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  • Carola Kolbeck and Lucy Faulkner

From Kate Moss to Bella Hadid - The Dangers of Reviving Heroin Chic

Collage by INJECTION

With heroin chic making headlines across the media and reviving the skinny ghosts of fashion’s past, two writers reflect on its impact on them.

Carola is a writer, teacher, and mother of two children. She was a teenager in the 90s, loved Y2K fashion and the Spice Girls, and remembers buying her first crop top: At the beginning of November last year, the New York Post proclaimed that heroin chic was back and we should wave bye-bye to our booties, which was followed by a major backlash on social media. I initially closed my eyes and ears. Images of waifish silhouettes, dark eye makeup, visible ribs, and hip bones swirled around my head. Then I thanked the universe that I had survived my teenage years during the 90s and the heyday of heroic chic and that I wasn't spending every waking hour of my life detesting my body and restricting my food intake.

But words are powerful, and the media has the ability to permeate our thoughts. Instead of feeling nostalgic about Y2K fashion’s revival some decades later, I have flashbacks of worshipping those stick-thin models, weighing myself every morning, and hating myself all day long if I hadn't lost any weight from my already skeletal frame. My eating disorder was certainly not caused by heroin chic, but, as many others confess, it was absolutely fuelled by it.

Many celebrities, amongst them Fearne Cotton and Jameela Jamil, who grew up at the same time as me, voiced their concern and outrage at the news, condemning the trend and the media in equal measures.

“I am of the generation of the first wave of this. We never fully recovered. I lost two decades of my life. I'm BEGGING you to violently reject this, and to VIOLENTLY REJECT any people, or magazines or news outlets who are participating in the spread of this hell.” (Jameela Jamil, 2022)

Hasn’t enough damage already been done? Eating disorders are the most deadly mental health condition, and the number of people suffering from them is rising; therefore, promoting heroin chic is not just a controversial headline but, more than anything, irresponsible and damaging to all generations of society.

Having age and experience on my side, other children of Gen Y and I are more equipped and resilient to the (n)ever-changing narrative of expected beauty standards for women, but it shouldn't be like this. If there was ever a need to stand up to the beauty and fashion industries who prescribe how we should shape and mould our bodies to fit into their cookie cutters, then it is now.

With misogyny on the rise and women’s rights and body autonomy increasingly under threat, what we need is an accepting and celebratory society that makes us feel good for being ourselves. We don’t need a pointless distraction asking us to focus on our weight and looks. We have more pressing things to think about.

Lucy is a recent fashion graduate who is, in her own words, reluctantly entering the industry. While she loves clothes, the same can’t be said for fashion’s practices: As a 90’s baby, I may not have been aware of heroin chic style at the time, but it's near impossible not to know of it: everybody remembers Kate Moss's infamously iconic quote, "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” And while society and Miss Moss herself have publicly shunned this sentiment for many years, social media attention on the return of heroin chic seems to be growing.

It makes sense: fashion trends are cyclical, resurfacing every twenty-or-so years as a nostalgic reminder of times gone by. This is, for the most part, not problematic: the comeback of lowrise jeans and micro-mini skirts isn’t going to harm anyone. Unfortunately, they don’t come empty-handed, instead bringing with them an unattainable body ideal that we have spent the last twenty years trying to move past.

But, and it’s with disappointment that I even write this; it feels like this “revival” isn’t even that. Perhaps in social media terms, we have moved away from a skinny ideal to celebrate other body types: the huge popularity of the “gym girl” on Instagram and TikTok, body positivity movements embracing curves, and body neutrality to celebrate bodies for what they do, not what they look like. Yet, in the fashion industry, it feels like “skinny” has retained positive synonyms with “stylish” and “attractive.” Cries from fashion professionals of “garments hang better on smaller frames” and “but the sample size is a 6” seem to be still accepted, and so the industry remains set in its (very firm) ways.

In 2001, Stella Tennant was named “Model Of The Year” with her 33-24-35” bust-waist-hip measurements. In 2015, it was Anna Ewers (33-23-34”), and last year it was Bella Hadid (34-24-32”). Are all of these women beautiful? Of course. But we can hardly pretend that heroin chic went away when the persistence of an unattainable body type on a huge stage remains: the average ratio for women in the UK is 38.5-34-40.5.” And this preference for a slim body type certainly doesn't seem set to change in the future, either. Trend forecasters analysing jewellery trends for the year suggest that our preferences will become even more minimal. As in: none at all. Instead of necklaces, we are going to see models and celebrities going bare and prominent collarbones becoming the new “accessory”.

So maybe it’s not a revival per se, but that skinny bodies are being overtly celebrated again. The fashion industry has only passively agreed that bigger bodies should be represented in fashion - the only difference now seems to be that they are, once again, not so subtle in hiding their sizeism.


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