Illustration: Helen Frost
Alana Arbucci is doe-eyed, petite and possesses the type of smile you only see in Sensodyne adverts. The 21-year-old is an increasingly popular type of “relatable” influencer: one whose popularity is built solely around the fact that she’s completely transparent about the cosmetic work she's done to her body.In fact, Alana often tests out treatments based on her followers’ requests. “It made sense for me to get them done so that my subscribers would know if it was something that was worth their money,” she tells me matter-of-factly over the phone.
Lip fillers and boob job aside, she’s one of only a few influencers who’ve spoken candidly about cosmetically altering their “hip dips”.Sometimes referred to as “violin hips,” hip dips are a natural feature of the human body – they’re the slight indentations found where the hip bones and thigh bones meet. A few years ago, this area of the body became a focal point on social media thanks to the body positive movement. In an effort to celebrate these miniature curves, women today still post images of themselves in workout gear and form-fitting dresses accompanied by the hashtags #hipdips and #selflove on Instagram.While this communal activism has encouraged some women to embrace their hip dips, others are keen to find a way to rectify what they falsely perceive as a physical abnormality, whether that’s through fillers, surgery or fitness. A quick YouTube search generates thousands of results offering up exercise routines for those pesky protruding hips; one high-ranking video titled “HOW TO GET WIDER HIPS/GET RID OF HIP DIPS” has over 4.5 million views.“It’s annoying because I’ll go on Instagram and there will be these workout girls and they’ll have two million, three million followers, and it’s so clear to me as a surgeon that [their hip area] is not natural,” Dr. Sheila Nazarian explains to me. “Anyone who doesn’t have a hip dip has got something done.”Dr. Nazarian is a leading Beverly Hills surgeon whose clinic offers Sculptra, the non-surgical procedure that Alana trialled that encourages the body to produce collagen to round out the hips.
Costing anywhere from £15,000 to £40,000, the effects can last up to two years. The process involves several injections to the hip area, depending on how many vials of Sculptra your doctor recommends.At Dr. Nazarian’s practice, the women who come in for the treatment vary widely in age – from 20s to 50s – but they all want a specific look. “That waist-to-hip ratio hitting the sweet spot is what people are going for now,” Dr. Nazarian says. “It’s no longer about taking away this blob, or that blob, it’s ‘make me proportional’.”There’s a definite sense of proportion when you look at Alana’s body. From her “snatched” waist to her full breasts, she has the archetypal hourglass figure that many desire. “I think people are curious about [Sculptra] because on social media you see that rounded hip shape on celebrities like Kylie Jenner,” Alana says.Dr. Nazarian agrees that the Kardashian family has had an instrumental effect on what’s now considered desirable: “They’re really that powerful! That fuller lip came from them. The small waist-to-hip ratio came from them, too.”Just as it’s commonly argued that the cosmetically-enhanced “Instagram Face” can appropriate and fetishise Black culture, social media has given rise to an aspirational body that traces its origins to a non-white aesthetic. This modified figure is sometimes referred to online as the “ant body”. Within the Black community, this build is called “slim thick”.
The Kardashians have routinely come under fire for appropriating elements of Black culture, including their cosmetically-altered body shapes and their box braids. In an interview for NBC News, Black Instagram influencer Ericka Hart summed up this sentiment: “They have been able to capitalise off black bodies, and people will want to emulate that.” And so this slim thick archetype has become, in recent years, another white Western ideal.For Black women, this can add another layer of difficulty when it comes to accepting their natural bodies. LA-based dancer Tink talks publicly on Instagram about her own hip dips. “I used to be sooo embarrassed of mine and try and do all kinds of workouts to get rid of them,” she captioned one post.Tink believes that the pressure to eradicate hip dips and subscribe to the slim thick ideal can have a detrimental effect on Black women. “Any time a [Black] female is bigger than normal, it seems as if she never gets the attention she deserves – this also goes for Black females who are very skinny,” she tells me.Fitness trainer Shah-yee says that this trend has had a direct impact on her mental health. “I would see these beautiful women with hourglass figures and think that’s what men wanted, but now I’ve come to the realisation that some things aren’t meant to be changed.”The proliferation of body positive posts on social media has meant that she feels more comfortable with her hip dips in recent months. “More Black women are openly loving their bodies… it feels like it’s becoming normalised to post in a positive way about what some may call flaws.”
The trend looks like it’s here to stay – at least for now. Tight tracksuits and curvy silhouettes have dominated global fashion trends, even since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Dr. Nazarian says that she’s observed just as much demand for Sculptra treatments. Workout videos claiming to transform the hip dip area are still routinely uploaded to YouTube.Compared to surgically removing fat, Sculptra is more expensive. But it’s a tempting alternative to an invasive procedure under the knife. “It took five minutes and it wasn’t painful,” Alana reflects. She was, however, very disappointed with the results.Dr. Nazarian explains that sometimes clients just need more vials to achieve their desired outcome – which, of course, means much more money. “I would start with 10 vials in the beginning (five vials in each buttock) and patients were not universally happy,” she explains. “I then increased my minimum to 20 vials and everyone comes back for more.”After receiving the Sculptra treatment, Alana made a popular follow-up video eight months later to share her results. She had 20 vials. “I did the video to point out how little difference it made,” she tells me. “I get complimentary treatments but obviously other people don’t, so you would have to pay, like, $20,000 for what I got done.”Her followers are often put off by the reality of her procedure results and frequently claim that she helps them in combating self-esteem issues. “You really inspired me to love myself more and to focus on more important things,” one subscriber commented underneath her Sculptra YouTube review.In the video, Alana curses as she slowly swivels in front of the camera to show her identical lower body in “before” and “after” shots of the $20,000 procedure. It’s never been clearer that the widespread misconception that hip dips need correcting is costing women – whether that’s their time, money or self-esteem.