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Back in 2020 when I taught online, I begged my virtual 8th grade students to never, ever let low-rise jeans come back into style. I was kidding around with them for the most part, but I knew that Y2K style was reemerging, for better and apparently much worse.
“It’s too late,” one said behind her black Zoom rectangle.
“Please tell me you’re kidding,” I responded.
“Nuh-uh,” she told me, “I’ve seen them in stores.”
I sighed. I knew what was coming, but hoped with the increasing campaigns for size inclusivity, the infamous “heroin chic” look would go away (or at least the term, please?).
Once Kim K (allegedly) lost the BBL, my hope went instead.
I had a 2000’s childhood flashback being at the pool or the beach, suiting up in one-piece swimsuits and tankinis, hiding my stomach beneath the water or a towel when on land. I remember discussing diet plans with elementary school friends and feeling shame when I did not stick to them. I remember, despite never reading it, the Meg Cabot book Size 12 is Not Fat and the subsequent Size 14 is Not Fat Either and chastising myself for being too close to either size. And how could I forget the Weight Watchers meals and 100 calorie packs pushed on us as kids? Diet culture and weight stigma is pervasive and was passed down to us with the hope that we would follow the status quo without question, no matter the consequences.
It was only in my 20s when I started to feel somewhat more confident about my body, and that is still somewhat on a very fine line. It took years plus the rise of both the body positive and body neutral movements to bring my feelings about my body into a better perspective; body positivity for the celebration of being beautiful in every size and body neutrality for the perspective of the body as simply a vessel providing for you. I think there is wisdom in both sides (we don’t recognize body negativity as a side, ever).
When Ashley Graham hit the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2016, I bought my first and only copy of the magazine. I started seeing more media of women who were beyond the “standard” sizes rise to fame. Lizzo brings me infinite joy. Tess Holiday can make anything look good. There are many problems, but I cling on to these icons for an alternative to toxic culture.
Frank discussions on social media about weight bias and unhealthy beauty standards helped me recognize when I wasn’t getting the help I needed. When I lost 30 pounds due to intense stress, my doctor congratulated me. She never bothered to ask how it happened, despite me telling her that there was an issue: I wasn’t eating and I felt like garbage. After going to a different doctor for my concerns, they were able to determine I was anemic from--you guessed it--not being able to eat.
I switched my primary physician shortly after that.
Based on what I’ve been seeing on my TikTok FYP, I was far from the only one. As a collective, we watched celebrities like Britney Spears, P!nk, Paris Hilton, with their smaller, acceptable frames. Anyone who stepped out of line was fiercely punished. Prime example: Jessica Simpson being eaten alive for wearing jeans with a curvy frame on stage.
Cultural retrospectives, including rightful criticism of 90’s and 2000’s diet culture, can be found all over TikTok. The emergence of the term “almond moms”, inspired by Yolanda Hadid, has brought attention to harmful behaviors from parents in regards to their kids’ body image. A quick search can pull up hundreds of stories of oversight from healthcare professionals due to weight bias. It’s clear that our generation collectively learned some hard lessons and recognize the unhealthy patterns reappearing in our culture.
One of the ways I plan to fight back against the rise of “heroin chic” is to focus on the breakthroughs of positive messaging that we’ve seen over the past decade, the messages that allow me leave my stomach and thighs alone for once and be grateful for all of the cool things that I have and will do instead. My worth and abilities have nothing to do with the jeans I wear.
What I hope we can all do is refuse to allow an antiquated beauty standard to reverse the progress we’ve made in our culture. We can support body positive and neutral creators, take breaks from social media when we play the comparison game, and continue to share the lessons we learned the hard way to younger generations. We should also continue to do what is best for our health in a way that makes us feel good, not what looks good to other people.
(If you're looking for more body positive content, may I suggest my fellow writer and editor Ghia Vitale?)
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