People are Dying to Get Big Butts... Literally

Kim Kardashian in that infamous 'Paper' photoshoot/ Nicki Minaj in the "Anaconda" video/ Amber Rose on Instagram

The first time big booties hit the mainstream was in 1992, when Sir Mix-A-Lot released his now-infamous single, "Baby Got Back." By today's standards, the backsides on display in the accompanying video were positively teeny-tiny. But his vaguely comedic open declaration that big butts were beautiful was a refreshing concept at the time (even with all the rampant objectification involved) because beauty standards had been planted on the thinnest end of the scale for decades. To make matters worse, these body standards were in the midst of swinging firmly in the direction of the extreme: "heroin chic."

It's hard to even imagine why the single made such a splash now that rear-ends fall on a scale of standards where the ultimate goal seems to be "biggest is best." In a 2014 article, the International Business Times interviewed a Miami plastic surgeon named Dr. Constantino Mendieta, who posited that the beginning of the trend really took hold when Jennifer Lopez debuted her tropical green Grammy's dress in 2000. That, Dr. Mendieta says, is when he first saw an uptick in requests for surgical booty enhancements (rear-related operations had become 90 percent of his business by 2014).

Like Sir Mix-A-Lot's video ladies, the size of J-Lo's perfectly formed rear seems positively quaint by 2018 standards. Nicki Minaj may have been the first star with a truly supersized butt, but celebrities like Amber Rose, Blac Chyna, Sofía Vergara, Kylie Jenner, and Kim and Khloé Kardashian have taken things next level. There is a mountain of conjecture around whether these women's assets are actually real, but no one ever admits to having any work done.

But numbers don't lie. The number of butt lifts being performed in America has increased 213 percent since 2000 -- the increase between 2016 and 2017 alone was 18 percent. CNN reports that buttock implants "increased 98 percent, from 942 procedures in 2013 to 1,863 in 2014." That number went up even further to 2,540 in 2015. That same year, there were 14,705 butt-augmentations using fat grafting, a 28 percent increase from 2014. Needless to say, butt augmentation has become big business -- and fast. And the more people who indulge, the more other people want to join the club.

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Halfway through the first season of Netflix's She's Gotta Have It, audiences were shocked by a scene in which Nola Darling's best friend Shemekka heads to a cheap motel, hands over a fistful of cash, and receives illegal butt fillers. First, she is plied with hydrocodone and whiskey and told to lay face down on a bed. "Is this going to hurt?" she asks the woman with the industrially-sized needle.

What follows are close-ups of Shemekka screaming and crying as she is injected over and over again. The person performing the "procedure" simply tells her to "stop cryin' like a little bitch." The scene is shocking, and followed by another in which Shemekka tells Nola to congratulate her, and that her daughter thinks "it's pretty, like Nicki."

In case the audience isn't quite clear on who she's referring to, this pops up on screen:

 

In the next episode, Shemekka takes to the stage for her dance debut, showing off her new booty to rapturous applause and a cloud of dollar bills. At the end of her performance, she slips, falls, and her filler literally sprays all over a man in the front row as her skin ruptures under the strain. Shemekka winds up in the hospital with a blood infection.

The storyline was met with a wall of criticism. AV Club said: "The fact that the show has decided to torture and violently discipline Shemekka for her vanity is horrifying." Hello Giggles noted: "While illegal plastic surgery is a reality, Lee’s attempt to grapple with this for a twenty-something audience feels more like a parable that uses mansplaining to shame women who want to change their appearance."

The story did feel like too extreme to be grounded in any kind of reality. But in an interview with GQ this week, Cardi B admitted -- in her typically matter-of-fact manner -- that she underwent a similar procedure in 2014.  According to the magazine:

"Cardi claimed her ass from the universe in a basement apartment in Queens, where, for $800, a woman injected her buttocks with filler. 'They don't numb your ass with anything,' she says. 'It was the craziest pain ever. I felt like I was gonna pass out. I felt a little dizzy. And it leaks for, like, five days.'"

Still Cardi wanted to go back because it increased her income working at a strip club. "But by the time I was gonna go get it," she explained, "the lady got locked up 'cause she supposedly killed somebody. Well... somebody died on her table." In 2015, Cardi told The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1 that "I got it done in the basement, so I can die any day now.”

Spike Lee revealed to Nylon that his decision to write Shemekka's storyline for She's Gotta Have It was because backstreet fillers have become such an issue. “It pains me when I read how these majority black women are dying getting these bootleg back-alley butt injections with silicone, shit that you get from f**king Home Depot."

Lee is right. Because of how notoriously expensive plastic surgery is, illegal procedures have popped up to fill increasing demand. People offering these services have been found injecting women with everything from food-grade and industrial-grade silicone (as opposed to medical-grade), hydrogel, crazy glue, superglue, and even Fix-A-Flat.

Unsurprisingly, illegal procedures keep killing women -- almost all of whom are black. In 2011, Claudia Aderotimi, 20, died in Philadelphia, apparently convinced that a larger derrière could launch her music career. In 2015, Wykesha Reid, 34, and Kelly Mayhew, also 34, died. In 2017, Symone Marie Jones, aged 19, was killed trying to enhance her curves. The same year, Ranika Hall, 25, died after going to a legitimate plastic surgery clinic in Florida. In 2016, a man named Vinnie Taylor was sentenced to 12-15 years in prison after admitting to illegally performing over 3,000 injection sessions on women in hotel rooms -- one of whom died as a result.  And these deaths are just the tip of an iceberg that is increasingly difficult to keep track of.

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Pressures on women to conform to impossible beauty standards is certainly nothing new. But when the standard is one that cannot be achieved by diet and exercise alone, it can become dangerous for everyone involved -- especially the women whose income is reliant on their appearances. In the end, there are no easy answers, but the more widely risks of illegal filler procedures are highlighted, the better. Because at this stage, they have become normalized to a dangerous degree.

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