By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For The Birmingham Times
All she wanted to do was “live again.”
Jennifer, a 31-year-old Birmingham resident and married mother of two, wasn’t happy with herself and decided on a medical procedure “to gain my confidence back,” she said.
“We as women go through a lot in everyday life, and when you’re not happy with yourself you’re not really living, you’re just existing. I wanted to live again,” she said. The procedure that helped Jennifer get her life back was a Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL), a fat-grafting procedure during which a skilled cosmetic surgeon removes excess fat from the hips, abdomen, lower back, or thighs via liposuction and then strategically injects a portion of that fat into the hips and buttocks, altering the shape and size.
What began with the rise of social media models and influencers showcasing overnight transformations with sleek abdomens and curvaceous figure-eight physiques, the BBL craze went mainstream and caught the attention of many, including Jennifer, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy (the same has been done for all other interviewees in this article, except for medical professionals).
Jennifer, who had her BBL two years ago, didn’t “do it for the ’gram [Instagram]” or to model herself after any social media influencers or celebrities, she said, adding that choosing to have the BBL procedure “was solely based upon me and how I felt.”
For Jennifer, the BBL was not just about her backside: “It was me looking at my damn stomach hang,” she laughed.
Her stomach hanging was her problem area, while the shapelier butt was a bonus.
“It wasn’t about an Instagram model or celebrity, it was about me and what I saw in the mirror that didn’t sit well with me,” Jennifer said. “A lot of people say you can work out and get the results, but in my [experience] that wasn’t true. I worked out, I lost weight, but I still wasn’t happy. … It was a mental thing.”
After giving birth to her two children, Jennifer was researching liposuction and discovered the BBL.
“I didn’t even know what a BBL was,” she said. “I was interested in getting liposuction, but I came across the BBL while doing my research and noticed that, hey, [I could] get a two-for-one. I also had a breast augmentation, [a cosmetic procedure to alter the breasts], after my BBL.”
Jennifer has a successful career in the finance industry, a husband, and two children. Mentally and emotionally, she’s secure, but she believes the challenges women face with being comfortable in their skin is a complex issue that has more to do with being happy with what they see in the mirror and less to do with low self-esteem.
Asked if she believes that undergoing cosmetic surgery is indicative of low self-worth, Jennifer replied, “Absolutely not.”
“You can want to change something about your physical appearance without having low self-worth,” she added. “After having my kids, I became unhappy with how my body had changed.”
The BBL, which was pioneered by Brazilian surgeon Ivo Pitanguy in the 1960s, has grown in popularity. According to a recent New York Times article, “Women have increasingly opted for buttock-augmentation procedures in recent years, according to practitioners—a surgery that has grown as fast as any other cosmetic procedure in recent memory.”
Despite the fact that the procedure can pose substantial dangers, including death, some women have been willing to travel thousands of miles and even risk their lives for it.
In May, Tandra Bowser-Williams, a 49-year-old New York City corrections captain died after having a massive stroke following her BBL procedure in Santo Domingo, the capitol of the Dominican Republic.
In August 2020, 25-year-old Courteney Smith flew from England to Turkey to have her BBL procedure; she suffered complications during the operation and was left with severe scarring and heart issues she will battle for the rest of her life.
In September 2019, 40-year-old Sivan Himmelman traveled from Los Angeles, California, to Tijuana, Mexico, for her procedure and suffered numerous complications. Her recovery period brought on severe bacterial infections, tissue dying (necrosis), scarring, wound ruptures, and abscesses that left her permanently mentally, physically, and emotionally scarred.
With the increased popularity of the procedures, many surgeons are performing as many as 15 to 20 surgeries in one day, “oftentimes not giving [patients] the attention [they] deserve since the [doctors] are constantly focusing on getting to the next patient,” said Matthew Schulman, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon based in New York City, who has performed more than 5,000 BBLs. He warned that complications are often the result of discount surgeries that are done when surgeons are overbooked.
In 2017, an Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation (ASERF) task force surveyed plastic surgeons about the BBL procedure and found it to have a mortality rate of one in 3,000 patients. Since then, techniques have been evaluated, and a new article published in the spring of 2020 declared a new mortality rate of 1 in 14,952 when a board-certified plastic surgeon properly performs the procedure.
Numbers Continue To Soar
Despite some highly reported BBL deaths and the mortality rate, the numbers of patients undergoing the procedure continue to soar. The Aesthetic Society reported that 40,320 buttock augmentations, which included both implants and fat grafting, were performed in 2020; 61,387 were performed in 2021.
Kimberly Prevo, a certified body contouring specialist and CEO of Divine Exquisite Nature, located in Homewood, Alabama, has urged women to proceed with caution when considering a BBL.
“It comes with health risks, [as well as] downtime during recovery,” she said. “Also, some people put themselves in a financial bind to have this procedure done.”
Trina, a 32-year-old Hoover, Alabama, resident who had a BBL and a tummy tuck (also known as abdominoplasty, which removes excess fat and skin and restores weakened muscles to create a smoother, firmer abdominal profile), acknowledged that she had apprehensions ahead of her surgery this spring.
“I was really scared. I wanted this done, but I knew it was risky,” she said. “All kinds of thoughts were going through my head. I was hoping I didn’t die on the table or get blood clots and die. I was more afraid of getting [the BBL than I was for the tummy tuck] because [the BBL] is one of the most dangerous cosmetic procedures out there. … But I took my chance because I was insecure with my body and had faith that God would see me through.”
The procedure was important for her because her insecurities with her body became more pronounced after she had her daughter at a young age, Trina said.
“I always had love handles, and they were awful. No matter how much weight I lost, if I gained the weight back [the love handles] doubled,” she said. “[Initially], I was going to just get lipo done, but my [surgery] coordinator said I had a lot of loose skin, so I went ahead with the tummy tuck first.”
That one procedure led to others, including the BBL.
It’s no surprise that women have second and third procedures following their first one because “plastic surgery is addictive,” said Trina.
“I had a tummy tuck nine months prior to having the BBL,” she added. “The tummy tuck did give me some curves, but my buttocks [weren’t] lifted like I wanted. … That’s when I decided that I was going to go back for a BBL.”
Trina has had no complications, but she can’t say the same for others who were at the clinic for operations while she was there.
“I recall there being more than 10 girls, probably close to 20, waiting to have their procedures after me,” she said. “When I woke up, there was this girl screaming so loud, but I couldn’t see her because they had the curtain closed. They moved her away from me.”
Overall, Trina said she is satisfied with her new body but may go back for what is called a second-round BBL projection procedure, which modifies how far the buttocks protrude outward.
“I love the results from my BBL, but I feel like [the surgeon] could’ve put more fat into [my buttocks],” said Trina, who is four months post-op. “[Women who have undergone the surgery and doctors] say you’re not going to see real results for three to six months. … My [rear end] has grown a lot since my surgery, so I’m gonna wait and see if I want to go back for my second-round BBL. … They say you’ve gotta trust the process, and that’s what I’m doing.”