For the Last Time: Body Types Are Not Trends

For the Last Time: Body Types Are Not Trends

If you grew up in the early ’00s, you’re probably intimately familiar with the era’s unrealistic beauty standards. In fact, as Glamour previously reported, that period was so uniquely and irrationally fatphobic that millennials are still coping with its effects. How could one forget the slew of fad diets, size 6 models scrutinized for being “too big” on TV, and the uproar over Jessica Simpson’s high-waist jeans? I certainly haven’t—and neither have today’s diet-obsessed almond moms who are passing dangerous calorie counting on to their daughters. 

Body standards are still very much part of today’s zeitgeist. In recent weeks multiple outlets have reported on the return of extreme thinness after Kim Kardashian—who is often credited for pioneering contemporary beauty standards—lost 16 pounds in two weeks for the Met Gala. This, paired with the return of early-aughts aesthetics overall, has prompted the spread of a troubling narrative: That era’s body standards are now “trending,” so much so that an article headlined, “Bye Bye Booty: Heroin Chic Is Back in Style," went viral last week.

Clearly, there is a lot wrong with this article’s gratuitous claim. Most apparent is that body types aren’t trends. This seems obvious, but when language like bye bye booty and heroin chic is printed for publication and subsequently splattered on all corners of the web, some media consumers might not realize that—particularly young impressionable girls. 

“While no one is immune, adolescent girls’ brains are more malleable,” Kara Lissy, LCSW, a psychotherapist at A Good Place Therapy, tells Glamour. “They cannot yet think as critically as adults in terms of assessing what information is harmful or helpful, let alone who is controlling that information and if it’s even true.” The end result? History repeating itself in the worst of ways: Despite at least a decade of body positivity and neutrality, we are once again being told that body types are binary—good and bad; thin and fat—practically rendering the past 20 years’ worth of activism futile.

“Aside from the obvious fact that it gives a nod to a dangerous and highly addictive drug, this language sends the message that depriving your body of nutrients for the sake of appearing more attractive in society is acceptable,” Lissy continues. “This is a slippery slope in terms of our vernacular: Heroin chic is not a casual household term we should be throwing around to describe the aspirations of young women.” The implication that using drugs—and/or needles—to achieve the “ideal” body is also damaging, especially now that diabetes medication has become such a common tool for weight loss that it’s led to a nationwide shortage.

This slide backward was to be expected, though. “We are bombarded with images of women’s bodies throughout the day on social media, and the cultural obsession with female bodies is a money-maker for these platforms,” says Carrie Wasterlain, LCSW, director at young adult mental health treatment program The Dorm NYC. “The fact remains that we are still spending a massive amount of time discussing women’s bodies and what size they should be.” Some experts actually believe “body positivity” wasn’t particularly impactful, or convincing, because the thin ideal never really went away. “It has merely shape-shifted through the years,” says Samantha DeCaro, PsyD, psychologist and director of clinical outreach and education at eating disorder recovery organization The Renfrew Center. “The thin ideal will exist as long as there is something to sell.”

Producer and activist Lindsay McGlone agrees, noting that while body positivity is supposed to work toward equal treatment of all bodies and allowing those marginalized to take up space, it’s not the reality she’s observed or experienced. “As a fat, queer woman, I align myself with body positivity, but it still centers itself around body types that are not marginalized and as a way to capitalize on fat diets, weight loss shakes, and unrealistic goals,” she notes of the movement—and Lizzo has actually said the same.

There are other key players in the unraveling of body positivity, though, such as innocent-seeming viral video trends. “The ‘hot girl walk’ trend or ‘what I eat in a day’ trend can be unintentionally harmful,” says Gigi Robinson, a mental health and body image advocate. “I have seen young people begin to obsess over routines—[such as] a caloric deficit diet plus ‘hot girl walks’ to lose 20 pounds or create abs—leading to disordered eating and poor self-esteem and body image.”

At least those who fall victim to these trends will continue to see diverse body types in the media…right? Not necessarily—bringing us back to why “Bye Bye Booty” is so much more harmful than one might realize. “The average woman weighs 170 and wears a size 14—these women will find it harder to find clothes to wear due to brands supporting this ‘curvy is out’ trend,” Phylice Kessler, a licensed mental health counselor with Mindpath Health, tells Glamour, and Robinson says the same. “Saying ‘curvy is out’ disregards a lot of the work that we [activists] have already done to create space for and include a variety of body types in marketing, in stores, and online.” 

Unlike clothing and accessories, body types can’t be “tried on” and discarded—but that hasn’t stopped mainstream culture. “The discourse that ‘thin is back in,’ or what I like to call ‘thin fever,’ is bigger than celebrity—we must look at the economic and racial factors that govern social propaganda,” says artist and activist GOODW.Y.N. These pressures have an insidious effect on non-white people, but especially the Black community. “If it’s not our hips, thighs, or curves, it’s our lips, hairstyles, and fashionable dress that have been robbed until it doesn’t suit ‘white cultural ideals’ for profit,” GOODW.Y.N. says.

The Kardashians are the most notable example of the aforementioned phenomenon, having been known for their curvy frames and aesthetics pulled straight from Black culture, only to exchange them for smaller and whiter models when it’s convenient or lucrative. 

“The Kardashians have played a major role in normalizing and popularizing Blackfishing: the cultural appropriation when people alter their appearance with makeup, cosmetic surgery, filters, and digital editing to appear Black,” Kessler says. “Kim Kardashian originally displayed a more ‘curvy full-figured physique’ and is now promoting how she lost 16 pounds in [two weeks] to fit into the dress she wore at the Met Gala this year.” Kim and her sister Khloé have since been reported on for how much weight they've lost in the past year, leading to egregious headlines like “Bye Bye Booty.” “With this change in culture, the Black woman goes back to being objectified, hypersexualized, and having to deal with a disdain for their bodies that they have faced for centuries,” Kessler says. 

So what can we, as individuals, consumers, and social media users, do when faced with this kind of rhetoric moving forward? The first step, according to Dr. DeCaro, is to address our own internal biases. “Confront and unpack internalized anti-fat bias and weight stigma: Harvard University offers a free implicit association test,” she says. “Examine your own relationship with your body and the harmful messages you’ve absorbed about size, weight, and shape.” 

And be sure to remind yourself—and others—that bodies are not trends. “Trends pertain to things external to us, things we can purchase or wear or choose to do—trends come and go,” says Wasterlain. “We are born into our bodies—they are literally our life source, and they need to be nurtured and taken care of in order for us to survive, and ideally, to thrive. We should be focusing on how we can take care of the body we have, rather than forcing it to fit someone else’s idea of what ‘looks good’ at a given moment in time.”

Hear that? 2002 called; it wants its unattainable beauty standards back.

Danielle Sinay is the associate beauty editor at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @daniellesinay.

Originally Appeared on Glamour