By Juno Kelly

What’s occurring isn’t the sudden resurgence of thinness following a body-positive idyll, but a return to the unabashed, public coveting of emaciation.

Apparently, thin is in again. On Sunday, a New York Post article titled, “Bye-bye booty: Heroin chic is back,” went viral after actor Jamela Jamil took to Instagram to condemn the headline and supposedly recently re-ignited trend. “We know too much this time around, this isn’t the ’90s…We have to stop glamorizing FUCKING FAMINE,” read one of the actor’s impassioned captions. According to the right-leaning publication and a more in-depth article on The Cut, the incipient trend has emerged courtesy of celebrity culture and social media. Kim and Khloe Kardashian recently shedded a notable amount of weight, the ever-svelte Taylor Swift stepped on a scale reading “FAT” in a recent music video, and celebrities took over the market for a much-needed (and in low supply) diabetes drug that causes weight loss. Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that Tik Tok glorifies diet culture, correlating with the litany of TikToks challenging users to measure their waists against apple earphone wires and A4 sheets of paper and to see how many coins they can balance along an emaciated collarbone. 

A far cry from the past decade’s body-positive movement, to say the least. The movement, pioneered by the likes of Virgie Tovar and Jessamyn Stanley, enabled millions of women to radically love their bodies despite what decades of media indoctrination taught them. The train of thought increased representation, created a support network for women who no longer wanted to shrink to fit society, and reclaimed the word “fat.” 

But the body-positive movement didn’t saturate all circles. In fact, a 2019 study revealed that eating disorders in the U.S. actually rose between 2000 and 2018, doubling from 3.5% between 2000–2006 to 7.8% between 2013–2018. That’s after the heroin chic movement of the ’90s and before the latest wave of the thin aesthetic. (I myself fell victim to anorexia during this period). More recently, Covid-19 increased the prevalence of eating disorders due to both a survival of the fittest mentality and increased free time to be spent on exercise.

Why eating disorders gained momentum amid the body-positive movement is unclear, but likely has to do with the fact that while body-positive activists, athletes, and models were admirably promoting bodies of all sizes, cultural messaging continued to enforce the pursuit of thinness. Petite but busty video game characters became the archetypal male fantasy. Chia-seed consuming “healthy” lifestyles thinly veiled skinny ambitions (pun intended), as exercise classes gained popularity, #girlswholift became a popular hashtag, and food supplement sales increased. Waif-like Bella Hadid rose to become one of the most ubiquitous celebrities of our time. Despite a smattering of plus-sized models endowing brands with diversity clout, most models remained unattainably thin. Weight loss teas and gummies were promoted and sold. Nostalgic ’90s Instagram accounts even continued to ideate the original proprietors of the heroin chic aesthetic, from Kate Moss to Jaime King.  

However, what did die down was the overt, verbal glorification of thinness and eating disorders. The zeitgeist shifted from heralding thin bodies to celebrating curvy ones. To be ‘woke’ came to mean accepting all sizes, the term “fat shaming” was coined, and commenting on someone’s weight became a faux pas in many circles, with “you’ve lost weight” being dethroned as one of the most sought-after compliments in circulation. 

So perhaps what’s occurring now isn’t the sudden re-emergence of thinness after an idyll of mass progress. The Kardashians losing weight may correlate with the trend, but did the Kardashians—who’ve enforced extreme dieting and exercise over the past few decades—ever represent body positivity, even at their curviest? Perhaps what’s actually happening is that we’re once again unafraid of openly, unabashedly coveting rail-thin physiques.

But why now? As Tumblr’s #proana (pro-anorexia) culture was in the 2010s, Tik Tok is largely to blame. It only takes one Tik Tok heralding paper-thin (literally) bellies and coin-balancing collarbones to validate a suppressed desire for thinness and to endow users with the conviction to express it. As far back as two years ago, TikTokers posting videos promoting anorexia purposely misspelled hashtags to evade a ban on the words #proana. Coincidentally, Bella Hadid, a proprietor of Tumblr’s thinspo movement, is now (albeit perhaps unwittingly) the face of Tik Tok’ s answer to it. Unfortunately, although our desire for thinness never dissolved, public messaging–in this case, the return of thin aspiration on Tik Tok— still has ample power to exacerbate it.

But where there’s a trend, there’s a backlash. Yes, headlines are declaring that thin is in—a dangerous tactic in its own right as in an over-saturated media landscape, many of us only read the headlines—but with any luck, the articles themselves will rail against the idea. Although the New York Post failed to, The Cut indisputably did. En masse, we can urge TikTok to better monitor pro-skinny posts and, personally, have the power to nimbly scroll past said videos to prevent the algorithm from letting them dominate our newsfeeds. For those easily triggered, it’s advisable to avoid the app altogether.

Despite disheartening eating disorder statistics and concerning social media trends, it’s worth remembering that we have come a long way. In the ’90s, it’s doubtful that Taylor Swift would have been requested to remove the word “fat” from her video—it probably wouldn’t have even raised an over-plucked eyebrow.

Meanwhile, although somewhat eclipsed, the body positivity movement is intact. The activists who gave us the power to take up space are there to turn to now when we need them more than ever. It will take more than a problematic TikTok trend to overturn the movement.

Collage images courtesy of Creative Commons

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