Black Women, Can We Talk About Plastic Surgery?

Are we risking our lives in pursuit of someone else’s idea of perfection?

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For New Years’ 2017, Dallas radio station K-104 ran a promotion they branded the New Booty for The New Year contest. Contestants were given the “opportunity to win $10,000 to pay for a cosmetic procedure, hire a personal trainer or nutritionist, get an exclusive gym membership, take fitness classes, hire a fashion stylist or buy a new wardrobe.” In order to win this contest you only needed to convince the radio hosts that you were most deserving. How, you ask? By showing them your undesirably small behind. Women were tripping over themselves to prove that they were most deserving of the bigger booty, but one lucky winner by the name of Johnetia S. took the grand prize. She spoke about her self described “flat booty” while the hosts laughed in agreement, but she didn’t mind. She was one step closer to her celebrity booty goals, Ms. Erykah Badu. But not everyone is lucky enough to win a $10,000 booty makeover. So what do you do when the hourglass figure of someone else’s dreams is a mere $5k-$10k above your budget? Well, for the mid tier earners Nicki Minaj suggests heading to the Dominican Republic in her song “Rich Sex”, where discount surgeons sell happiness for just a fraction of the cost. For those with tighter finances, pump parties and back alley injections are a viable option. Cardi B, who admitted to receiving illegal filler injections advised other women to do the same if they found themselves “uncomfortable” with their bodies. All while cavalierly acknowledging that she could “die any day now.” Sure, the risks are much greater but there’s nothing like filling out your favorite pair of jeans and propping that thang up on the counter for the perfect contorted selfie. I get it, buying an ass 3x the size of the one your thighs agreed to carry isn’t about attention or low self esteem or body dysmorphia or even following trends, it’s about… well I guess that’s what we need to figure out. So, Black women, can we talk about plastic surgery?

When it comes to securing the ideal European aesthetic, it appears there isn’t much we’re unwilling to do. From perms to bleaching to rhinoplasty, much of what we define as Black beauty has been dictated to us. And let’s be clear, this is a European body ideal we’re dealing with here. We don’t actually believe indigenous African cultures were reducing women and girls to their measurements, do we? I suppose It’s convenient to imply that the “ideal” female form, as we know it, is a derivative of African culture and genetic commonalities across the continent because then it makes our meaningless quest for perfection seem deeper than what it really is. But this is simply unfounded conjecture. Indigenous African culture emphasized embracing all aspects of the human form. With respect to “beauty” standards, rounder, fuller body types were thought to be reflective of affluence and health and therefore more desired. But the ever popular D cup meets 24 inch waist meets full diaper body image we all love and hate did not come from the motherland. In fact, we see the cinched waist and large chest aesthetic gain popularity during the Edwardian era and solidify itself under the guidance of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe, who hit the tomboy scene with a more refined version of the hourglass aesthetic made popular in Victorian England. The reality is that the majority of women are not naturally shaped like coke bottles, not even women of African descent. So how do we rectify that with a society that’s not only proclaiming that black women specifically must be shaped like belted balloon animals, but also says that the black women who aren’t are less desirable?

Well, we don’t. We capitulate to European standards for black bodies while dying in the process. And I mean that literally. We’re not just talking about pump parties and back alley injections claiming the lives of black women in droves, we’re also talking about surgeries performed in countries without proper safety and sanitation regulations. Countries like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Brazil, Panama, and Costa Rica where discounted surgeries attract Black women seeking quick fixes to their quests for happiness. Countries like the one I almost found myself in less than a year after having my son. I grew up in a family where body type, weight, and complexion weren’t acceptable topics of discussion. Any time my dad heard us tossing around the “F” word (fat), he quickly intervened. Reminding us through his adorably West African infused English that “Everyone is fat in his or her own way, but all of my daughters are beautiful.” It wasn’t until high school that I realized that I was what was known as a late bloomer and even at a predominately white all-girl school, this was a problem. Not for me, but definitely for the girls around me who were more anxious for my breasts to show up than I was. Things like sports kept me from feeling all that disadvantaged, I couldn’t run with those things anyway. But even after puberty made its way to my door, not much about my body changed and I was fine with that. It wasn’t until I moved to the south that I realized that this was an even bigger “problem”. Whether it was my new friends proudly showing me their before and after pictures or random women telling me what southern foods I needed to incorporate into my diet to get thick quick or my son’s father pacifying himself by reiterating that I would definitely “fill out” with child number 2, I was constantly bombarded with reminders of the “perfect body” I didn’t have. While I could appreciate the aesthetic of a curvy woman, I didn’t have any less appreciation for women shaped like me and why should I? Why did everybody feel at liberty to advise me on a body they didn’t know? Why couldn’t people just secure their happiness without disrupting mine? Over time I realized it wasn’t about happiness at all, not even for me but I was still going to go through with the procedure. Scouting sites like RealSelf where millions of women at various stages in their body transformations find community, encouragement, solace. After a lot of research I sent my deposit to Dr. Yily De Los Santos, a popular surgeon in the Dominican Republic who’s known for sculpting some of instagram’s most desirable booties. She was going to give me the body I had no idea I wanted.

A friend of mine, who had no issues in the booty department, had other concerns: the perfectly snatched waist. As a curvy girl all her life, she was never criticized for not having enough booty, in fact, she had more than her fair share, which made social outings with her somewhat difficult. I had no idea what it was like to have men follow me through the mall from store to store on account of my behind, for her it was an everyday thing. But what good was a big ass without the ridiculous Barbie waist to match? While the gym seemed like a better alternative to the waist cincher she’d basically affixed to her torso, she expressed serious concerns about losing some of her booty. That was a no-no. So surgery seemed like the most viable option. Here I was at 26 years old sitting in the guest room of the plastic surgeon’s office waiting for my 24 year old friend to finish having liposuction. What the hell were we doing?

Who were we trying to fool? This wasn’t our pursuit of happiness, this was a pursuit of validation. And it wasn’t just men whose validation we were seeking, it was women’s too. We were willing to risk our lives in pursuit of someone else’s idea of perfection, having completely lost sight of the rich diversity our community boasts all on its own. No, not all black women have big butts. No, it’s not a coincidence that butt augmentation and rhinoplasty are two of the most prominent surgical procedures among black women. No, other peoples bodies should not constitute our personal goals. Yes, it is absolutely a distortion of historical facts to allude to this recent phenomenon being birthed from West African culture. Yes, it is damaging to future generations of young women to encourage them to love themselves so long as they fit the mold society has provided. Yes, our community is putting itself into a serious state of disarray by pushing the contention that we can mutilate ourselves for the sake of happiness. I didn’t go through with the surgery I scheduled with Dr. Yily and it took me 3 years and a lot of self actualization to get to a place where I didn’t regret my decision not to. But at the core of my decision I had to accept that I was paying for and risking my health to satisfy someone else’s standards of beauty, not my own. If I’m not my hair, I’m most certainly not my ass. I’m not at the whim of whatever trends strangers decide are the “new black”. And as a black woman, I am the creator of all of these things anyway, the curvy and the slender, the pear shaped and the apple, the thin and the voluptuous. How could I ever feel less than with that as my truth?

The idea that black women should love themselves unless they don’t really like themselves is just weird and contradictory. Self love should be a requirement, not an opt out clause. I am guilty of seeing my friends engage in risky surgical procedures, choosing to pay for the validation we’re all guilty of wanting, remaining silent when I should have spoken out. Had my friends ended up like Icilma Cornelius, Latesha Bynum, Kizzy London, Claudia Aderotimi, Ranika Hall, or any of the other Black women who’ve lost their lives under the knife, the guilt would’ve been unimaginable. I wish for all black women to experience a self love and confidence that isn’t contingent upon the size and shape of the body parts. I wish for all black women to realize their value without the validation that comes from the “compliments” of random strangers. I will do my part to affirm and uplift black girls and black women of every complexion, every shape, and every size and until it sinks in, I’ll continue to proclaim that we are not the sum of our body parts. Until we actually believe it.

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