Skinniness is back in fashion, but did it ever really go away? | Eating disorders
I respect the Halloween tradition of successfully sluttifying that which, on any other night, would
I respect the Halloween tradition of successfully sluttifying that which, on any other night, would refuse to be sluttified. Scrolling through photos last week I saw multiple slutty ghosts, multiple slutty Toy Story characters. I saw many, many cleavages, one attached to a Minion, and I saw both Marge Simpson and Cinderella’s bottoms. But while I always applaud the mission, one which never goes out of style, this year I was struck by something else – the skinniness.
“Thin is back,” the style press is reporting, warily. When Kim Kardashian wore Marilyn Monroe’s old gown to the Met Gala, most news stories concentrated on the scandal of a museum piece being disrespected. But for women, young women especially, the real story ran way down in paragraphs four and five: it was the extreme diet Kardashian went on, eating only the “cleanest veggies and proteins”, in order to make that sparkly dress fit. Similar diets were happening in student kitchens across the UK and shared online in hashtags and well-lit videos. It’s no coincidence that this culture shift, these Halloween costumes featuring vast plains of taut belly, coincides with the return of Y2K fashion. With the return of baby tees and low-rise jeans came the memory for many of how such clothes helped inspire in us the idea that it wasn’t that these clothes did not fit our bodies, it was our bodies that did not fit these clothes.
On TikTok, the popularity of searches such as “heroin chic body” has led to further brittle observations that “thin is in” – the low-rise jean requires a low BMI, the baby tee requires, well, no tea at all. Heroin chic, of course, was the fashionable body shape of the 1990s, its outline drawn faintly in charcoal, the curves small caves, the angles sharp, the CK1 smell of liquid melancholy. Current beauty trends lean in the same direction: makeup tutorials show how to fake under-eye circles, or how to look like you’ve been crying using light glitter and blush. The makeup speeds up the process, a kind of diet pill for the skin. In September, Variety ran a story about the rise in demand for Ozempic, a diabetes drug that can lead to dramatic weight loss. Today, in news that stirs bleak into bleakness, the rush on the drug means there’s a shortage for diabetic patients whose health relies on it.
And social media giveth and taketh – . In the same minute of scrolling you can see, for example, both #WhatIEatInADay videos (one I watched consisted only of “a watermelon”) and shrewd commentary from people like Imani Barbarin (Crutches & Spice on TikTok), whose viral posts warn parents that the rise in “thinspiration” content will not only lead to eating disorders, but could also lead their kids down into the “alt-right” internet; the “wellness to fascism” path is now demonstratively well-trodden. She pinpoints the pandemic as a trigger: the “ideal body”, controlled and active, a place of health, became for many an obsession.
It’s happening. Hospital admissions for people with eating disorders in England have risen 84% in the past five years. Last January, eating disorder charity Beat provided the highest number of support sessions for people affected by eating disorders in a single month in its history.
Did the body positivity movement have any impact? I wonder. If it failed, it failed because it never went deep enough – it put all responsibility for feeling that positivity on the individual, rather than interrogating the fatphobia, sexism, classism and racism that led to the often violent relationship that an individual had with their body. The only place I really see its effects are where brands have quickly learned to replace the pursuit of thinness with the concept of wellness, or cleanliness, or empowerment, or employed a plus-sized model for their campaigns, sometimes forgetting to then create clothes in those “plus sizes” for its customers to wear. If thinness is back, and proudly so, unmasked and without the modern caveats of health or fitness, it’s as a response to the body positive movement. We slide backwards blindly sometimes, lured by the possibility of control at a time when so little seems within our power.
Body image is a topic I come back to again and again, because it informs so much of how we live, from our success at school to our mental and physical health, and the careers and relationships we have as adults. But it does so quietly, a whispering little voice, more like a hiss. And while I always itch to comment on these body trends, I do so knowing that it is dangerous to give them air. Because, whether we’re looking at “slim thick” or “a celebration of curves”, the same seed is at the centre of all of them: the idea that fatness is bad, that it points towards immorality, or failure, or worthlessness.
Nobody came as “fat” for Halloween – some things are still too scary. This season, thin is in. Which only makes sense, I suppose, if you believe it ever really went away.
Email Eva at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman