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When will we finally close the door on toxic body trends?

While the body positivity movement has never been stronger, an almost overnight rejection of the BBL trend signals that we haven’t completely let go of ever-changing standards for women’s bodies.

Few things change faster than society’s view of the ideal woman’s body type, and despite ‘body trends’ being highly problematic, the constant ebb and flow of which shapes and sizes are deemed desirable remains a sad reality.

A look at women in the spotlight over the last century demonstrates this perfectly, from Marilyn Monroe’s curves to Elle MacPherson’s slim athletic build, followed by Kate Moss’ quintessential supermodel frame and the accentuated hourglass figures of the Kardashian-Jenner clan.

While there’s no actual rulebook for how women’s bodies should look, distinct preferences appear to emerge with the turn of every decade or so, and right now, signs are appearing that we’ve come full circle, from one extreme to the next.

Y2K fashion currently has Gen-Z in a chokehold, and its advent saw fashion editors questioning if the low-rise jeans and tiny top craze would bring with it the era’s glorification of super skinny, ‘heroin chic’ body types – triggering a deviation from the body positive movement.

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes, thinking ‘this is nothing new, it’ll pass.’ But this shift arguably has potential to do a lot more damage than previous generations, because swarms of people have gone to real financial and physical lengths to acquire a body type that is now being deemed undesirable in online spaces.

The rise and fall of the BBL era

According to Statista, the number of cosmetic procedures performed in the United States grew from 1.6 million in 1997 to over 5.5 million in the year 2020. The age at which people opted for surgeries was noticeably younger, too.

The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons reported that around 230,000 cosmetic and 140,000 non-invasive procedures were performed on teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 that year.

Across all ages, the fastest growing procedure was the Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL), which takes fat from other areas of the body – stomach, arms, and even neck – then relocates it to the hips and buttocks to create an exaggerated hourglass figure not easily attained by workouts alone.

This ‘slim-thick’ aesthetic, most naturally seen on women of colour, soared in popularity as Black culture became appropriated by the masses and was commodified through its use in corporate marketing tactics.

Today, social media is rife with influencers and celebrities flaunting BBLs, posing with impossibly snatched waists and plump, peachy booties. And despite 1 in 3,000 BBL surgeries ending in death, it’s clear that the risk has been broadly outweighed by the benefits of adhering to popular beauty standards.

And when you think of the famous BBL aesthetic, I’m sure there’s one famous family that comes to mind.

Yes, just as I had uttered the words ‘I’m not writing about the Kardashians anymore,’ a quick look at social media brought to my attention that the sisters, in particular Kim and Khloe, look a lot slimmer lately.

It’s not something the former has been modest about, with Kim boasting about dropping 16lbs in the weeks leading to the Met Gala. But the dramatic disappearance of their distinctively exaggerated hips and butt are what’s attracting the most attention, with many believing this couldn’t have been achieved by weight loss alone.

The family has been notoriously tight-lipped about their body modification surgeries, and it wasn’t until the late 2010s when the mystery behind BBLs became more well understood, and subsequently picked up by the masses. Now that their look has become accessible and achievable for regular people, the Kardashians seem to be over it.

Love them, hate them, or give zero f’s about them, the fact is that this ultra-famous family influences millions of young people worldwide.

What does the Kardashians turning their back on their most defining feature mean for people who went under the knife to attain the unrealistic body standard they played a key role in promoting?

How will this shift affect views towards women who got BBLs? And what implications will it have for beauty standards in general, especially for women with born with naturally curvier body types?

In light of all this, Refinery29 spoke to a 26-year-old woman who said: ‘Now that people shame girls with BBLs on TikTok, it’s so awkward having one. And mine’s obvious. I definitely favour a smaller, cuter butt now too, especially now that the early 2000s, straight look is back and BBLs are starting to go out of fashion.’

Worry is stirring that the resurgence of Y2K fashion, rejection of curvier bodies online (natural or not), and glamourisation of skinnier, straighter supermodel physiques is digging up old pro-anorexia narratives remembered most by Tumblr users in the early 2010s.

TikTok is to Gen-Z what Tumblr was for Millennials, and on the video-sharing platform there has been a stark increase in workout routines and ‘what I eat in a day’ content typically posted by thin, white, conventionally attractive girls.

Given that everybody has different calorie intake needs, this kind of messaging can create shame around food consumption and foster a negative body image. Like Tumblr did in the 2010s, TikTok will need to get a grip on narratives that have potential to be psychologically damaging for young people.

In other parts of the internet, Reddit users have asked ‘Khloe Kardashian’s BBL is gone. Is skinny coming back?’ to which one user replied, ‘bro we need body neutrality so bad, body types can’t be trends anymore,’ and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

As requests for plastic surgery reversal are on the rise, from nose job reversals to dissolving of fillers and face threads, it’s anybody’s guess whether removals of BBLs will be next.

But one thing is for certain, if we are beginning to lean into a more natural era of beauty standards, then there needs to be space for everyone and every body type.