Like many sisters, Wykesha Reid looked in her mirror and longed for a bigger butt. Nature had carved her curves, but she thought that enhancing what she’d already been gifted with would make her even more attractive. Her family says she visited a salon in Dallas for a first, then a second and then a third round of butt injections, each one giving her a shape she was increasingly proud to show off.
Her fourth visit in February killed her. Police found her body in the salon the morning after her appointment. She’d been left alone, her purse and cellphone stolen, the practitioners who’d allegedly injected her backside with a deadly cocktail of chemicals deciding that her life wasn’t even worth an immediate 911 call before they abandoned her.
The average cost of a buttock augmentation performed by an accredited plastic surgeon: $4,383 with implants—about $250 less if supplemental fat is grafted from another part of the body.
The average cost of illegal butt injections rendered by unlicensed anybodies who use superglue, motor oil, cement, silicone, sometimes Fix-a-Flat to compose the vilest of concoctions: as little as $500, but the side effects are frequently causing horrid disfiguration. Most tragically, black women are literally dying for big booties.
There always exists some impossible benchmark to which we must aesthetically aspire in order to qualify our beauty. If it’s not the shade of our skin, it’s the gold standard of hair length and texture. If it’s not the gold standard of hair length and texture, it’s the composition of our facial features. If it’s not the composition of our facial features, it’s the shape of our bodies.
Black women are constantly being told—expressly and subliminally—that we’re not quite good enough as is. And because of that running script, we’ve cashed into everything from “iron maiden” body shapers to Malaysian weave hair to get there. Lift those up. Suck that in. Enhance this. Poke that out. Tone this up. Be pretty. Look fit. To get the look. To keep the look. To get the job. To keep the job. To get the man. To keep the man.
The health-jeopardizing, life-endangering uptick in illegal butt injections is directly related to our desire to be pleasing to the eyes of men. We’re vulnerable to their affirmations. (I don’t care if you personally aren’t. If this is a real sisterhood—and it is—then what afflicts one afflicts us all.) Even if some of us rebuke it outwardly, others are validated by the “damn, girl” and “hey, sexy” comments men throw at us when we walk by. Even the most empowered, autonomous, fist-pumping woman wants to be attractive to the opposite sex.
We’re socialized to want men’s approval. Their comments and compliments, even ever so slightly, affect how we feel about ourselves. As we work to get married or stay married, we’re conditioned to believe that being a bombshell will stave off the mighty curse of singleness.
It’s why we’re having this ridiculous conversation about being unsexy when we wear bonnets to bed at night. It’s why we’ll commute to work in 5-inch stilettos instead of sneakers. It’s why so many black women have copied the prototype of the round-butt ladies who rack up the social media likes, who make the most money at the club, who get the head-turning looks on the street. Men’s obsession with thick girls has become our obsession, their booty worship now our booty worship.
One woman in Washington, D.C., who admitted having the procedure done along with some girlfriends, told USA Today, “If you’re in a club with 100 women and 80 percent have had it done, it’s kind of like you have a competitive edge.” Insecurity is a mind-altering and dangerous drug. So, too, is the belief that you’re lacking something, especially when you think it’s evident to anyone who looks at you that you’re lacking it.
We’ll never cull precise numbers of how many sisters have sacrificed their safety in the secret backrooms of salons and hotel “pumping parties” in pursuit of the kinds of bodies that we’re told black women are supposed to have. Transgender women, succumbing to the same idealized image of how our bodies should be shaped, are also using the evil potion.
Black women have statistically enjoyed more body confidence than white women, but it’s not unchallenged. What started out as a celebration of our bodies against the mandates of mainstream standards of beauty has morphed into a monolithic version of our own. Just as there’s no one way to be a black woman, there’s no one way we’re all supposed to be built.
Rest in paradise, Claudia Aderotimi. Shatarka Nuby. Tamara Blaine. Karima Gordon. And now, Wykesha Reid.