NEWS

Promoting 'Heroin Chic' Bodies as a Trend Endangers Mental And Physical Health

drawing of girl looking at lots of skinny women on the subway

Verywell / Nez Riaz

Key Takeaways

  • Recent articles and observations of celebrity body changes have sparked the declaration that 'heroin chic' bodies are back in style.
  • This dangerous statement has reignited discussion around a focus on thinness—to the point of frailty—and equates body types to trends, a disgusting notion.
  • This negative messaging can be especially harmful to people who have—or are recovering from—eating disorders.

Content warning: Discussion of diet culture, weight loss, and disordered eating.

Aesthetic trends in design and fashion are in constant flux, with influence from past decades often coming back in vogue. But the return of trends like maximalism or mid-century modern decor is very, very different from the toxic return of a once "popular" body type.

There has been much scrutiny of influential celebrities like the Kardashians' recent weight loss, including debates around whether or not they've removed implants and the use of medication to drop pounds fast.

This discussion on social media sparked a recent tweet by the New York Post, “Bye bye booty: Heroin chic is back,” with an accompanying article about how the very thin body type that was prevalent in the 90s and early 2000s (think Kate Moss and borderline emaciated supermodels) has returned.

There are so many problems with this that it’s challenging to determine where to even begin. One is the issue of promoting an often unrealistic and even dangerous physique. Then there’s the glamorization of drug use and the toxic idea of body types as trends.

Ultimately, it's a shame that this behavior is allegedly making a comeback, despite the progress of the body positivity movement and shifting narratives around women's bodies. And, if it's not obvious, even the speculation around these trends is potentially triggering and harmful to individuals with eating disorders and other appearance-centric mental health conditions.

Women's Bodies Are Not Trends

“Treating women’s body types as trends leads to objectification and dehumanization of women’s bodies,” says Dr. Paakhi Srivastava, an assistant research professor at the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science and director of the WELL Clinic at Drexel University.

“This treatment of women’s body types negatively influences women’s mental health by pushing them to think that they are a failure if they do not fit the trending cookie-cutter body types, putting them at increased risk for eating disorders.”

Paakhi Srivastava, PhD, an assistant research professor at the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science

Treating women’s body types as trends leads to objectification and dehumanization of women’s bodies.

— Paakhi Srivastava, PhD, an assistant research professor at the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science

The past 20 years have undeniably brought a shift towards size inclusivity and broader acceptance of diverse body types. Still, it has far from erased the diet culture that ran rampant in the 90s and early 2000s.

Social media created a new platform for pedaling dangerous eating habits and workout routines without regulation. Yet, the Post’s callus comments introduced a renewed risk of dangerous dieting gaining mainstream acceptance. 

Promoting Aspirational Thinness Has Consequences

Even the discussion of ‘heroin chic’ as a desirable body type can have detrimental consequences for mental health. “When people are exposed to these terms in their daily lives, they feel guilty or ashamed that their own body doesn’t match up to these idealized body types,” says Srivastava.

“People feel compelled to fit into trending body types and engage in unhealthy behaviors such as extreme dieting, fasting, purging, excessive exercise, body checking, all of which are gateways for eating disorders.” 

An estimated 9% of people in the United States will experience at least one eating disorder at some point in their lives, reports the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Heroin use was also responsible for more than 19% of deaths from opioid overdoses in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Substance abuse isn’t pretty, and it’s not chic,” says Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist with her own private practice. “The only way to attain that body type is starvation. When someone chooses to starve themselves or believes they have to drastically change their body to be seen as beautiful, their mental health is automatically impacted.” 

Ficken explains that when a person is starving, their emotions can change. Feelings of anxiety and depression can increase, energy levels can plummet, and fear around weight gain can be damaging. Daily life activities, from showering to cleaning up, can become more challenging as your body uses its minimal energy. A person’s physical and mental health can suffer. 

This Messaging Is Detrimental to Eating Disorder Recovery

Seeing harmful, mainstream statements around body type 'trends' can be especially challenging for individuals who currently have or are recovering from an eating disorder.

“For those struggling with an eating disorder, the mere sight of a headline or a triggering term can easily heighten anxiety and strengthen urges to restrict, binge, or purge,” explains Dr. Samantha DeCaro, director of clinical outreach and education at The Renfrew Center, eating disorder treatment centers. 

Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist with her own private practice

The only way to attain that body type is starvation. When someone chooses to starve themselves or believes they have to drastically change their body to be seen as beautiful, their mental health is automatically impacted.

— Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist with her own private practice

People with this experience are often already combating negative thoughts around body image and thinness being equated to happiness and acceptance. “If they are deep into an eating disorder and aren’t in treatment, these messages and trends make it easier to double down on these distorted thoughts and beliefs,” says Ficken. “It’s harmful for their mental and physical health.” She adds that part of the issue stems from thinness’ association with health when, in reality, starvation puts the heart and internal organs at risk.

Much of the conversation around negative body type ‘trends’ and dieting focuses on women. However, as Srivastava stresses, this dangerous messaging and disordered eating can affect people of any gender or sexual orientation. According to ANAD, gay men are twelve times more likely to self-report purging than heterosexual men.

What This Means For You

Bodies are not meant to fall into neat trends or be manipulated to focus on their outer appearance instead of inner health. Do what is right for you and your body while trying as much as you can to stay away from harmful messaging.

2 Sources
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  1. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Eating disorder statistics.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heroin.