The “perfect body” is changing, has changed, will continue to change, and mine may never fit. My feelings about this are complicated.
Towards the end of 2022, I saw tons of media coverage on the resurgence of the heroin chic body type/trend, because of a New York Post tweet and article. I thankfully missed its first rodeo because I was too young to be subjected to any “ideal” being forced upon women. I am a 90s baby; I love everything from fashion, music and television, so I am instantly excited when things make a comeback. Heroin chic, however, has no place in 2023.
The problematic term “heroin chic” was coined after the overdose of photographer Davide Sorrenti, and was the “ideal body type” that plagued the 90s. Instead of the fat asses, ultra slim waists and thick thighs that have recently been the apex of pop culture’s BBL era, heroin chic was characterized by being extremely thin.
My first concrete memory of being different when it came to my appearance was when I was eight. It did not upset me, it was just the first time I noticed something was different. My cousins and I went on vacation, two of them had matching hairstyles: flat twists in the front, hair down and out in the back; I got cornrows. They are mixed, I am not. On the other hand, when I think about my body, I remember being extremely self-conscious about the differences, especially in high school. I was always tall, standing at the end of lines, so that was not something I generally concerned myself with. What I did worry about was being “big”, so you can imagine how I felt at 15 when an adult volunteer at my school’s Regents prep insinuated I wanted more food than my friends because I was bigger than them. Core memory.
For a long time, I had a weird relationship with food, eating a bit less, not because I was overeating and I needed to, but because I just had to be smaller than I was. It’s always funny looking back and realizing I was concerned for no reason. Years ago when I finished undergrad I was about 20 lbs heavier than my senior year of high school. It was gradual and I didn’t really notice. The following summer after a situationship ended, I was back at my high school weight. Whenever I tell the story of that failed romance, I always end with the upside, which is the fact that this thing that made me so sad, also made me lose weight. It probably comes off as me wanting to make lemonade out of some really sour lemons, but really it is me loving how I looked because it was closer to what someone somewhere would think is perfect.
I am now the heaviest I have ever been, I have stretch marks in places that I haven’t had before, and I am worried for women including myself who struggle with the ideals that often lead to harmful behavior. I wholeheartedly believe that people should do what they want with their bodies, but it does bother me that decisions are made based on standards that are largely unattainable. BBLs are major surgeries that come with many risks. Taking a drug because it is being promoted as a weight loss drug on TikTok also comes with risks (i.e. Ozempic, the drug actually approved for Type 2 Diabetes.) Recently, the uptick in Ozempic’s popularity, largely due to influencers and celebrities, has caused a shortage for those who actually need it.
We are so hyper-focused on appearance that we will do just about anything to fit the mold. For me, that obsession has made me distance myself from my body, oddly enough. There is a discomfort in this distance. It is almost as if my body is that family member that you have to love because you are related and it is expected of you, but there is no closeness. I think I forget that my body’s sole purpose isn’t objectification, and I am not referring to objectification from men or other people, I am referring to myself. Perhaps that is where the distance comes from, degrading myself to some sort of object, decreasing my value because that is what we do with imperfect things.
Our bodies allow us to get from one place to the next, embrace the people we love, do the things we love, bring life into the world, if we choose, and most importantly, they allow us to continue living, regardless of what they look like. We sell ourselves short when we forget what they are capable of. We sell ourselves short when we let trends dictate what we should look like. The reality is, trends are fickle. What pop culture may deem is “in” one day may not always be the case; granted, the notion that the shape and size of body parts can be “in” one day and “out” the next is ridiculous, and damaging for people who may or may not be in alignment with these standards of beauty.
I exist in a space where I can both detest ideal body trends and recognize how harmful they are, but still feel the urge to tweak the things that are seen as less desirable. Some mindsets are harder to shift than others and this quite possibly the most difficult for me.
I have never been slim-thick or super skinny. My stomach is not flat and I do not have abs. I do not have a perfectly shaped behind and my arms jiggle when I move them. My face is rounder than usual, my thighs bigger than usual. I have stretch marks on my arms, sides and legs, that are not “tiger” stripes from becoming a mother.
For some, and even myself on some days, these things are not ideal or pretty, and they don’t make me a “baddie,” but my body is supposed to be my home and I won’t let trends like heroin chic make me feel homeless.
Ashley Fern is a Brooklyn based writer. She is a health copywriter by day and holds an M.S in Publishing. Her interests include exploring health, wellness and beauty through the lens of Black women.