“So should I be a glamour model?” 20-year-old ‘CarmellaLondon’ a.k.a. Claudia Aderotimi, self-described model, actress, singer, and dancer, tweeted to her hundred-or-so followers last month.
“I wanna be famous.”
The young woman’s words take on an eerie new meaning this week as details surrounding her sudden death emerge. Reports show that she died as the result of a botched attempt at surgically enlarging her buttocks.
Although there are legal ways to undergo this type of procedure, they can be prohibitively costly and lengthy. So Claudia traveled from London to Philadelphia to undergo an illegal clandestine operation. It cost her $2,000, and her life.
In the wake of this tragedy, public reaction has centered on the senselessness of Claudia’s death. Her actions seem drastic and unnecessary to many who consider cosmetic surgery to be a kind of extravagant and fundamentally superficial endeavor. These folks have been tempted to ask incredulously: “why would a young woman risk her life just to make her butt look bigger, of all things?”
Aderotimi’s death is certainly tragic. But it didn’t take place in a vacuum. Rather than representing an isolated instance of extraordinary tragedy, her death is better classified as a cultural casualty, the direct and largely imminent result of life in a world that appraises beauty by level of difficulty: the more unattainable, the more valuable.
Unrealistic standards of beauty have been shown and perpetuated for so long that today they have become the norm. Many of us no longer consciously notice or object when these standards are presented and perpetuated through us. Fashion models who’ve had their rib-cages photoshopped out to look gaunt and rail thin? We’ve come to expect it. Bodacious video vixens with measurements that seem impossible to achieve? Just another day in the life of a media consumer.
While it’s easy and perhaps tempting to snicker at the lengths to which fame-hungry young women will go to see their dreams realized, less laughable are the multi-million dollar media empires that have been built by women like Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim and Coco, all of whom boast ripe “assets” — on their backs and in the bank.
And there’s nothing funny about that money to their millions of fans, including many teens and young women, who look up to these women and wish to emulate their career path. Their celebrity influence is far-reaching and deep-seeded. So it’s not surprise that Claudia is not the first to die as a result of this procedure. Solange Magnano, a 38-year-old married mother of two and former Miss Argentina, died in Buenos Aires last year after a similar but legal buttock-enhancing operation went wrong.
And countless more women have fallen victim to such circumstances outside of the media’s gaze.
Similarly under-reported by the mainstream media is the fact that the butt-enhancing surgery that would prove fatal for Claudia Aderotimi was not the first she had undergone. As described by Philadelphia police Lt. Ray Evers, this most recent visit was actually Claudia’s second in recent months. “Our information tells us these girls were here in November and did receive treatment from the same individuals,” Evers said.
Claudia’s behavior of obtaining multiple cosmetic surgery procedures on one part of her body is consistent with a condition known as body dysmorphic disorder. People with this condition have distorted views of themselves, and sometimes undergo repeated cosmetic surgeries because they feel perpetually unsatisfied with their appearance. The condition is associated with a higher risk of eating disorder. Though these are popularly conceived as “white girl problems,” such conditions can and do affect anyone, of any race.
Courtney Martin writes in Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters that “eating disorders don’t discriminate” and that even though women of color may often be trying for different looks than white women, these looks may still be unattainable or unhealthy. “Even if the shape is slightly bigger, there is still a ‘right size,’” she writes. “The strategic placement and toning of flesh is a tall order.”
She cites various interviews with young women, including “Bonita,” a 17-year-old Dominican from the Bronx who began going to the gym frequently and doing “mad lunges for the longest time” to try to get a bigger butt. “The numbers confirm that women of color commonly have eating disorders, but they are not getting formal treatment,” Martin concludes. This is all compounded by the fact that women of color are least likely to have access to medical care, including and especially cosmetic medical care.
I’m not suggesting that Claudia Aderotimi necessarily had an eating disorder, nor do I wish to mark the occasion of her death by projecting the problems of an entire society onto her shoulders. But I do think it’s important to contextualize her death in terms of the greater social values at play.
Given the very public success of so many women based on the size of their behind, shouldn’t Aderotimi’s death should be seen for what it was- the unfortunate outcome of what was viewed as a calculated risk by a passionate aspiring star?
Yet none of us seem to want to own up to our part. Many of the same folks that are quick to shake their heads in pity and disdain when they hear Claudia’s story are rendered speechless and googly-eyed when an ample-bottomed celebrity shakes her stuff for the cameras.
Their desirous gaze isn’t lost on women or industry professionals, who are emboldened by their attention- and their cash- to take more drastic steps towards ensuring that women in the music and entertainment industry remain ever fascinating.
Instead of depicting Aderotimi as a sad, isolated victim of her own superficiality, we should consider her a knowing if unlucky player in our collective game of Life, where narrow categories of beauty are so valued as to literally become commodities.
Once she arrived in Philadelphia to undergo the procedure that would shortly kill her, Claudia took one last opportunity to reflect her dream-like musings to her Twitter followers, as she often did:
“I’m goooonneeeeee so faR away.”
This was her last known public posting.
May she rest in peace, and may others heed her death as a wake-up call to place more value in the health and well-being of each other and themselves.