Women are sharing the Nineties tropes that triggered their body dysmorphia

The worrying resurgence of thinness as a trend has sparked concern

Kate Ng
Tuesday 20 December 2022 15:57 GMT
Kim Kardashian's family gushes over her weight loss on her instagram story

For people of all ages, the struggle with body image is often a fact of every day life. But millennial women, in particular, have recently begun dissecting why their sense of body dysmorphia is so pronounced .

To do that, we have cast our eyes back to Nineties and Noughties, a time when “heroin chic” dominated headlines and fashion spreads, and Kate Moss uttered the infamous phrase: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

It comes at a time when that very same aesthetic is starting to pervade the mainstream once again.

The creeping sense that “skinny” is back in vogue began, quite distinctly, with Kim Kardashian declaring that she had lost 16 pounds within three weeks so that she could fit into Marilyn Monroe’s iconic dress from 1962 at the Met Gala.

Since then, the idea that “thin is in” has firmly implanted itself into public consciousness. From endless examples of thinly veiled diets in the form of #WhatIEatInADay TikTok videos to the infamous Miu Miu mini skirt set that seems to frame only a specific type of (slim) body, it seems impossible to escape. It’s a throwback that millennial women are loathe to participate in.

A viral TikTok video posted by user Amanda Lekland explores the tropes women and girls were exposed to 20-odd years ago. The video features the text: “Why do I hate my body? Nineties kid edition”, before flashing up images of stars like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, and Paris Hilton. The video also included magazine covers comparing people’s bodies with headlines that read “best and worst beach bodies” and “stars lose fight with cellulite”.

Lekland wrote in the caption: “It’s not weird that we hate our bodies. We’ve been taught to.” Her video resonated with hundreds of women, who remembered other pieces of “advice” they were fed during the height of skinny fever.

One person accused Cosmopolitan magazine of “romanticising eating disorders” and said it had her “eating cabbage soup and almonds” as a diet.

“My mum had ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ taped on the fridge and in the pantry there were cutouts of models,” another comment said. “Yeah. Fun.”

This isn’t to say that the body positivity movement, which encourages society to accept and embrace all body types regardless of size, shape and physical abilities, hasn’t made a difference. 20 years ago, it was unthinkable that fashion designers would include anyone over size zero on the runway. Today, we’re more accustomed to seeing a more diverse array of bodies strut down the catwalk – as seen during a number of London Fashion Week SS23 shows.

However, it’s hard to ignore the signs that society is slipping back into its old, fat-shaming ways. This week, Ashley Graham was criticised by US journalist Sameera Khan, who shared photos of the famous plus-size model in a gold mini-dress and tweeted: “The fat positivity movement is getting out of hand.” Elsewhere, the term “buccal fat” entered the chat when a selfie of Lea Michele went viral, showing the theatre star with hollowed out cheeks. As it turns out, buccal fat removal has seen a huge boom as people race to cosmetic surgeons in a bid to remove pieces of flesh from their faces.

“Skinny culture” is back on magazine covers, too. A photograph of the cover of First For Women magazine with the headline “Drop 48lbs by Christmas” was shared by body confidence campaigner Alex Light earlier this month, much to her disbelief.

She wrote on Instagram: “This magazine just got published. It’s dated 5 December… I’m gobsmacked! I see a lot of bad stuff but this feels next level.” Light’s Followers were equally shocked, with one person writing: “OMG stop, I thought that was from 1997 or something!!!”

For many millennial women, it feels grim to once again be surrounded by these images and headlines. With social media fuelling the spread of such messages even more, it is almost impossible for anyone who lives online to shut them out completely.

Thankfully, there are Tiktokers like Lekland and other activists and campaigners for body positivity who are becoming increasingly important voices to counter this rising trend. Even Moss has distanced herself from her controversial phrase, saying in 2018 that more diversity in the modelling industry is “right”. But it will take determination from women of every generation to stop “heroin chic” from fully rearing its ugly head once again.

For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this piece, eating disorder charity Beat’s helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677. NCFED offers information, resources and counselling for those suffering from eating disorders, as well as their support networks. Visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in