“Glee” star Lea Michele got the internet buzzing earlier this month after she posted a selfie with noticeably thinner cheeks and elevated cheekbones. The word on the street is that Michele has joined the growing number of celebrities suspected of getting buccal fat removal surgery — the worst cosmetic procedure currently trending on social media.
Buccal fat removal surgery cuts out fat pads from the inside of a person’s cheek to enhance cheekbones and give one’s face a permanent “contoured” look. As with most cosmetic surgeries, the procedure started with celebrities and is now spreading among the masses. The Daily Mail reported that Dr. Barry Weintraub, a New York City plastic surgeon, had seen “twice as many inquiries for the operation this year than last.” Those numbers are likely to increase in 2023, with Google Trends reporting that searches for “buccal fat removal” shot up dramatically this month while the buccal fat removal hashtag on TikTok now has more than 153 million views.
“Most beautiful faces in the world have a sharp angularity,” claimed Weintraub in his attempt to explain the surgery’s popularity. The first problem with his assertion, though, is that buccal fat removal doesn’t make one’s face more angular. As London plastic surgeon Dr. Tunc Tiryaki explained to the Independent, “Buccal fat removal doesn’t create definition, it just creates emptiness between the cheek and the jawline.”
The second problem is that buccal fat removal surgery does not replicate the “most beautiful faces.” High cheekbones are generally considered attractive, but hollow cheeks are not. Feminine facial beauty has long been defined by youthful, full cheeks. This is why face fillers, which counter the natural loss of facial fat and collagen as one ages, have for years been a staple in the cosmetic surgery industry. “In the long run, when we get older, we lose volume in our cheeks,” Tiryaki explained. “So patients start looking really gaunt, almost like ghosts.” In other words, buccal fat removal protrudes patients’ cheekbones at the expense of quickening the aging process.
There are a few reasons why horrible cosmetic fads, like buccal fat removal, lip lining tattoos, and Brazilian butt lifts, very quickly and easily influence young people. Beauty trends used to last for years, but with social media, they often live for only a few short months or even weeks. Since trends are increasingly fast-paced, they are even less thoughtful.
Also contributing to bad-taste beauty trends are the algorithms. Virality requires something to be attention-grabbing, which means social media algorithms reward the bizarre and unnatural. Flooding users’ feeds with bad beauty trends and the knowledge that acting fast is the only way to keep up leads to terrible cosmetic fads and decisions.
Modern War on Truth and Beauty
A smart user might see the sunken faces of the people who receive buccal fat removal surgery and realize right away that it’s a bad idea and that next week everyone will want full cheeks again. Unfortunately, another crucial reason people are susceptible to bad trends like this one is that society no longer knows what beauty is. Catholic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas taught that beauty is objective. People can discern what is beautiful through their senses and their minds.
Modern culture disagrees, professing that beauty is entirely subjective and any sort of beauty consensus is simply a “social construct.” It is true that there is rarely a set-in-stone consensus on what is and isn’t beautiful. However, that is a product of human cognitive imperfection, not a refutation of objective beauty.
For centuries we have known there is science, or order, to beauty. The pattern of sunflower florets, the branches of trees, and the spiral of shells are governed by the mathematical Fibonacci sequence and the related “Golden Ratio.” These proportions are reflected in the Parthenon and in da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” We also know that things like facial symmetry and, in women, a low waist-hip ratio and a youthful face (with full cheeks) play a role in one’s relative attractiveness on a biological level.
Modern culture denies the science of beauty. It purports that there’s no aesthetic hierarchy between the Sistine Chapel and the Groninger Museum. Popular magazines feature morbidly obese women claiming their physical bodies are “beautiful” and even “healthy” — statements that oppose objective beauty standards and the existence of heart disease.
When nearly every societal force influencing young people, from TikTok to their teachers, deny the existence of truth, it becomes very difficult to know whether Renaissance architecture is any better than Deconstructionism, if plus-size model Tess Holiday is or isn’t physically fit, or whether buccal fat removal surgery will make you more beautiful.
Unable to trust their own intellects, young people increasingly rely solely on what’s “in,” meaning whatever everyone else tells them is beautiful. That provides no cognitive process, theological criterion, or scientific reality for young people to draw from. Our bodies are entirely at the mercy of the algorithm.
The winners are the social media companies that demand more and more screen time to keep up with trends and the multibillion-dollar beauty industry. The losers are all the vulnerable young people searching for light, truth, and beauty in a virtual black hole.