Lately, Americans haven’t been faring well in Mexico. So, when two Black Americans ended up dead, and two others kidnapped, just south of the U.S.- Mexico border, the questions rolled in: What happened? Who killed them and why? And what was a group of four people from South Carolina doing in a minivan in Matamoros?
The woman in the group, Latavia McGee, was going to Mexico for cosmetic surgery, and three others had joined her for the road trip. Latavia’s family and friends said the procedure she went there for was a “gluteal augmentation,” better known as a Brazilian butt lift, or BBL.
Millions of Americans seek this and other cosmetic procedures across the border every year. And even still, getting a BBL – in a place where the State Department warns Americans not to travel at all – has struck many of us as odd.
Before we judge or throw shade on this story, the very real truth is, people do this, and especially, a lot of Black people.
If you are a woman, especially a Black woman, on social media, you've had this targeted at you in your feed. Especially if you follow beauty and pop culture influencers. You don't have to go far to see it; it simply becomes a part of your algorithm whether you want it there or not.
The BBL is a real thing. It's also very expensive. Hence, Mexico. It’s less expensive. So, the idea that someone – in this case, a Black woman and her Black friends from Lake City, South Carolina - would drive across six states to have this surgery, is not outrageous. At all.
It’s called medical tourism - popular destinations where people travel for discounted procedures, usually half of what it would cost in America.
It was reported that the Matamoros clinic was expecting Latavia. This clinic admits to using targeted ads on Instagram to reach potential American clients. So, whether or not we fully understand the story, we can accept that the idea of such a trip makes sense in a world where people travel the world – in sometimes questionable places – for affordable cosmetic surgery.
Whatever truly happened that day, we can also accept that any larger discussion about the risks or problems with BBLs is not so much related to cartel violence.
Even if you think you don't know anything about BBLs, you do. The look has become popular among celebrities. Think the Kardashians (though they have denied undergoing the procedure), or Nicki Minaj. So yes, Black women do it, white women do it, Kardashian women (allegedly) do it.
A quick search for "BBL" on TikTok will give you a quick education about what's going on. Some women have chronicled their journeys, explaining the process, recovery time, cost and what doctors they would recommend. It only takes one episode of My Killer Body with K. Michelle to know this is serious. She was one of the very first celebrities to come forward with her personal health struggles after silicone injections nearly took her life. Now she helps people who are desperate to reverse plastic surgery procedures that threaten their lives.
Rapper Cardi B. is another woman you've seen with a BBL. But she too has since warned women of the dangers and had most of her augmentation removed.
What's truly dangerous is clearly up to each person to decide. But again, women of all races and ethnicities are seeking this surgery. Some of this conversation is about non-Black women culturally appropriating the natural body shape of Black women. And they will pay good money to take on the same body that was once only part of Black women's identity.
What we know for sure is that trends eventually come to an end. This doesn't seem to be though. That speaks to how women may have put themselves at risk to take on a shape they only thought they wanted, or worse needed.
I don't know what Latavia McGee wanted, or thought she needed. More than anything, I'm saddened that she was in harm's way, especially if it was for a BBL. I'm also saddened two people had to die that were just there to support her in that effort. My condolences, thoughts, and prayers to the survivors and families.
We can easily say that perhaps the group would never have been there if not for a BBL. But it’s not fair to blame that. What if we put aside what happened in Mexico? If you’re scrolling through your social media feed and seeing BBL posts yet again – there are plenty of other reasons to ask. Is it really worth it?