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For the past two weeks, many “For You” pages on TikTok have been inundated with images of celebrities with hollowed cheeks, sky-high cheekbones and snatched jawlines.
The videos have all suggested the same thing: Those in the photos have had buccal fat removal, a type of cosmetic procedure that removes the fat padding in the midsection of a person’s face. The videos also often imply that getting the surgery has made the people look better because removing buccal fat (pronounced “buckle”) can give a person’s face a more defined and chiseled appearance.
Interest in the surgery has skyrocketed on social media. The hashtag #BuccalFatRemoval has garnered more than 135.5 million views on TikTok; #BuccalFat has amassed more than 48.4 million views; and #BuccalFatPadRemoval has another 5.1 million views.
But a growing number of TikTok users are now using the hashtags to push back on the trend, which they argue is among the unattainable beauty standards often amplified on social media. They are encouraging users to embrace their fuller faces, rather than alter them.
“In the era of Instagram face, if you can find a way to love what is different about you from everybody else, I think that’s a powerful thing to do,” said TikToker Sari Oister, who made a video celebrating her round face.
The buccal removal surgery itself isn’t new. New York-based plastic surgeon Dr. Steven M. Levine told People Magazine that the procedure, which takes roughly 30 minutes to perform, is at least 50 years old. Some celebrities, like model and entrepreneur Chrissy Teigen, have been open about having undergone the procedure.
But the term buccal fat, and the procedure itself, went viral after the actor Lea Michele posted a selfie to Instagram last week, prompting speculation surrounding whether she had the surgery. (Michele, star of Broadway’s “Funny Girl,” did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Some who spoke with NBC News and posted about loving their round faces expressed concern about the fleeting nature of plastic surgery trends. Some pointed to the Brazilian butt lift — commonly called the BBL — which rose to prominence on social media after some celebrities, like the Kardashians, had it.
Oister, who considers her face to be “full” and “round,” said she couldn’t sit idly by as some on social media vilified chubby cheeks. So she posted a video of pictures of her own face, glorifying a feature that, to some, had suddenly become a flaw.
“If we’re not putting out positive messages about fuller faces then all anyone is going to see is the negativity and the removal of it [buccal fat],” Oister said. “If I can put something out there that shows full faces and big cheeks in a beautiful way, in images that I feel beautiful about my face in, then hopefully other people will see that and feel better about themselves too.”
If we’re not putting out positive messages about fuller faces then all anyone is going to see is the negativity and the removal of it [buccal fat]."
-TikTok user Sari Oister
Growing up, Oister said she rarely saw her round face depicted as the beauty standard. It was only when she got older and started looking into her heritage that she said she finally saw beautiful faces that looked like hers. Learning that history helped her appreciate her natural beauty.
“My full cheeks and my round face look exactly like my Eastern European and Jewish ancestors, and for me that’s a point of pride,” she said. “I get empowerment from that.”
Rachel OCool, a makeup artist and TikTok content creator, said she had once debated getting the procedure done — long before it went viral — but decided against it after going to makeup school, which showed her the beauty in her own face. She said she’s relieved she never went through with the surgery because she’s learned that having a round face is just as beautiful as any other kind of face.
“When you use makeup — or really any situation — to move with what you have and support it, you see it in a more positive light,” OCool, 23, said. “It really shifts how you see yourself when you’re not trying to hide those features.”
After the surgery began trending last week, OCool said she wanted to share that lesson with her followers. Her video, in which she teaches how to use makeup to accentuate the beauty of round faces, has been viewed more than 5.3 million times.
Videos, like OCool and Oister’s are becoming more common on the app.
“If having buccal fat is wrong I don’t want to be right,” said one TikTok user in a video. “Round faced girlies, stand up.”
The movement of those sharing their love for their fuller faces has spread to Twitter as well.
“my buccal fat is an ally … not an enemy…” tweeted writer and artist John Paul Brammer.
“Buccal fat removal … no I like my face round thanks,” wrote another user on Twitter. “Cherubic.”
Those posting videos highlighting their natural features said they hope they can empower others with round faces to realize they don’t need surgery to be beautiful.
Said OCool: “Sometimes, it just takes seeing what you’re insecure about being embraced by another person to realize, ‘Oh, wow, she looks cool with that,’ or ‘She looks beautiful with that, maybe what I have isn’t so bad.”
Kalhan Rosenblatt is a reporter covering youth and internet culture for NBC News, based in New York.
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