Featured in Capital #87 Subscribe to get the real thing here
Melody Thomas takes a look back at the trend that damaged a generation and its unwelcome return to the limelight.
Every generation waits with horror for the return of terrible trends from their youth, be they ’80s shoulder pads and perms, ’90s Uggs and skirts over pants, or the super low-cut jeans and belly chains of the 2000s. But no fashion comeback has ever been more unwelcome than one announced late last year by a handful of publications we won’t do the service of naming: the return of “heroin chic.”
There’s been a bit of discussion about the problematic nature of the term heroin chic, but just so you know what we’re talking about (or in case you repressed the trauma of the first time round), it was the look of the early ‘90s: every supermodel looked like a half-starved orphan with wide, glazed eyes ringed by smudged makeup, and collar and hip bones so sharp they threatened to puncture their pale skin (the look updated to the slightly less haggard but still uber-thin fake tan version of Paris, Lindsay, and Christina).
Because the language of body positivity was yet to be invented, let alone absorbed by the mainstream, those of us who were teenagers at the time lacked the tools to recognise the messaging for what it was: fashion’s eternal fatphobia and dangerous diet culture, dressed up in a barely-there slip dress. This was the decade where tabloid magazines made fortunes from cruelly-captioned paparazzi shots of celebrity women proclaimed too fat (or too thin – turns out there was no “right” way to be), where anyone who was “plus size” (like Alicia Silverstone and Drew Barrymore, apparently) was encouraged to avoid colour in favour of the “slimming properties” of black, and even Jennifer Aniston was deemed too fat to be on the cover of Cosmo.
The last decade has been far from perfect: but we have come a long way. Catwalks and advertisements have employed more diverse models, fashion sizing has become more inclusive, the word “fat” has been reclaimed as simply another adjective, rather than one meant to shame, our “plus size” icons are actual fat people, often in brightly-coloured clothes, being hot and cool and unapologetic about who they are.
White supremacy, fat shaming, misogyny and TERFdom still, sadly, exist, but to some degree humanity has got better at not shaming people for having the audacity to live their lives in the bodies they were born in. Hurrah!
And now along comes a handful of “writers” from online magazines courting controversy to boost a dwindling readership, proclaiming that it’s time to shrink ourselves again. Well guess what, assholes, you don’t get to decide that our bodies are out of fashion! You don’t get to tell us that super-skinny is sexy. Because as Jameela Jamil has pointed out, it’s not “naturally slim” that’s back. It’s not an “athletic build.” It’s heroin chic. You want us sick-looking. Weak. Non-threatening. We’ve been building up too much power: the fatties, the non-binary and trans babes, the disabled cuties, the indigenous hotties, and the stunning queers, and you want to put us back in our place again.
But we know better now. We know what it’s like to move our bodies from a place of self-love rather than self-hatred. To use gym memberships for the purpose of growing our muscles rather than shrinking our fat. To feel the breeze on our dimpled thighs, our chubby bellies, our bare, fat arms. We know every body is a beach body! We know there isn’t one kind of sexy! We know fashion is for everyone! The veil has been lifted; and while we didn’t know any better the first time round, we sure as shit do this time – and it’s not going to fly.
So nice try, really, you nearly got us. But we’re not going back to being starved little waifs too weak to stop you stomping all over us. All bodies are good bodies, and all bodies deserve love and respect. And if you don’t agree with that… I was going to say you can kiss our fat arses.