On 2nd November, New York Post released an article titled ‘Bye-bye booty: Heroin chic is back’. Idolising of the thin ideal is problematic enough, but to define women’s’ bodies as fashionable or not, based on thinness is just so gross and so outdated.
Fashion trends come and go. They include changes in clothing, makeup, interior design, language, film and television; things that we can choose to engage in. Not the body we’ve been born into. I’m on board with pantone colour of the year. I enjoy the coming and going of animal print. I could get into blue eyeliner. But we can’t be critiquing the body like it’s a commodity. It can be fun to decorate your body to reflect your identity through clothing, hair, makeup, tattoos piercings etc. But when we start trying to alter our shape or size in response to popular media’s depiction of fashionable, we increase people’s risk in developing body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, eating disorders, and reinforce the narrative that acceptance and ultimately worth are tied to how much we weigh.
Glorifying any one body type is a problem. Bodies naturally come in a variety of shapes and sizes and what is healthy and sustainable for a body looks different on different people, which is largely informed by genetics. When we start to prize any one body type as ideal, we create a hierarchy of acceptance and worth, measured by how closely a person’s body resembles that ideal.
Glorifying any particular body is a problem, but elevating the thin ideal is particularly problematic as it is unattainable and unsustainable for most women. The thin ideal is only healthy for those people for whom following a healthy pattern of eating and exercise naturally results in that body. This is unrealistic for a lot of women. For most women, dropping below a body fat percentage of about 20% is correlated with lower oestrogen levels and eventually amenorrhea (loss of period). Are we really celebrating a body that is likely so starved it’s shutting down the reproductive system to conserve energy? How fucked up it is, is right there in the name ‘heroin-chic’. The name even suggests that the vaguely malnourished body is attained through substance abuse. We’ve cancelled #thinspo. We need to cancel heroin chic.
CONSEQUENCES OF BODY AS SELF WORTH
Do we really want to perpetuate the notion that you have to be the thin ideal to be desirable, and that desirability is the best thing you have to offer?
Being sold an unrealistic body type as better puts you in a position where you have two choices; continue to pursue and compromise your health to achieve the unachievable or accept that you are deficient. Being told your body is prized redirects attention from other endeavours to maintaining that body to keep your worth. When we tell people that what we care most about them is how they look, that’s where time and energy is going to go. Don’t worry about being smart, funny, or kind.
We can’t continue to talk about women’s bodies as trends and idolise a malnourished appearance. We’re reinforcing the sense of inadequacy in those who don’t have and physiologically could never safely sustain that body, and at the same time reinforcing if do have that body, that your status depends on maintaining it. By describing heroin chic as a new trend, this outdated 90s version of beautiful glamourises eating disorders, and thereby encourages those without it to engage in disordered behaviours to pursue/achieve it. Media isn’t what causes eating disorders, but this is a serious problem for people trying to recover from eating disorders and those who are at risk of developing.
But this isn’t just a problem for those already at risk of eating disorders. Research confirms that children as young as 5 exposed to beauty ideals leads to increased body dissatisfaction and beliefs about needing to pursue weight loss.
In addition to the depicting heroin chic as in vogue having significant impact on individual level, on a larger scale it reinforces that what we care about in a woman is how thin she is. We need to not only celebrate all body shapes and sizes, but reduce how much emphasis we are placing in appearance as part of being worthy. It is important to recognise that over the last several decades there has been an increase in the pressures placed on men to scrutinize their bodies for perceived imperfections. But the impact of a person’s worth based on their body still disproportionately affects women, and this article from the New York Post is specifically about women’s bodies. We need to do better.