Jan 9th, 2023, 11:00 AM

Heroin Chic Isn’t Back

By Molly Eklund
Image credit: Nazym Jumadilova on Unsplash
It never left and it’s hungrier than ever for our attention.

If you feel the ground rumbling beneath you, don’t worry. That is just the stampede of privileged white ladies across the globe purposefully marching to their kitchen cabinets and reaching for the Braggs apple cider vinegar because, according to the New York Post, heroin chic is back. The toxic beauty standard (cheek bones, under-eye bags, pronounced collar bones, thigh gaps) that characterized the early aughts has crept back into our collective consciousness and algorithms after a brief interregnum of so-called body positivity. All the Pinterest workouts we’ve saved and all the booty building Instagram posts we’ve marked to try can be finally left for dead. We can put away our booty bands, put our BBL money back into our savings accounts, and look towards a brighter but sicklier tomorrow. 

The Guardian confirmed that the trend has indeed returned, largely as “a backlash to the past decade of progress on size inclusivity in the fashion industry.” For those not in the know, heroin chic is a term coined after the heroin-induced fatal overdose of high fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti in 1997. Heroin use was widely used in the modeling industry as a party drug and had the added benefit of appetite suppression. The tired, pale, ill look that resulted complemented the nihilistic 90s grunge movement, and those who benefited from the post-Reagan economic boom had enough time and money to maintain a sickly aesthetic. The era ended in 1997 with the introduction of the more athletic, Amazonian models like Gisele Bündchen. But the vice-like need to regulate bodies, particularly female bodies, has never left.

I can’t recall the exact moment when I stopped idolizing the Victoria’s Secret body I starved myself for in high school and when I began tailoring my workouts to the slim thicc aesthetic, but I can bet it had something to do with the Kardashian sisters. The overly-sexualized bodies of Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe created a new standard of feminine beauty, one many argued was more natural and attainable to anyone willing to get their f**cking ass up and work

But for whom are the Kardashian features more attainable? Harmful, fleeting trends are applied to women's bodies more easily with the increased accessibility of social networking sites, and those with an “out” body are left in the dust. “I can’t win”, claims Hillary*, who, at 26, considers herself a lifelong dieter. She recently set aside $15,000 for breast implants, liposuction, and a Brazilian Butt Lift. “I don’t have the right body for any decade, so I may as well pay for one.”  

With the advent of Instagram and TikTok, young consumers like Hillary learned about the fillers, thread lifts, and surgical procedures that could make your body look like an amalgamation of glocalized features-  your eyes Asian, your lips Brazilian, your butt African, and your waist snatched thanks to waist trainers designed to be worn during endless pornographic workouts performed at the gym and shared on Instagram. There is a long, treacherous history of white women exploiting and appropriating female colonized bodies for their own advancement within a global capitalist context. 

According to feminist scholar Ann Stoler, “Who could bed and who could wed" were fundamental in the construction of the colony. Stoler is talking about rape as a tool of control during the Colonial era, and while this is still a global crisis today, more nuanced forms of sexual violence still dominate pop culture. Body-positive icons, like Iskra Lawrence, Lizzo, and Ashley Graham are idolized for making the choice to embody hyper-sexualized, evolved women. But can it be considered a choice to revive the dichotomic manifestations of colonial legacy, particularly if your body is not the template for which they were intended?  Now, there is a patriarchal, capitalist initiative for women to embody both—the one to bed and the one to wed, the madonna and the whore, the wifey and the side piece. 


Representations of this exploitative control can be found on YouTube, in the horrifying series by Harper’s Bazaar called, “Food Diaries”. The series features talking heads, mostly white women from mainstream media, describing what they eat in a day. The formula is the same: beautiful, slim women with perfect skin and a full beat of no-makeup makeup welcome you graciously into their “lives”. Most women begin their day with lemon water, some sort of digestive aid in the form of enzymes or other expensive supplements, and a “high fat breakfast”. Few videos focus on the flavor of the food, or how much they enjoy it, but are almost always about how the food will give you more energy to fuel your hustle or accompanied by a product endorsement. 

A favorite video of mine features Victoria’s Secret models Romee Strijd and Jasmine Tookes in their own variation of the “what I eat in a day” video. The pair swap what they would normally make for themselves over the course of a day, and the results are a laugh riot. At one point in the video, when presented with a plate of eggs, bacon, and half a bagel, Strijd seemingly forgets how to eat and asks “do I do it bite by bite?” Participants of this video trend like Victoria’s Secret model Romee Strijd, former Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, and Nina Dobrev follow the same, elitist formula. 

The abundance of these videos and similar content  proves that heroin chic is only a cog in a well oiled machine where capitalism, race, gender, and politics intersect to further exploit our time and attention away from the end of days. The Roe vs. Wade decision coinciding with the comeback of heroin chic is not coincidental. Both institutions of power, (if the government and the media can be considered separate entities) from which they emerge benefit from the diversion of attention onto our bodies. Further, they profit from fundamentally debasing our right to bodily autonomy and preserving colonial legacies. A populace physically weak with hunger is very easy to control, but, after all, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. 

* Name changed to protect privacy.