UPDATE: Today, news emerged that a second British woman died after undergoing a Brazilian bum lift. An inquest into her death will begin next year.
Leah Cambridge, a 29-year-old mother of three from Leeds, was self-conscious about her stomach after giving birth to her three children. And, like nearly 30,000 other British women every year, she decided to get plastic surgery, opting for a popular but increasingly controversial procedure called the Brazilian bum-lift.
The procedure reshapes the patients bum, by transferring fat from other areas of the body, and is marketed as a safer alternative to implants due to the “natural” fat used.
But its safety is being brought into question, after Cambridge died following surgery at the Elite Aftercare Clinic in Izmir, Turkey, an establishment frequented by the reality stars we are increasingly emulating – Lauren Goodger, Georgia Kousoulou and Amber Turner of TOWIE fame, as well as Geordie Shore’s Chloe Ferry.
A leading plastic surgeon, Foued Hamza, says the procedure has seen more than a 50% increase in the UK compared with five years ago. Data released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons showed a huge 252% rise in surgeries to enlarge buttocks between 2000 to 2015, making it one of the most popular procedures in the States.
Cambridge is just one of the many fatalities reported globally. The deaths of dozens of women in Latin America have been blamed on synthetic polymers commonly used during the operation, Sky reported.
Last year, Brit Donna Francis was sentenced to 12 years in a US prison, after giving unlicensed silicone injections to 34-year-old Kelly Mayhew, who died just minutes after the botched operation. Francis gave Mayhew three injections in her bottom in the basement of her house in New York. On the third dose, the 34-year-old “turned purple" and immediately went into shock, The Sun reported.
Just months ago, celebrity Brazilian cosmetic surgeon Denis “Dr Bumbum” Furtado was arrested on murder charges, following the death of one of his patients.
The mainstream rise of the bum-lift also illustrates how women’s body types are subject to trends. Overall use of cosmetic surgery is actually decreasing. Data from the 2017 British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) Annual Audit showed that the number of Brits undergoing surgery was down 7.9% from the previous year. They suggest that filter tools on social-media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat mean many people "no longer see the need" for some procedures, as evidenced by a 44% drop in facial cosmetic surgery.
Whether it’s Kim Kardashian or Pamela Anderson we are attempting to emulate, women’s bodies and, more importantly, lives, are continually being put at risk
But the same data showed that procedures for the body are a new fixation, as women try to change areas like bottoms that "filters cannot reach".
"There are fewer options to reach online 'fitspiration' when it comes to body goals," explained consultant plastic surgeon and former BAAPS president, Rajiv Grover.
But within the black and latino communities, procedures with the aim of increasing the size of your bum are by no means new.
And it’s women of colour who may have suffered most as a result. A recent documentary by BET, Killer Curves: Bodies To Die For, found that victims of botched black-market injections were disproportionately women of colour, due to the pressure to adhere to the body ideals set within their own communities, coupled with a lack of access to safer but more costly procedures. The injections used were often incredibly dangerous, and despite being peddled as being comprised of “saline”, often contained mineral oil, tire fluid and even cement.
The introduction of Kim Kardashian to the mainstream, and her relentless domination of it, has seen women of all races attempting to emulate her body type, which has been heavily informed by black beauty standards, including a large behind.
“For decades, the ideal female body type was said to be tall and thin,” a press release for the recent documentary by BET, Killer Curves: Bodies To Die For, said. “In recent years however, the rise of video vixens and reality TV stars have redefined and influenced that image in a profound way. Today, thousands of women are resorting to risky body modifications with an obsession to emulate the exaggerated curves of pop culture celebrity figures like Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, and Cardi B.”
So, in the same way many working-class women of colour took to cheaper, more risky alternatives, women in the UK such as Cambridge are now seeking out cheap, overseas clinics – procedures in Turkey are advertised at prices more than 70% cheaper than in Britain.
Last year, a survey of 692 surgeons from across the world found 32 patients had died from a condition called a fat embolism, where the injected fat travels to other parts of the body that it shouldn't. Cambridge’s partner believes this may have been what led to her death, telling the media that “complications happened due to fat getting deposited into her bloodstream.”
But more needs to be known about why such surgery can be fatal. Jim Frame, professor of aesthetic plastic surgery at Anglia Ruskin University, called Brazilian bum-lifts “the deadliest of all aesthetic procedures” in a piece for The Conversation, but noted that fat injected into muscle for some breast enhancements has led to no reported deaths. “This suggests that there are other factors involved in the high mortality rate among Brazilian bum-lift patients.”
"Most of these deaths appear to have been caused by inappropriately qualified practitioners working in non-approved facilities, including homes and garages,” he added. “Other post-surgery problems, such as gangrene and sepsis, can also be fatal."
Cambridge’s devastated partner Scott says he told his girlfriend she was beautiful, but that she wanted the bum-lift “for her own confidence”.
"I didn't think this would ever happen – or could happen to her,” he told The Sun.
Whether it’s Kim Kardashian or Pamela Anderson we are attempting to emulate, and whatever community is affected, women’s bodies and, more importantly, lives, are continually being put at risk. We know the how and, increasingly, more about the why – so, what are we going to do about it?