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The Rise Of Heroin Chic — Yet Another Sign Feminism Is Moving Backwards

The resurgence of ‘Heroin Chic’ is angering the hearts of many. Is this yet another step back for feminism and body positivity? Let’s dive in.

TW: This post discusses eating disorders (ED), thoughts and behaviours.

“Bye-bye booty: Heroin Chic is back” — this is a real headline from the New York Post in 2022. Let that sink in for a bit.

There’s been tons of progress in the fight for body positivity and acceptance. Think diverse brands like Dove, Girlfriend Collective and even ASOS too. They’re showing off beautiful bodies of all shapes and sizes, which in the end, is making a lot of us feel accepted for who we are.

So why did we open with such a line? To be honest, we’re fuming. So is Jameela Jamil – and we’ll dive into that a little later on.

Basically, the Heroin Chic movement has been making the rounds as a re-emerging trend. We’re not entirely sure why, but we can see the effect it’s having on influencers, and thus, society as a whole.

In fact, we’re worried the resurgence of this trend is another example of how society is taking yet another step back in the fight for women to just be who they want to be, make their own choices, and not be seen as less than.

More importantly, we can’t help but question what this is doing for the feminist fight. We thought we were making progress, you know? Tons of brands have been working hard to make their products more accessible, to a point where we liked to think body positivity was the norm. This year has already brought into question abortion rights across the world, as well as the rise of individuals like Andrew Tate, who are single-handedly convincing swathes of men that women still don’t have autonomy.

If you’re wondering why a trend such as Heroin Chic fits into the same bill, we’re about to present the facts, and show you why you should be fuming too.

Before we get too deep, let’s look at exactly what’s happening and what this means for the feminist movement.

What is Heroin Chic?

Heroin Chic was a prominent style in the 1990s. Think androgynous features, dark circles under your eyes, pale skin, dishevelled style and an emaciated appearance overall. 

The reason it’s called Heroin Chic goes a little further back to the 80s, where the illegal drug was popularised and eventually contributed to the AIDs epidemic in the US. Remember the physical traits we mentioned before? They were typical characteristics of those using the illegal drug, hence the controversy. 

In fact, you may already know of models and celebs synonymous with the look, such as Gia Carangi, Kate Moss and Jaime King.

Why should we be worried about it?

Heroin chic is often synonymous with drugs and extreme dieting to achieve unattainable beauty standards.

In fact, Dazed wrote an extremely important article about this topic too. They uncovered that ED clinics have reported a rise in people seeking help in early 2022. 

UK ED charity Beat provided its highest number of support sessions for people affected by EDs in the entire month of January. 

This is highly relevant in the discussion surrounding the Heroin Chic trend. With the physical appearance associated with it, naturally, social media users are exposed to the glorification of eating disorders, particularly if the style is being channelled through influencers and runway trends. This could lead to aspirations from young people to look this way through unhealthy and harmful means.

If it’s so bad, why is it making a comeback?

Whilst we aren’t fashion trend predictors, we can’t help but believe the return of 90s and noughties fashion may be at least partly to blame, particularly as they are now the norm again amongst high street retailers. 

Think about it. What imagery are we being exposed to again? Hip bones, ribs, clavicles, models with flat stomachs…it’s not hard to see why young minds may be easily influenced to strive towards this look.

But you may be wondering why they’re becoming the norm again. What’s causing the resurgence?

In reality – nothing. Women are still under scrutiny for their appearance, and those who meet a ‘beauty standard’ are often put on a pedestal for others to be influenced by and follow.

Okay, what evidence is there?

Uggs, low-rise jeans, ultra mini skirts…while they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, the runway shows have seen evidence of them making a comeback.

Bella Hadid had a dress sprayed on, Miu Miu sported micro-mini skirts and the Kardashians have been under scrutiny for their sudden weight loss. We aren’t bashing the clothes here, we’re more concerned about how people are taking measures to obtain the frames of these influencers. So much so, the New York Post described models from this year’s runway as “waifish” — meaning a person who looks gaunt and unhealthy.

Naturally, you can’t help but notice the effect it could be having on impressionable minds. Let’s dig a bit deeper.

How are influencers behaving towards the Heroin Chic trend?

The Kardashians

It’s saddening that women’s bodies are still being perceived as trends or are a topic of interest in mainstream media at all. And while we can’t really say if this is the direct result of the Heroin Chic trend, there’s been tons of controversy surrounding the Kardashians and their concurrent weight loss.

For many years, the likes of Kim K and Nicki Minaj have led the BBL (Brazilian butt lift) movement, with many aspiring to unattainable body standards. However, there’s been an observation of the reverse, with their body modifications now undone and drastic weight loss seemingly out of nowhere. 

Lorry Hill, a YouTuber who covers Beauty & Aesthetic Surgery content, posted the viral video citing “The Reign of the Slim-Thick Influencer is OVER”, as their video title. It’s a long video, but seriously worth the watch if you’re passionate about body advocacy.

Jameela Jamil

On the flipside, we have influencers who are fuming at the Heroin Chic trend.

You may have seen Jameela Jamil at it again with their powerful post and rant. And rightfully so. In fact, they popped off at the very title we featured at the top of this post.


If you don’t know much about Jameela Jamil, you should. The actress and presenter is a serious activist, going as far as to call out the likes of the Kardashians and Cardi B for promoting diet supplements.

In her post, influencer Jada Sezar commented on everything we’re trying to say in a nutshell:

And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jameela summed it up pretty well in their TikTok:

Why is Heroin Chic yet another step back for feminism?

At Student Beans, we aren’t afraid to shout about issues that affect the masses. Especially those that affect women. Just this year, we’ve seen a multitude of events attack women’s rights and image.

Andrew Tate’s misogyny

We rounded up everything we could find on Andrew Tate to get a broader understanding of who they were and what they were saying about women. Tons of outlets reported on how their influence single-handedly convinced so many men to share the same misogynistic views. 

Plus, our Instagram post on the subject got some seriously mixed responses:

For context, Andrew Tate was kicked out of the Big Brother house after a video surfaced of him beating a woman with a belt. He supposedly reported it was consensual. While none of us can prove this, it’s the second statement that chills us.

On the flip side, it’s great to see a man speak out and see how problematic the influencer really is:

Abortion rights

The topic of abortion seriously sky-rocketed after the revokement of Roe vs. Wade. And rightfully so.
Naturally, this got us digging deeper into abortion rights in the UK. We uncovered how abortions can still technically be penalised in the UK (which we dug into with our Instagram post).

Yet again, we were greeted with some shocking views on a women’s bodily autonomy:

Whether it’s a troll comment or not, it’s disgusting. Unfortunately, many other comments followed suit. 

Walking home alone at night

The Sarah Everard case, among many other deeply saddening crimes against women, sparked outrage on everyday misogyny and women’s safety. It is every woman’s right to feel safe to walk alone at any time of day they see fit.

However, yet again, women are being blamed for the actions of men on our own post. This one really stood out and quite frankly, made us feel sick:

“If you’re a woman walking alone at night then that’s on you”. We’re here to remind you that victim blaming is NEVER okay and can lead to dangerous situations.

And now Heroin Chic…?

How women should look and dress isn’t old news. But the revival of a dangerous trend from many years ago has made us go from *eye-roll* to “are you serious!?”.

One Woman Project puts the issue of beauty standards into perspective:

Beauty standards are one of the most prominent challenges facing modern feminism today, as they destroy the bond between women, by replacing compassion and collaboration with competition and comparison.

This may sound bad enough on its own, but what it really means is that by promoting beauty standards as valuable, we’re pitting women against each other rather than working together to create a better world for all of us.

With trend setters like the Kardashians influencing many, we can’t help but be fearful of what this means for body acceptance and autonomy for women. Bodies are not trends — as Jameela puts it.

On the other side of this coin, we have activists like Jameela taking a stand. We don’t know how this fight is going to go, and we obviously hope this trend doesn’t become the norm again.

The Beauty Myth

The Beauty Myth study, for those interested in sociology, uncovered some seriously interesting findings that can put the resurgence of Heroin Chic (and other harmful beauty standards) into further perspective.

 They investigated:

  1. Motivation behind those upholding the ‘Prescriptive Beauty Norm’ (PBN)
    1. For context, PBN is a term that describes this social phenomenon, where women feel social pressure to intensively pursue beauty
  2. “Beauty tax”, and backlash against women who don’t conform to beauty standards
  3. The relationship between the PBN and orthodox religious values that uphold gender hierarchy.

The study by Leeat Ramati-Ziber, Nurit Shnabel and Peter Glick of Harvard University uncovered that bodily and grooming standards directly correlate with hierarchy-supporting values. But more specifically, their second study showed that experimentally threatening (vs. affirming) gender hierarchy increased prescriptive beauty norm (PBN) endorsement among sexist (but not nonsexist) participants, 

In Studies 3 and 4, participants who scored high (vs. low) in sexism, (Study 3) and social dominance orientation (Study 4) enforced higher appearance requirements for women in powerful (vs. entry-level), masculine professions.

So what does this mean and why is it relevant in this conversation?

The research was intended to show women determined their value based on their beauty and hence self-objectification. It highlighted how beauty standards negatively affect women and the fight for gender equality by perpetuating the myth that you need to meet the prescriptive beauty norm in order to be seen as equal, or valuable. 

If harmful trends, such as Heroin Chic re-emerge, the further back we go in our fight for autonomy and equality.

What can we do?

The most important thing we can do is fight against anything that takes us a step back from where we are in the fight for equality. 

If, like us, you’re enraged by the resurgence of the Heroin Chic trend, here’s what you can do:

1. Embrace who you are

No matter your shape and size, you are worthy and beautiful. Remember that no matter how hard trends try, you shouldn’t have to buy into what the next ‘ideal’ is.

2. Unfollow brands and influencers who partake in the Heroin Chic trend

Or any trend that doesn’t sit right with you on a moral level.

Have you noticed brands and influencers really pushing the trend? Take a step back by unfollowing or muting to preserve your mental health. Instead, follow activists like Jameela, who regularly partake in the fight for feminist rights.

3. Share resources

It’s trends like this that unfortunately have led to a resurgence of reported eating disorders, and it’s saddening to think of those who suffer in silence.

If you need support or want to help someone struggling, these resources are extremely helpful:

We hope this has given you a well-rounded view of why we should be concerned about the Heroin Chic trend and its revival. Do you have thoughts to share on this topic? Comment on our Instagram post.

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