Confession: This beauty editor is a diehard devotee of the Kult of Kylie, by which I mean I like big butts (and large lips) and I cannot lie.
My personal preference is perfectly aligned with the aspirations of the It-est Instagirls today, all of whom are checking into clinics and grandstanding their #gains for the ‘Gram. (Check out the hashtags #KylieJennerLips and #BootyForDays if you want photographic proof.)
This millennial-led pivot towards “plastic” puckers and posteriors is a puzzling phenomenon, particularly if you still own slogan tees plastered with the phrase, “Does my butt look big in this?” (Remember those? Yeah, I thought so.)
"What, then, does it say about society if we’re appropriating the anatomy of African Americans and declaring their bodies to be desirable — and when does racy become racist?"
Perhaps most perturbing is the fact that this fad appears to be genuinely global in scope. A Kylie-worshipping Korean teen made headlines earlier this year for parading her post-surgical body on talk show Hello Counsellor; while in Singapore, the aestheticians I’ve approached also acknowledge an increase in inquiries on injectables.
“The number of Singaporean women looking for lip and butt fillers has spiked by about 30 percent this year,” observes Dr Karen Soh, medical director of Privé Clinic. Ditto for Dr Joshua Chong of South Bridge Aesthetics: “There’s been a definite surge in demand for fillers at my practice, with lip jobs being administered about thrice a week.”
Shrinks are suitably spooked by the ramifications of this recent ardour for artificiality among adolescents. “Social media’s normalisation of an exaggerated feminine form is partly responsible for our ‘addiction’ to aesthetic surgery,” notes clinical psychologist Jeanie Chu of The Resilienz Clinic. “But it is also a reflection of deep-seated insecurities and low self-esteem, which may be problematic in the long run.” Cue the stirring strings of Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful.
All of which begs the billion-dollar question: Should we be raising a collective non-Botoxed brow over all this nipping and tucking — and who can we blame for this boom in big bums?
Kim and Kylie (no last names needed) are of course the most conspicuous and convenient scapegoats for our current obsession with outsized body parts. The younger of the two has arguably outmatched her older sister in sheer sway over the cultural conversation this year; no news cycle is complete without fresh fodder on the fakery of the possibly (or definitely?) pregnant Jenner’s increasingly inflated figure.
But on the other hand (or is it the other butt), the devil’s advocate in me would like to point out that surgical sculpting isn’t the only road to Rome. One can always wield the magic of makeup to conjure up all sorts of smoke and mirrors: Amateurs at artful deception can turn to YouTube (or Elle.sg, for that matter) for blow-by-blow classes on contouring and contorting your facial features into oblivion.
And yet, countless cyber-bytes of e-ink have been spilt on think-pieces analysing the alleged alterations that have slowly but surely transformed Kylie Jenner 2.0 into a scary simulacrum of a living and breathing being. As medical director of Radium Medical Aesthetics Dr Siew Tuck Wah puts it, “she’s trending towards looking like a badly manufactured sex doll”.
Black is the new black
Cue the enormous elephant in the room sitting squarely at the centre of this issue: Large lips and a big booty are “trends” that are intimately intertwined with the physique of black women.
What, then, does it say about society if we’re appropriating the anatomy of African Americans and declaring their bodies to be desirable — and when does racy become racist?
To be fair, the fetishisation of femme noire is rampant among rappers of colour themselves. Twerking tushes fill virtually every frame of videos from hip-hop artists the likes of The Game to The Weeknd, and all those delectable derrieres on display can worm their way into the psyche of women with more modest assets.
"There are already deeply disquieting signs that society is transitioning into what I’ll call a post-human phase."
Take this running commentary from a colleague viewing the latest Meek Mill MV the other day: “Darn it, those dancers at the back are making me feel guilty about not doing more squats.” And because ain’t nobody has time for leg lunges at the gym, why fault girls like her for wanting to buy their way to an instantly bouncier bottom?
Stigma of cosmetic surgery aside, one can make the case that our current celebration of curves counts as progress when held up against the historical denigration of black bodies as “freaks of nature” (see: The sad spectacle of the Hottentot Venus in 19th century Europe).
Also, consider this: Next year’s Pirelli calendar will shine a spotlight on an all-black cast of power players from Naomi Campbell to Adwoa Aboah, with the spread being styled by Edward Enninful, the first male black editor-in-chief of British Vogue and a boundary-breaker in his own right.
An age of androids?
All of this appears to augur well for the positive portrayal of ethnic minorities, but I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: The insular world of beauty is far from inclusive. Speaking as an industry insider, I know for a fact that — and let’s be brutally blunt here — wiry white models will always be “in”, no matter the cultural climate.
As it stands, cosmetic fads are confoundingly cyclical — a dewy complexion is “out” this year, but I’m betting it’ll make a comeback like, now — so what will happen when the pendulum swings and the powers-that-be deem Kylie’s full figure to be démodé once again?
The bleak answer: Shiny toy-chasing schoolgirls will simply shrug and revert to restricting their calories. “Never underestimate the herd instinct of our youth,” warns Dr Lim Boon Leng, psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness. “The psychosocial pressure to conform will continue to contribute to cases of body dysmorphia well into the future.”
"At the end of the day, only one thing should matter — the perfectly imperfect, breathing and bleeding person underneath."
There are already deeply disquieting signs that society is transitioning into what I’ll call a post-human phase.
Meet Lil Miquela, the makeup muse who’s stealthily setting herself up to #BreakTheInternet any minute now. The only issue with our inscrutable ingénue and her preternaturally poreless skin? No one can hold claim to categorical evidence of her existence in the flesh, with Lil Miquela’s fans fractured into factions of Real and Not Real.
So is she an avatar, or is she an actual human trolling the ‘Gram by deliberately distorting her features to appear disconcertingly doll-like? We may never know for sure: The puppet master managing her Instagram handle is (at the time of writing) maintaining a maddeningly sphinxlike silence.
Well, if Lil Miquela continues keeping mum, the onus is on observers like yours truly to speak up. So here’s an open reminder to women reading this: Getting all glammed up with glitter and gloss can be truly therapeutic, but makeup is merely makeup. At the end of the day, only one thing matters — the perfectly imperfect, breathing and bleeding person underneath.
"Buy" the way
$900: Average cost of lip fillers in Singapore
$4,000: Average cost of 100 ml of filler for butt enhancement in Singapore
$16,000: Approximate cost required to achieve the girth of Kim Kardashian’s butt
25,739: Number of butt enhancement surgeries undertaken worldwide in 2016
28,430: Number of lip enhancement surgeries undertaken in the US in 2016