Heroine Chic Is Back – Here’s How We Can Stop It

Fashion is displayed on bodies; bodies are not fashionable.

In 1996, the arrival of a new Delia catalog — the source of fashionable clothes for girls in the 90s – was a major event in my house. After my older sister had her turn, I pored over the pictures, scanning each page, pencil in hand to mark the items I wanted – but, in reality, I was much less interested in clothes than in body that carried them. We were in the midst of the “heroine chic” era, and although the catalog was aimed at tween girls, the young models reflected the decidedly adult aesthetic of the time. I dreaded bellies flat as a board, arms attenuated; I memorized what they looked like, then compared those vivid images to my 10-year-old body in the mirror. The differences were huge. I was failing.

The “heroine chic” look dominated the fashion scene throughout the 90s, when I and many millions of other young girls were going through those formative teen and early teen years. Characterized by pale, strikingly thin, and curveless designs that tended to be described in terms such as “waifish,” the aesthetic came to the fore as opioid use increased in the United States and is believed to have been created by model Gia Carangi, who was a heroin addict herself. Carangi died of AIDS in 1986 at the age of 26 after battling her addiction. After a few other high-profile heroin-related deaths — including a top fashion designer at the time — as well as a stark condemnation of then-President Bill Clinton’s trend (“Glorifying Death n good for any society,” he said in a national address), the trend has faded, as all trends eventually do.

But for many, the damage was done.

“Heroin chic was in full swing during my puberty years, so going from slim to curvy was particularly difficult,” my friend Christina, an Abu Dhabi-based brand strategist, told me. “It amplified the already difficult puberty years, and I would say it’s still pretty hard-wired into my brain for the idealistic.” My friend Kat, a Los Angeles-based audience development director who also entered her teens in the ’90s, remembers thinking that Kate Moss and the chic heroin campaigns she ran for Calvin Klein at the era were “the pinnacle of cool”. Katie Baxter wrote in Cosmopolitan that she remembers “going home after a grueling, lonely day at school to compare myself to emaciated executives on the internet.” For my part, I sank into a full-fledged anorexia, which was in no way caused by the fashion of the time, but certainly fueled by it.

For all these reasons, many like me who experienced a first heroine chic tour reacted with outrage when, in November, the New York Post published a cover story with photos of Kate Moss and the newly slimmed Kardashians, a headline resounding about them: Goodbye loot: the chic heroine is back. Jameela Jamil, one of the most outspoken voices on eating disorders and body image, wrote: “I am mortified to report that the recent revival of 90s fashion trends has brought with it the eating disorder culture of the 90s. ‘Heroin Chic’ suffocated my generation. Most of us haven’t fully recovered yet. In the aftermath, influencers and regular social media users expressed anger at the trend’s reported return, and a cascade of thoughts questioned its meaning. With the heroine herself no longer a central part of the look, women are once again being pressured to achieve dangerously thin bodies in order to be “fashionable”.

This swing in fashion ideals is natural. Much like the first series of ‘Heroine Chic’ was a reaction to the busty models who once dominated the scene – think Cindy Crawford on Sports Illustrated — this roundup appears to be a reaction to the Kardashians’ notoriously curvy bodies (and, it should be noted, it was when the Kardashians started losing weight that this “trend” really started to pick up steam). “With fashion, things are constantly changing,” said my friend and former boss Elizabeth, who was my style intern editor at a glossy magazine and spent decades working in fashion. “It will range from realistic to an extreme look. If the chic heroine does indeed come back, we will end up moving away from it. We have already moved on and we will continue to do so. »

That is true. The fashion pendulum will swing the other way. But in the meantime, here we are: another generation of young people is absorbing unattainable, even sickly fashion images and ideals – through models and magazines, as when the chic heroine first appeared, but now also via social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, and the filters that come with them — and those images can forever shape how they feel about their bodies. It’s not enough to wait for heroin chic to be replaced by the next trend: much has been written about how the heroin chic trend has affected the body image of a generation, and experts are agree that his return could hurt a lot, especially since Poor body image is the most well-known cause of the development of anorexia and bulimia. In order to protect this generation and the ones after it, we need to fundamentally change the way we think about fashion and bodies.

Here’s the thing: the rise of heroin chic is getting a lot of attention, because for many people – in fact, the majority of people – achieving that waifish physique is downright dangerous and nearly impossible without committing to a diet. disordered or even develop an eating disorder. But the truth is that female bodies are always subject to changing ideals; For women, keeping up with fashion trends doesn’t just mean trying out a new cut of pants or a particular color or hairstyle, it means changing your body shape over and over and over again.

This, of course, is impossible and to attempt it is extremely unhealthy. Yet we can’t expect (or even want) to stop the cyclical nature of fashion – fashion is exciting, fun and beautiful, and it wouldn’t be if it were static – but we can reject the idea that bodies have to look a certain way to wear these fashions. “Talking about body types as fashionable or not is so reductive and unnecessary,” Elizabeth told me. “It’s a joke. Your body type is your body type.

vogueCultural editor Emma Specter put this idea into plain language when she tweeted: [the] people insisting on the return of crop tops and low rise jeans means we all have to adhere to the early levels of mandatory slimming, realize i’m just gonna………wear these things with my big beautiful belly hanging out? »

This is the message we need to embrace if we are to ride the inevitable waves of fashion with our body image and self-esteem intact. We’re not oppressed by changing fashion trends – we’re oppressed by the idea that our bodies have to look a certain way to wear those trends, an idea that’s gaining strength from the fact that many brands and designers don’t don’t have a size. – inclusive lines. Fortunately, this idea is baseless and easily invalidated if we simply choose the fashion trends we love and wear them regardless of our size. I never needed to change my body to buy this garment at Delia, just like I don’t need to change it today if I want to jump on the trends of the moment.

Fashion is displayed on bodies; bodies are not fashionable. If, as a society, we can learn to separate the two, we can face whatever comes next on the trail.

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