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Why the ‘heroin chic’ aesthetic should NOT become chic again

The ‘heroin chic; aesthetic is making a resurgence from the 90s fashion scene. Skinny is now stylish. This dangerous comeback needs to turn straight back around…

Kate Moss in the 90s | Credits: Rose Hartman, WireImage

“My Anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns hun!” booms through my ears as I squat tirelessly in the gym. Words that don’t ring the same anymore. It seems the trend to flaunt a healthy, athletic figure has been replaced by flat stomachs and exposed bone structures.

A few months ago, the New York Post acknowledged the resurging heroin-chic aesthetic with the controversial title: “Bye-bye booty”. This vision of harmful skinniness has marked its comeback through the 2000s fashion revival known as “Y2k”. Low-rise jeans and tiny sheer camisoles are dominating mood boards along with the petite frames the clothes complement.

Madeline's artwork | Photo credits to: @stolenbesos, @gucciasmo, @heroinchic.mag, and Tom Dawson via Redbubble

Kim Kardashian reportedly shed 16 pounds in 3 weeks to squeeze into Marilyn Monroe’s iconic dress for the MET Gala. Known for embracing her shapely figure, the ‘queen of curves’ has very publicly abandoned her crown. As a figure of influence, when Kim Kardashian told us to wear neutral tones, we blindly followed. Then she told us to take selfies. The word has now been added to the dictionary. What’s next?: “If Kim Kardashian has ditched the curves in 2023, maybe we should too?” This mindset is extremely dangerous. It goes without saying that our bodies are not meant to rapidly shed stones in a matter of weeks…

However, it’s the term “heroin chic” that really poses a threat by glamorising the unhealthy aspects of malnourishment. The desire to appear gaunt, with dark under-eye circles and scraggly hair, has slithered its way back into the fashion industry. These qualities are all associated with heroin abuse.

The hit series, Euphoria, is partly to blame for glamorising drug abuse. Heroin addict, Rue, is played by gorgeous actress Zendaya. Her emaciated face lights up and her smudged makeup turns multicolour when she is high. She even cries glitter! The one message viewers receive when bingeing this series is: drugs are now sexy.

Rue crying in Euphoria | Source: HBO Euphoria

Substance misuse and body image specialist, Diane Estwick, explains the roots of this. She says heroin became cheaper and purer in the nineties. You could snort it rather than inject it, and so, according to Diane, it was viewed as “classier”. “Using heroin became a means of flaunting affluence, and so did the weight loss that came as a welcomed side effect,” says Diane.

The fashion industry has embraced this. Pop culture podcaster, Chanté Joseph, believes this is a result of fashion designers’ egos. She says they don’t want to compromise the designs for the human body. Instead, they choose models with figures that closely resemble coat hangers - ‘heroin chic’ skeletons marching up and down the runway.

Having also experienced these pressures of modelling, actress and presenter, Jameela Jamil fears the heroin chic aesthetic “is not about beauty”, but instead, “is about control”. According to the body positivity activist and recovered anorexic, the idolisation of this aesthetic creates a breeding ground for eating disorders. In the second half of 2022, 10,000 young people started NHS treatment for eating disorders. This is a quarter increase from the previous year, before heroin chic had resurfaced.

Kate Moss in Calvin Klein Obsession Campaign | Credits: Mario Sorrenti

Another indicator of this frightening fashion trend resurgence is Kate Moss’ new position in Diet Coke, the beverage heralded by i-D magazine as: “the silver and red talisman of the fashion industry”. In July 2022, to mark Diet Coke’s 40th anniversary, Kate Moss was crowned as its new creative director. The famous model became the poster child for the ‘heroin chic’ look after her 1933 photoshoot for the Calvin Klein ‘Obsession’ fragrance. Her face was once idolised for its emaciated features. 30 years on, it is now plastered all over Diet Coke packaging.

As I opt for this lower-calorie alternative over my usual Innocent smoothie (much better value for money in a meal deal), I realise I have been influenced by the iconic words of the revived nineties idol: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. Kate Moss had clearly never tried red velvet cake!

In fact, many things taste far better than skinny feels, particularly when executing the heroin chic look which often involves dangerous levels of restriction and even drug abuse. Now, what could possibly be chic about that? The answer is: nothing. It’s a throwback trend that needs throwing out.

Madeline is studying her Master's in Broadcast Journalism at City University. She loves all things lifestyle, fashion, and culture. She spends her weekends leading food tours around London, and her evenings interning in red carpet interviewing. Her Instagram handle is madeline_collierx.

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