Photo by Yogendra Singh:

Ah, Heroin Chic – the bane of the ’90s. When the present is dismal and uncertain, we seek refuge in the past, selecting the decade that made us the happiest — or is associated with happiness in our memories—nothing like a bit of nostalgia to brighten your day. While the 1990s had a bad fashion record, the clothes related to them are still some of the most exciting and unusual in anyone’s wardrobe. However, and not to be a Debbie Downer, I am concerned about one particular aspect of the enormous wave of nostalgia for the 1990s – can we anticipate body diversity this time?

The fashion of the 90s was very much about grunge… and an ideal body type. This was a period when eating disorders were at their peak, and there is no doubt that this has left an indelible impression on society. I’m delighted to see that the younger generation has access to so much more media that includes models who are similar to them in terms of skin colour, but with the reemergence of low-rise jeans, I’m hoping that I won’t have to go through Instagram in the morning and go through the trauma of only ever seeing the 90’s body type again.

Change, difference, and experimentation characterised the 1990s. From Britpop to Grunge, the decade was a whirlwind of excitement, allowing young, oppressed teenagers to follow movements that were practically revolutionary to their traditional culture at the time of its inception. However, as amazing as this may sound, subcultures were crucial for the actions, images, and behaviour of impressionable adolescents who hadn’t fully experienced or developed life. Subcultures, you see, provided a path of investigation that allowed young people to explore not only the arts but also harmful behaviours, which would eventually degrade their otherwise immaculate and hopeful image.

Heroin Chic was a fashion trend and subculture that favoured high-end, high-quality models. During the mid-to-late 1990s fashion wave, a distinct image influenced and became popular. Despite the fact that it is referred to be an image, many fashion shoppers and beauty fans remained to follow the trend after it became famous, turning it into a fashion subculture rather than a recent season or style advancement. Nonetheless, the subculture was defined by a combination of features that were strikingly comparable to Grunge: pale skin, black circles under the eyes, an unusually petite frame, dark red lipstick, straw-like hair, and the one that I am most fearful of as someone who has struggled with body image, a noticeable bone structure.

Because of the widespread usage of heroin during this time period, Heroin Chic emerged as fashionable. Even while it may sound shocking now, it was undoubtedly a popular party drug when it was released. With films like Trainspotting coming out in this decade, it seemed clear that heroin’s popularity would grow, especially with artists like Kurt Cobain publicly revealing their use of the deadly poison.

Heroin Chic’s style was certain to be influenced by Grunge, given that it was based on a study of drug society. From slinky skirts to voluminous make-up, there’s something for everyone. The grunge revival was Heroin Chic’s first source of inspiration, with the brand focusing on celebrities like Courtney Love to replicate classic floral patterns, dark colour palettes, and big fits from the nineties revival.

From the outset, Heroin Chic was doomed. Not only was it chastised for promoting substance abuse, but it was also chastised for glamorising the horrors of eating disorders.

Kate Moss is recognised for her petite stature and pale complexion, which made her an excellent model for heroin chic designs. The model can be seen posing in high-fashion magazines in addition to the most crowded catwalks. She embodied the perfect look of the day, as a slew of slim models trailed behind her.

Moss’ famous saying, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” encouraged the damaging starvation culture and though Moss expressed contrition for making these words in a recent BBC interview, the damage has been done. The remark is still accompanied by photographs of her younger, smaller body on pro-anorexia websites.

This isn’t something that was left behind when the trend of Heroin Chic passed either – thousands of posts with the hashtag “thinspo” have been shared on social media sites like Reddit and Twitter, where people share motivational weight-loss comments. Moss’ mantra can even be found on platforms like TikTok and Instagram – the youth’s choice of social media. These strands become darker as time goes on, promoting eating disorders and further distancing society and health. In addition to these discussions, young viewers are ingesting a plethora of altered images and phoney accounts. Viewers are encouraged to compare themselves to bogus images in this type of content. The list continues on and on: supporting an unrealistic lifestyle, producing body dysmorphia, anorexia, and bulimia, to name a few.

My concern is that there is still very little help when it comes to battling eating disorders – more so in the BAME community. It is reported that “By age 6, girls start to express concerns about their own weight… 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat,” says the National Eating Disorders Association. With the mass consumption of social media which has now latched onto younger and younger audiences, I guess I worry that the media’s and runways’ constant association of thinness with high fashion will be just as harmful today as it was when I was younger too. It has a bad effect on the entire society. This demonstrates the media’s lack of information about healthy eating interactions – can you believe that just as recently as April of 2022, Woman’s World issued a magazine titled “Drop 16 Lbs in 10 Days”. The incessant, destructive, and far from “chic” encouragement of being smaller and thinner present across all media channels is exhausting.

Fashion, to me, is a creative art form that portrays beauty in all forms and aesthetics. It is something that makes each person unique and individual. It’s not just about image and beauty in today’s market; it’s also about expression. The images we see on the internet do not, and will never, reflect your worth; they are the result of twisted subcultural style manipulation. I’m hoping that the fashion industry will eventually adapt, grow, and transition to a new topic that will best preserve the health of its admirers.