the modern body: surgery on the marketplace
The controversial and popular surgery brazilian butt lift (BBL) is an iconic feature of popular culture. I want to take a sociological perspective on this phenomenon, as most articles covering the BBL only consider the medical risks and mortality rate. None have spoken about the sociocultural significance of the surgery, what it’s popularity means and how it has impacted the social media marketplace.
In 2020, surgeons performed 40,000 butt augmentation procedures that brought in $140 million worth of revenue, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The number of butt augmentation surgeries — also called Brazilian butt lifts or “BBLs” — increased by 90.3% between 2015 to 2019.
Big bottom aesthetics and narratives have always been welded to particular women’s bodies. Whilst this is a general overview, this observation is still an accurate analysis of prevailing sterotypes on this body. In contemporary interpretations of bodies and body politics, liberation for marginalised femme bodies is often seen as being desirable, which is dangerous and problematic. On a global modern scale, excessive bottoms have now entered the global market as ‘erotic capital’. Connected to this are the ways the online landscape is predicated on the maintenance of specific standards of beauty. Disempowered women’s place in this is reified in the margin: as the obscure and the outsider. The capitalist solution to this has been to create a desirable alternative femme body that is over-sexualised, iconistic and singular in its’ representation of femininity. Despite the presence of an urban celebration of ample curves within subcultures, this marginalisation more importantly speaks to the politics of body confinement and the consequences of beauty violence.
Despite popular culture seeing femmes as consumers and producers of the aesthetics of rear excess, these body parts have been commodified as transracial sexual objects of desire. Culture industries are engaged in mass, global commodification of this body part which affirms patriarchal power over femme bodies. These objects that sell in the global marketplace — the same ones that become iconistic in representations of womanhood and femininity are welded to the popular culture icons, the Kardashians. The family engage in a pointed and specific alignment with curvy body culture and they have successfully manufactured a constantly changing, yet always perfect face and body. Instagram filters are created in their mirror image, and the cyborg face of beauty remains uniformed and distinctly ambiguous. There is an insidious connection between the recent turn away from excessive aesthetics and their distancing from popular urban cultural aesthetics, but that calls for another post.
Excessive aesthetics in popular culture are assumed to always already be a part of women’s embodiment. Mega influencers sport this manufactured body in an effort to communicate wealth, glamour, desire and excess. In a dark way, the marketplace’s connection to the body rests on it’s desirability and fungibility. Shirley Anne Tate tells us that the manufactured excessive bottom speaks to a turning away from the politics of respectability because respectability is a thinly-veiled attempt to render the marginalised body as the ‘alter-native’. The woman’s bottom is consumed by confines misogynoir and patriarchy. The manufacture of the bottom for western women created a marketplace that has now dictated what the “right body” is. To what extent can the privacy and intimacy of rear aesthetics remain separate from the public marketplace? This place is the epicentre for alienation. There is a clear difference between the cannibalised bottom and the manufactured excess bottom available to wealthy women — its’ revalorisation on the marketplace makes this clear.
As the modern body continues to change, and as the interconnectedness of social media dictates how we can achieve capital through our bodies, there is little discussion of the material consequences of this all encompassing desire for beauty capital and negotiation.