Americans kidnapped in Mexico went for a BBL?
When two Americans ended up dead, and two others kidnapped, amid a shootout just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, the initial questions were myriad: What happened? Who killed them? And what was the group of four people from South Carolina doing in a minivan in Matamoros?
On the last point, an explanation from relatives quickly emerged. One woman in the group, Latavia McGee, was going to Mexico for cosmetic surgery, and the other friends had joined her for a road trip.
That surgery was first described as a tummy tuck. Later, relatives and friends said the procedure was a "gluteal augmentation."
And even though more than a million Americans annually seek medical care on the other side of the border, getting a "gluteal augmentation" – in a place where the State Department warns Americans not to travel at all – certainly struck a lot of people as strange.
If you know, though, you know.
First, let us call this whole popular-empowering-controversial-notorious procedure what people call it in real life: the Brazilian butt lift, or BBL.
Next, let me tell you the same thing I told some of my colleagues this week. Whether or not you like this, whether or not you understand this, people do this, and especially, a lot of Black people do it.
If you are a woman, and especially if you're Black, and if you are on, say, Instagram, I'm going to go out on a limb not very far at all and guess that you've had this targeted at you in your social media feed. Especially if you follow beauty and pop culture influencers. You don't have to scroll too long to see it; it simply becomes a part of your algorithm.
The BBL is a thing.
It's also very expensive. And that's the next thing you learn if you are having this idea pushed at you in your social feeds week after week: It's a whole lot less expensive in Mexico.
So the idea that someone – it could be anyone, but for sake of discussion, let's say it's a Black woman and her Black friends from Lake City, South Carolina – would drive across six states to the tip of Texas to have this surgery? If true, it is not shocking. At all.
But that doesn't address the underlying question bandied about on social media: Is it worth it?
What is brazilian butt lift surgery?
A BBL involves harvesting fat from other areas of the body and injecting it into the buttocks and hips. (Often, that fat is removed from the belly in the process through liposuction. So those early reports that the group went to Matamoros for a tummy tuck may also be essentially correct.)
Results often mean a tiny, or snatched waist, and a curvier, fuller behind. It's the extreme hourglass aesthetic. Slim-thick.
Usually, it requires general anesthesia. Initial recovery can take weeks.
I've watched for years on social media as these clinics target Black women in ads that show before and after pictures, while touting prices that are usually half of what the cost would be in America – around $10,000-$15,000 and not covered by insurance.
It's called medical tourism. Popular destinations for a discounted procedure include Turkey, South America and Mexico. So-called recovery houses also offer patients post-op care and a place to heal.
The New York Times reported this week about the Matamoros clinic that had been expecting McGee. The clinic "reaches out to potential American clients with targeted ads on Instagram," according to an employee who spoke to a reporter, and posts before-and-after pictures of clients online. She said about half the clinic's patients are American.
So whether or not we fully understand the story of how Latavia McGee and three friends came to be in a white minivan in Matamoros in a hail of gunfire, we can accept that the idea of such a trip makes sense in a world where people travel the world – in sometimes questionable locales – for affordable cosmetic surgery.
It turned out there was a fifth person on the trip, Cheryl Orange, who later told police she had forgotten her travel documents and couldn't cross the border that day. She had stayed behind in Brownsville, Texas, when the rest of the group left on Friday morning to cross into Matamoros.
The group had planned to return in time to check out of the motel Saturday, according to the police report, though I wonder how McGee could have made such a quick turnaround after an invasive procedure. Instead, one came back wounded and two are dead.
“She simply went for a cosmetic surgery, and that’s it," Orange told the Associated Press. "That’s all, and this happened to them.”
Whatever truly happened to McGee and her friends that day, let us agree that any broader discussion about the risks or problems with BBLs is not so much about possible cartel violence.
But let's also be clear: There is a discussion.
So how should we feel about this surgery?
Even if you think you don't know anything about Brazilian Butt Lift BBLs, you have seen BBLs.