Film Editor Jessica Parker discusses the body image trend cycle and celebrity transparency

Print & Features Editor and MA Film and Television: Research and Production student.
Images by Joeyy Lee

TikTok’s ever-spiralling trend cycle has picked up a new naturally unattainable body image ideal in surgical buccal fat removal. So, what is buccal fat removal? Surgeon Naveen Cavale of Battersea’s Real Clinic describes the procedure as “what it says on the tin. It involves removing part of the fat from the buccal fat pad – tissue that is located deep within the cheek”.  

The ultimate aim of the procedure is a more defined and chiselled cheek, as seen recently on the likes of Chrissy Teigen

The ultimate aim of the procedure is a more defined and chiselled cheek, as seen recently on the likes of Chrissy Teigen, who publicly admitted to having had the procedure done to her 41 million Instagram followers on her story. Other high-profile figures speculated to have undergone buccal fat removal surgery include actress Lea Michele and supermodel Bella Hadid. The sudden craze for the surgery has sparked a range of mixed responses, asking trend-followers to consider whether it is worth going under the knife for what might be just another surgical fad. 

Since TikTok broke onto the social media scene in 2017, trends have been cycled through at a rapid pace. From cult makeup brands to clothing aesthetics, the trend cycle can take on many forms, and not all are harmless. What body types and physical features are sought after by the masses fluctuate, often following their own cycle that encourages unhealthy eating habits and surgical enhancements. Although self-care and acceptance of body types have improved over recent years, it is hard not to see parallels today with harmful trends that have cycled through in the past. 

Consider the ‘heroin chic’ look of the 1990s, a supermodel-influenced trend that promoted a sickly and unwell appearance to fit in. Subsequently, the body image trend cycle encouraged disordered eating and troubling lifestyle changes to look the part. In 2016 the Kardashians, a reality TV family, increased popularity for the ‘hourglass’ figure. This brought a surge of popular surgical enhancements, including Brazilian buttlifts, hip injections, and lip filler. In 2022 the Kardashians appeared to have begun reversing many of their procedures, opting for a less full appearance. Fans took to Twitter to point out this shift in body image ideals, with one user stating, “And just like that… the BBL was gone”. The actions of the Kardashians appear to be a current indicator of where the cycle is, as along with their rejection of their previous surgical exploits came the buccal fat removal trend: opposing fullness and aspiring for sharp features. 

Conversations range from incredibly pro-plastics to the polar opposite, and consider how trends in body images can be very harmful

In December 2022, Lea Michele posted an Instagram selfie in which her cheekbones looked noticeably gaunter and more defined, sparking discourse about the possibility that she had had buccal fat removal. Michele has never commented on whether or not she has undergone the procedure. However, fans’ shocked reactions at Michele’s appearance sparked a tirade of TikTok videos examining her face, discussing what buccal fat removal is, and pointing the finger at other celebrities who may have had it. TikTok often has a similar response concerning the body-image trend cycle, as seen with many other surgical fixations like lip lifts and nose job side-profile checks. Conversations range from incredibly pro-plastics to the polar opposite, and consider how trends in body images can be very harmful. Yet, considerations of bodily autonomy stay at the forefront of these discussions. 

Although only publicly admitting to having had a nose job, Bella Hadid has become a poster child for buccal fat removal and plastic surgery trends. Speaking with Vogue in March 2022, Hadid opened up about undergoing her nose job at only 14, and the regret that went along with this decision, exemplifying how ingrained and normalised chasing bodily ideas is for those in the public eye, even from such a young age. Hadid’s adult appearance is noticeably different from when she was younger, sparking many public debates about whether she has had more work done than she admits to. Speaking on the matter, Hadid said, “I have never used filler. Let’s just put an end to that. I have no issue with it, but it’s not for me.” Many believe Hadid had more procedures than she lets on, including buccal fat removal.  

Although the stigmas surrounding plastic surgery are far from as damaging as they once were, it is hard to determine whether public figures should have to be completely transparent about their surgeries. On the one hand, that is their private business; however, if someone of Hadid’s standing were to hide that they had cosmetic procedures, like buccal fat removal, this would enforce unattainable body-image standards harmful to impressionable audiences. With this slew of celebrities having possibly partaken in this trend, it is not a far stretch to imagine that this rejection of full appearances is due to continue. As trends ebb and flow, it is hard to anticipate the next surgical craze. 

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