When Will We Stop Reducing Women’s Body Types To Trends?
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When Will We Stop Reducing Women’s Body Types To Trends?

Apr 29, 2023

By Yomi Adegoke

The return of low rise jeans and miniskirts last year was a harbinger of another imminent comeback. Thin is, once again, back in folks. Whether it be on catwalks or in campaigns, fashion has been all clavicles, concave stomachs and visible hip bones as of late.

Many have hypothesised the return as part of a backlash to the body positivity movement, as well as the prominence of the Brazilian butt lift (BBL) in popular culture and beauty, popularised most famously by Kim Kardashian and her siblings. And now the Kardashians, canaries in the coal mine for modern day beauty standards, have seemingly had their procedures undone, proving the era's end in the minds of many. Lorry Hill, a vlogger who frankly discusses plastic surgery trends on her channel, uploaded a now viral video dissecting Kim and Khloe's shrinking frames. She speculated that they had their BBLs revised and reduced, in what is referred to as a "country club BBL". "The Reign of the Slim-Thick Influencer is OVER", the title declared.

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The end of that reign has been met with a sigh of relief for some women who aren't naturally built like Nicki Minaj or unwilling to undergo the notoriously dangerous surgical procedures in order to be. The dangers of the BBL are well documented. A medical report in 2017 stated that it has a mortality rate of 1 in 3,000 patients, making it one of the most deadly cosmetic surgery procedures in the world. Still, understandably, some women are frustrated to see backs turn on the aesthetic, feeling it was more inclusive than the previously held standard of thinness.

"Some women are happy to see the BBL trend ‘end’ because they enjoyed the privilege of slim bodies being the most desired," journalist Chloe Sih tweeted recently. "Curvy bodies becoming more celebrated takes away from that power. It reaffirms their internalised fatphobic belief that slim bodies are respectable and timeless."

Whilst there is some truth in the tweet, the inverse is of course true, too: BBL bodies as a trend similarly reinforced the idea that women who are flat chested, who are slim without being "slim thick" were not desirable. The issue is these body types being posited against each other; the whole point of reducing women's bodies to trends is so that women have to duke it out. And whilst BBLs celebrate "curves", it's only ever been curves in the "right" places. Deposits of fat are welcome in bum cheeks; less so in the stomach. As a standard it was not any more inclusive, since standards by their very definition are exclusionary. One body type has to go out of fashion for another to come in; the huge boobs of the ’90s are replaced with the huge bums of the last decade, as if women's bodies are able to contort and change of their own accord based on societal whims.

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Moreover, the rise of BBLs were largely alienating to the very women whose bodies it emulated. Black women make up a large portion of patients for the surgery. Last year, a Twitter user uploaded a video of their flight back to Atlanta from the Dominican Republic, showing predominantly women being transported through the airport in wheelchairs after the procedure. In an article for Refinery 29, speaking of the trend's demise, a Black woman outlined how she felt like if she didn't have a BBL, she "wouldn't be able to even think of [herself] as a Black woman".

The return of thinness doesn't leave slim Black women any better off either, though. For years, when discussing thinness as a body standard, there's been a level of intellectual dishonesty or, at the very least, erasure of how these standards operate within some non-white cultures. The BBL body type has been, and will likely remain, the dominant standard within the Black community. Whilst its welcoming in wider society was relatively new, for most Black women it's all we’ve ever known. This has often left Black, slim women outside of beauty standards both within the mainstream by virtue of being Black, and within their own communities because of their body type. When I interviewed Jourdan Dunn for the cover of Vogue in 2019, she touched on this. "Being Caribbean, everybody in my family has curves," she explained. "My mum is curvy, my cousins… When I was younger, I was actually thinking of having calf implants."

Her story resonated with me. As a teen, I was deemed "lucky" by white peers for being very thin whilst simultaneously reaching an E cup by the time I was in my final year at school. "Skinny with big tits" was what they aspired to. Meanwhile I was buying protein shakes to try and gain weight in order to emulate the curvaceous women I saw in rap and R’n’B music videos. My size was a constant source of insecurity growing up. The eventual slowing of my metabolism and weight gain so many fear as they get older however, was welcomed by me with open arms. I am reminded of that time when I see the stick rapper Coi Leray continues to get for her small frame, constantly pitted against shapely peers like Cardi B and Saweetie by critics. "Get used to this lil ass cause I ain't never gonna stop shaking it," she said in response to body shamers last year.

When women's bodies are perceived as trends and given the same treatment as clothes, there are no winners, except dieticians and plastic surgeons. Women risked their health in corsets in the 16th century, starving themselves in the "heroin chic" era, and on the operating table in recent decades to achieve curves. They’ll do the same whenever the next thing comes in, too. For now, slimmer women are placed on a pedestal until the next body type takes over. And of course, it's primarily women whose physiques drop on or off a "hot or not" list. Then the women who buckle and choose to align themselves with what they’re told they should look like are shamed by men for not "loving their body" – the same body that they’re told on a daily basis comes up short, and simultaneously is the only thing about them that matters.

By Yomi Adegoke