate, but when you’re that young you don’t really think about that aftermath.”
Yves said even trans women who sought BBLs from physicians years ago may not have received the highest levels of care, since the procedure wasn’t very common and doctors were still learning the best ways of performing it.
“The way that it was perfected, we were the guinea pigs for that,” she said.
Organizations that assist with funding gender-affirming care for trans folks, such as For The Gworls (which helped Yves) and Plume, are few and far between. The National Center for Transgender Equality found in 2015 that 55% of people who sought insurance coverage for transition-related surgeries were denied, NBC News reported. This ultimately can lead people to seek drastic measures to get care.
Katya De La Riva, a 40-year-old transgender woman, died in 2015 after getting unregulated silicone injections at a house party in Santa Ana, California. De La Riva’s death spurred an investigation and substantiated prior warnings from the Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County, which holds workshops about dangers of such procedures. It also points to how inaccessible safe, gender-affirming care is for transgender people.
Approximately two out of every 6,000 BBL patients die from complications annually, per the ASPS. Jones said deaths occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from poor physician technique to the fact that some clientele should not have been cleared to undergo the procedure in the first place.
“I took [the horror stories] into account, but they never deterred me. Nothing was going to be more dangerous to me than living in an environment that was foreign to me, that didn’t feel like my own.”
– Yves B.
In 2018, ASPS issued a warning in response to deaths that emerged as a result of fat grafting, emphasizing that fat should only be placed into subcutaneous tissue. Jones noted that the industry had since made changes to make BBLs safer: Physicians no longer put fat in the muscle of the butt. Doing so can cause a fatal fat embolism, which involves fat getting inside of blood vessels and traveling to the brain, lungs, organs or extremities.
Yves made sure to do her research, prioritizing price and accessibility, online reviews, her impressions of the doctor during the first consultation, and the doctor’s response when asked about their history with Black clientele. She gathered names of surgeons who had distinct before-and-after pictures of Black clients, knew how to minimize and care for scarring on Black skin, and understood the aesthetic she was going for.
She had her first consultation in spring 2021, and the procedure took place in February 2022. In addition to a BBL, Yves received a breast augmentation and liposuction in her arms.
“Once I got into the OR, I just became really overwhelmed and started crying thinking about my sisters who never get the opportunity to do this or who died trying to do this gender affirmation with the best resources they had,” Yves said.
Yves traveled about three hours to have her procedure done. The operation lasted approximately six hours, and she opted to stay in a post-operative recovery center for cosmetic procedures in Silver Spring, Maryland, for $375 a night. There, staff cooked her meals, changed her bandages and helped her shower and use the bathroom.
The price of the operation, anesthesia fees, transportation, lodging and tools needed for recovery — including full-body compression garments in different sizes — totaled about $28,000.
Yves is still navigating the healing process, and she looks forward to being her fullest self. Next, she hopes to receive facial reconstruction surgery.
“To me, cosmetic and plastic surgery in general is a net neutral thing,” she said. “I feel like people often put a negative connotation on it. Like, it’s scandalous if someone has had it. It’s just a tool, and I wish it were more accessible. There’s a lot of times people will be like, ‘Well, you know, you’re getting this surgery because you’re insecure.’ That’s not really a notion that I care to refute.”
“So what if I did get it because of insecurity? How much of what we do in our lives is driven by a need to rectify an issue that we see? I think there is a misconception that we’re trying to be cisgender women and that’s not the case. We’re trying to be ourselves and we are embodying ourselves.”
The BBL As Both Financial And Social Capital
But what happens when these curvy bodies are used to build status and popularity?
It’s rare that you can read a magazine article or news commentary about bigger butts without a mention of Kim Kardashian’s figure. Her Paper magazine cover shoot launched a zillion conversations about big butts, and her Skims shapewear line has reeled in customers who want the appearance of slimmer waistlines and lifted derrieres. Critics have often called out the Kardashians’ curvy bodies — along with their hairstyles, darkly tanned skin tones and clothing choices — for attempting to mimic the bodies and aesthetics of Black women.
Writer Wanna Thompson calls it “blackfishing.” In an article for Paper, she characterized the term as when non-Black women cosplay as Black women — copying the blueprint of Blackness, but dissociating themselves from its consequences.
In the story, Thompson also cited her viral Twitter thread outlining the numerous influencers who have engaged in blackfishing, including white Swedish model Emma Hallberg, who social media users have accused of posing as Black because of her deep skin tone and hairstyles. In 2019, fans accused Vogue of publishing a photo of Ariana Grande in which her skin had been darkened so much that she looked Black. More recently, TikTok user @fannymaelee has been darkening her skin and referring to herself as Black. (TikTok has banned her account, citing “multiple community guidelines violations.”)
Beauty reporter Darian Symone Harvin said there’s a perennial cycle of watching trends and styles that were once deemed “ghetto” and “unfit” by white mainstream America become popular.
Notably, in many early 2000s films, white women were utterly terrified of having big butts. In “Bring It On” (2000), choreographer and coach Sparky Polastri (Ian Roberts) evaluates the athletes, telling Darcy (Tsianina Joelson) she has has “good general tone,” but not without snarkily adding, “Report those compliments to your ass before it gets so big it forms its own website!”
Lest we forget “Mean Girls” (2004) when Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) and the Plastics take a visit to Regina George’s (Rachel McAdams) house. There, Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried) critiques her figure in the mirror saying, “God, my hips are huge!” Or when all hell breaks loose at North Shore High and students’ deepest darkest insecurities are made public: “Dawn Schweitzer has a huge ass? Who would write that?”
Even the opening monologue to Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back” begins with a white woman disparaging a Black woman by saying, “Oh, my, god, Becky, look at her butt. It is so big. She looks like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends. Who understands those rap guys? They only talk to her, because she looks like a total prostitute, OK? … She’s just so Black!”
Just so Black. In the eyes of white women, big butts were often associated with promiscuity and Blackness and invoked a slew of hypersexualized, racist connotations. For centuries, our bodies have often been commodified and exploited; Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman was a Khoisan woman from South Africa who was exhibited by showmen throughout Europe in the 19th century for her protruding butt, a spectacle of white entertainment.
“We have seen white women pick up on not just the shapes of our bodies, but also our beauty regimens, our styles and our practices.”
– Darian Symone Harvin
“We always talk about these ebbs and flows that we see within pop culture,” Harvin said. “There were other points in time in which big butts were glamorized. We have always seen it throughout rap. In some ways, though, it’s almost picking up more on how white people have decided to really choose which day they are feeling like they want to consume and enjoy big butts or not.”
Yet the barrier prohibiting us from capitalizing off of our natural, Black features is none other than misogynoir.
“What I have realized is that the motivations vary and are very much connected to the influences or experiences of our own environments, our own relationships, and our own proximity to whiteness,” Harvin said. “By whiteness, I mean the sense of our proximity to beauty standards that actually more fall in line with Eurocentric beauty standards — and how the evolution of beauty standards has been influenced by Black women. We have seen white women pick up on not just the shapes of our bodies, but also our beauty regimens, our styles and our practices.”
Many Black women have no interest in trying to conform to an ever-shifting beauty standard that is predicated on whiteness and anti-Blackness. Although blackfishing can be the underbelly of conversations about big butts in the media, to some, body modification is merely a means of increasing capital.
“Baby Got Back” morphed into a new anthem with Nicki Minaj’s 2014 hit “Anaconda,” another song all about big butts. The rapper has never shied away from the cosmetic surgery conversation, and in a March interview with Joe Budden, Minaj talked about receiving butt injections from a “random person.” The industry’s emphasis on big butts made it hard for her to navigate. Lil’ Wayne and other male rappers put women with big butts on a pedestal, she said, and it made her feel as though she wasn’t “complete or good enough.”
Grammy-winning rapper Cardi B has been transparent about the work done on her body; in a famous tweet, Cardi wrote that one should invest in a BBL first, then their teeth. She had cosmetic enhancements not only as a form of social capital, but in an effort to make more money and embody industry standards.
But you don’t need to be famous to see cosmetic surgery as a way to gain clout. Meriah Lewis, a 30-year-old who works in the beauty service industry, said she decided to get a BBL because she needed a “comeback” after moving to Atlanta, which is frequently referred to as Black Hollywood.
She was a divorcée and single mother, and she felt pressure to fit in with the city’s flamboyant flex culture, replete with flashy rappers and vibrant nightlife. She got her breasts augmented in 2016 and found a plastic surgery group on Facebook, which first piqued her interest in a BBL.
She said it was impossible to get noticed without a BBL. Lewis said, “I’m not a big nighttime person anyway, but when I did go out I felt like, ‘Oh, I want to go home. I don’t fit in here.’”
Lewis planned to pay for the procedure with her tax return, but her boyfriend stepped in and funded it. She went to Miami for her first BBL in 2017, which cost approximately $6,000. But she wanted more. Lewis felt like her legs didn’t match up with her body. Without someone to pay for it the second time, she went to the Dominican Republic, where BBLs are relatively cheap, and paid in installments. She is not sure if her doctor was board-certified.
The second BBL felt different. She garnered a lot of unwanted attention. On dates, men would immediately write her off, saying, “You look like a golddigger,” or approach her aggressively, asking, “What club you dance at?” Her mother told her that people back home in Alabama were gossiping about her. She spiraled into a depression.
“I couldn’t make plans with anyone,” Lewis said. “It was like, ‘There’s Tyler’s mom with the big butt. We’re not going to invite her over. You don’t have a husband and you’re walking around with this big huge butt. Like, come on, you’re not invited.’ I’m trying to climb the social ladder.”
When Surgery Backfires
Neyleen Ashley is a social media influencer who showcases her journey to remove her cosmetic enhancements, including a BBL, on TikTok. Appearance has always been a priority for the 33-year-old, who was raised in and still lives in Miami.
“Everyone is beautiful and to the nines,” Ashley said. “You can be going to the grocery store and it’s like, everyone’s done up. My grandma always told me never leave the house without lipstick.”
Similar to other women in her Cuban family, Ashley said she always had a curvaceous body — but was flat-chested. When she began building her social media presence, she felt like her body lacked the “wow factor.” She felt a certain pressure to keep up and push the limits. Even as an adult, she said she “freaks out” if she sees any sort of fluctuation in her weight or appearance.
She got a breast augmentation at age 18. A decade later, in 2017, Ashley underwent her first butt-enhancing procedure. She was hoping a bigger butt would help her social media career pick up. The Kardashians’ rise to prominence, coupled with the Worldstar era, she said, created a particular standard: “Well, you know, if I want to make it, this is kind of what I have to do and how I have to look.”
Ashley said she remained awake during her first procedure. She recalled that the people performing it only applied local anesthesia to the injection site, which is atypical for a BBL. Ultimately, Ashley was displeased with her results, so she wanted to go bigger.
“I went to like the craziest, most sketchiest places, whoever was going to do it for me the cheapest,” she said. “I found out the week that I went to go have it done that my doctor had like two deaths within the past year, and he was hiding in a different location. Crazy enough, I still decided to go through that because that’s how desperate I was.”
Ashley said she later spoke with someone at the clinic who convinced her to get a full BBL because the previous treatment had “missed a spot” and she could opt for “more of a shelf.” After that second procedure, she started to hear some unfavorable commentary.
“[My family] would tell me, ‘Your butt just looks so big. It doesn’t look natural,’” Ashley said. “I think that that affected me too, but I just kind of was like, ‘I’‘m getting likes on Instagram because of it.’”
In the years that followed, Ashley became a spectacle. Onlookers glared at her when she went out with her kids. She remembers wearing sweaters around her waist to divert the lingering eyes in the grocery store. The snickering and whispers made her feel like a shell of her typical outgoing, bubbly self. When she visited her father in Texas, she remembers people gawking at her. On social media, where she had high hopes of a wow factor, she got comments that referred to her as “ant butt” and “plastic.” She began to reflect on any and all cosmetic procedures she had done.
“Do I really look like this plastic? Do I really look this fake? Do I look like the ant emoji?” she said. “I feel like I didn’t really realize how big and how much filler I had put into my lips. When I got my lips dissolved, I saw how happy I looked and how my smile was brighter and I looked more like myself, like I had aged [backwards].”
In June 2021, Ashley spoke to someone about a BBL reversal. She asked what the safest method would be, and he ultimately injected an unknown acid into her butt. Ashley was in immense pain, but she said she saw results within a week.
The ASPS has standards for butt lifts, but there is no standardized method to perform a BBL reduction.
But Dr. Darryl J. Blinski, a Miami-based doctor who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and has been reducing misshapen buttocks for 10 years, said a reversal technique like Ashley experienced was likely unsafe.
Blinski said he couldn’t be sure what product was used in Ashley’s reversal, but assumed deoxycholic acid, which is meant to melt fat around the chin, was used. Even a low dose of it can cause an inflammatory response. “Can you imagine them injecting high amounts in the buttocks?” he said. “I would not recommend that at all. I think it’s very bad medicine.”
On average, Blinski performs three to five BBL reversals a month, and they can cost anywhere from $6,500 to $12,500. He said there are two main reasons for BBL reductions: In some cases, he said, a physician was inexperienced and incompetent and couldn’t get the ratios right. In other cases, people wanted massive, unrealistic butts, and ultimately were unhappy with results.
Blinski said it can take multiple reversal procedures to get a desired shape. His technique involves him using a small liposuction tube to reduce, transfer, and reshape fat based on markings he and the patient have agreed upon.
“You’re sculpting almost like [you would with] clay except you’re using living tissue. You follow your ideal markings in your mind and start the liposuction very slowly to reduce the areas if it’s a pure buttock reduction,” Blinski said.
In retrospect, Ashley said her biggest regret was not going to a board-certified doctor for the initial procedures. She believes a physician would have been honest with her and told her she didn’t really need to get work done — and that she would have listened. Now, as an influencer, she’s on a journey to share her experience with others.
“The most important thing is just owning your truth. Whether you want to share it or not, but you can’t deny it, either. That’s why I don’t respect the Kardashian universe,” Ashley said. “I feel like the Kardashian culture, what it has done is it has made it acceptable to get a million things done and not be honest and forthcoming about the things that you’ve done. That’s why I’ve taken a completely different turn when it comes to what I’ve done.”
In a TikTok posted earlier this month, Ashley said she removed her BBL while “on a journey to go back to natural” and “has never been happier.” She added that although she hears people say they regret the work they got done, reversals are rarely discussed.
Lewis, the single mother who got a BBL after moving to Atlanta, also regrets the procedure. Despite trying to climb the proverbial social ladder, Lewis was ostracized for her body. In her words, she was tired of being penalized for looking like a video vixen. She ultimately decided to reverse her BBL.
Lewis started by losing some weight, then opted for a gastric sleeve procedure. Blinski said the gastric sleeve is not site-specific; it is for total body weight loss. The procedure cost $5,200, and she also had to pay for flights, medication and child care while she recovered.
Lewis moved back home to Montgomery, Alabama. She’s currently a few months post-op and feeling much better about her body and sense of self. She said leaving Atlanta and its social pressures is the best thing she could’ve done for herself. Now, she’s dissuading her 22-year-old stepsister from following in her footsteps by getting the procedure done.
“I got greedy. I wasn’t self-aware of the aftermath of this stuff. I should have just left it alone when I did the first BBL and been grateful for what the doc was able to do,” Lewis said. “You come to Atlanta in a Honda, now you see everybody in a Benz and it’s like, ‘OK, I’m gonna get me a Benz in six months.’ I could have just kept it like that. But no, I wanted more.”
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