- Recent articles and observations of celebrity body changes have led to declarations that ‘heroin chic’ bodies are back in style.
- This dangerous statement has reignited discussions of a focus on thinness – to the point of vulnerability – and equating body type with trends, an abhorrent concept.
- This negative messaging can be especially harmful to people who have—or are recovering from—an eating disorder.
Content Warning: Discusses food culture, weight loss, and disordered eating.
Aesthetic trends in design and fashion are in constant flux, with influences from past decades often returning to fashion. But the return of trends like maximalism or mid-century modern decor is very different from the toxic return of a once “popular” body type.
Influencer celebrities have come under a lot of scrutiny, such as the Kardashians’ recent weight loss, including controversy over whether they’ve had implants removed and the use of drugs to shed pounds quickly.
A recent tweet sparked this discussion on social media The New York Post“Bye bye booty: Heroin chic is back,” with an accompanying essay about how the ultra-thin body type popular in the ’90s and early 2000s has made a comeback (think Kate Moss and borderline emaciated supermodels).
There are so many issues with it that it’s challenging to decide where to start. One is the problem of promoting an often unrealistic and even dangerous physique. Then there is the glamorization of drug use and the toxic perception of body type as a trend.
Ultimately, it’s a shame that this behavior is allegedly making a comeback despite advances in the body positive movement and changing discourse around women’s bodies. And, if it wasn’t obvious, even the speculation surrounding these trends is potentially triggering and harmful for individuals with eating disorders and other appearance-focused mental health conditions.
Women’s bodies are not trending
“Treating women’s body types as trends leads to the objectification and dehumanization of women’s bodies,” said Dr. Pakhi Srivastava, an assistant research professor at the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Sciences and director of the WELL Clinic at Drexel University.
“Such treatment of women’s body types negatively affects women’s mental health and makes them feel that they are a failure if they don’t fit the trend cookie-cutter body types, increasing their risk of eating disorders.”
Pakhi Srivastava, PhD, is assistant research professor at the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science
Treating women’s body types as trends leads to the objectification and dehumanization of women’s bodies.
— Pakhi Srivastava, PhD, assistant research professor at the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science
The past 20 years have undoubtedly brought a shift towards size inclusivity and greater acceptance of different body types. Still, it didn’t erase the diet culture that ran rampant in the 90s and early 2000s.
Social media has created a new platform to peddle dangerous diets and workout routines without rules. Nevertheless, the of the post Kalas comments introduced a new risk of dangerous dieting gaining mainstream acceptance.
Aspirational slimming campaigns have results
Even discussing the ‘heroin cheek’ as a desirable body type can have harmful consequences for mental health. “When people are exposed to these conditions in their daily lives, they feel guilty or ashamed that their own body does not match this idealized body type,” says Srivastava.
“People feel compelled to conform to predisposed body types and engage in unhealthy behaviors such as extreme dieting, fasting, purging, excessive exercise, body checking, which are gateways to eating disorders.”
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reports that approximately 9% of people in the United States will experience at least one eating disorder at some point in their lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use accounted for more than 19% of opioid overdose deaths in 2020.
“Substance abuse is not pretty, and it’s not glamorous,” says Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist with her own private practice. “The only way to achieve a body type is to starve. When someone chooses to starve themselves or believe they need to drastically alter their body to appear beautiful, their mental health is automatically affected.”
Ficken explains that when a person is hungry, their emotions can change. Feelings of anxiety and depression can increase, energy levels can decrease, and fear around weight gain can be harmful. Daily life activities, from showering to cleaning, can become more challenging as your body uses its least energy. A person’s physical and mental health may suffer.
This messaging is detrimental to eating disorder recovery
Viewing harmful, mainstream statements about body type ‘trends’ can be especially challenging for people who currently have or are recovering from an eating disorder.
“For those struggling with an eating disorder, just one headline or triggering word can easily heighten anxiety and reinforce the urge to restrict, binge or purge,” explains Dr. Samantha DiCaro, director of clinical outreach and education at The Renfrew Center. , Eating Disorder Treatment Center.
Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist with her own private practice
The only way to achieve this body type is starvation. When someone chooses to starve themselves or believe they need to drastically alter their body to appear beautiful, their mental health is automatically affected.
— Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist with her own private practice
People with this experience are often already battling negative thoughts around body image and equate thinness with happiness and acceptance. “If they’re deep into an eating disorder and not in treatment, these messages and trends make it easy to double down on these distorted thoughts and beliefs,” Ficken says. “It’s detrimental to their mental and physical health.” He adds that part of the problem stems from associating thinness with health when, in reality, starvation puts the heart and internal organs at risk.
Most conversations about negative body type ‘trends’ and dieting focus on women. However, as Srivastava emphasizes, this dangerous messaging and disordered eating can affect people of any gender or sexual orientation. According to the ANAD, gay men are twelve times more likely to self-report than heterosexual men.
What does this mean for you?
Bodies are not about falling into neat trends or being driven to focus on their external appearance rather than internal health. Do what’s right for you and your body while trying as much as possible to stay away from harmful messaging