Social media has been the breeding ground of beauty trends for years. What started as innocent trends, like new makeup looks or hacks to achieve the perfect curl, has evolved into full-fledged body alterations, and the pressure to look a certain way is reaching new heights. Plastic surgery has been around for years, but up until recently there was a large gap between the amount of celebrities and models getting work done compared to the general population. Now that gap is getting thinner, and so are everyone’s cheeks.
We’ve seen “Brazilian Butt Lifts” blow up booties and lip fillers perk up puckers get lots of attention online. However, the most recent body trend is more bizarre than beautiful. Buccal (pronounced “buckle”) fat removal has taken the online world by storm. Introduced to the beauty scene as a way to achieve those eye-catching, chiseled, Bella Hadid-like cheekbones that have been pushed as the most recent beauty standard for women.
The trend got its start on TikTok in the last months of 2022, accumulating over 172.5 million views on the app alone. Between users sharing videos about their experiences getting the procedure, and plastic surgeons applauding those who’ve partaken in the trend, it seems like all signs are pointing the average social media user towards their nearest clinic.
Unlike other beauty trends, opting for plastic surgery is nothing like choosing to do your eyebrows in a new way. The procedure, which ranges from $5,000 to $20,000, consists of creating incisions on the inside of the mouth to access the buccal fat pad found on the inside of either cheek. This naturally occurring fat varies in size, and is necessary for chewing and protecting the jaw bones from external impact. Such an invasive surgery poses health complications like infections or permanent nerve damage.
Despite the various health risks and costs that the surgery entails, many social media users have been quick to get under the knife and remove the fat to achieve a more sculpted face. Cosmetic surgeons across the country have seen an upsurge in people enthusiastic to get work done — there was an astonishing 70% increase in bookings reported in 2021, with the trend still on an uphill climb.
Those participating in the craze are getting younger and younger, with some people as young as 21-years-old hopping on the trend. Even celebrities, who are typically expected to denounce all accusations of body alterations, are now owning their efforts to look a certain way. Former model and celebrity host Chrissy Tiegan took to Instagram in October 2021 to say that she has “no shame” in her decision to remove her buccal fat, and asserted that it was what she needed to feel confident again after having children.
But is this real confidence? Putting one’s health in danger to achieve a look that the internet says is the next hottest thing? Surprisingly, most of the glamorizing of buccal fat removal comes from the same online voices that supported the Body Positive Movement, which was popularized online in the early 2010’s. The movement promotes self-acceptance and creates awareness of the emotional toll that beauty standards have on everyone, especially women.
So what’s changed since then? Why have we strayed from the path that was leading us to a culture that celebrates all natural appearances, and reverted back to the mentality that being thinner is better?
For one thing, the pandemic took a toll on emotional and mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t help that the majority of everyone’s time during quarantine was spent scrolling online, creating the opportunity for social media users to compare themselves to perfect-looking influencers and celebrities. Unfortunately, this trend is more serious than what we’ve seen booming online before: it preys on the low self-confidence that the majority of people are dealing with due to prolonged social isolation. A recent study by Claremont College shows that social isolation lowers self-esteem and self-acceptance. With everyone yearning to work their way back into society and reach some sort of normalcy again, it’s no wonder why these trends have been so successful.
In order to combat this new phenomenon that tries to normalize artificial beauty, we need to revisit efforts to create a society that celebrates all bodies and faces, and combat the narrative that there’s a “right” way to look. There needs to be a line drawn in how much we let social media dictate our lives. Bodies should not have to adapt to online trends.
If there’s one thing this new craze has right, it’s that being confident is the best way to feel attractive. And that’s something that we all have the power to create within ourselves, without the need for invasive surgeries.