If I could just be thinner…

‘Heroin Chic’ is a term that came to be associated with a certain style of fashion photography, reaching widespread recognition by being associated to the death of the prodigious photographer that made it famous – Davide Sorrenti. I first came across the term in a short clip of ‘Good Morning Britain’ I was watching a couple of months ago. They had on a panel discussing the controversial Cosmo Cover featuring Tess Holiday. While Piers Morgan (famously) barraged the person in favour of the cover shoot, the lady against it made a point that stuck with me. Why do we have such an issue with people being dangerously overweight, when we don’t extend the same level of concern to people being dangerously underweight?

We know that thinness has been venerated since I can remember, and she says the same thing on the interview, multiple times in fact. And ‘heroin chic’ is just this veneration of thinness taken to an extreme. The look is characterised by the waif-like thinness (all bones and sharp angles). But more than that, it is also the stingy hair, the dark circles and the unhealthy pallor of skin that makes this look distinctive. Now, models have almost always been dangerously thin. But before this, before the whole Kate Moss look (perhaps the most recognisable face associated with this style), models were also chic. In fact, according to Rebecca Arnold, what made this images more striking was not just how the models looked, but also where they posed (dingy hotel rooms and elevators) and where the images appeared (on the cover of glossy fashion magazines unused to such exposure). I had come across these images a lot – they’re all over my Pinterest feed too – and I’ve always been fascinated by them. I know the term, as well as the entire movement associated with it, has been criticised a lot. But there is something about this disconcerted and washed out women, posing with abandon in a very ‘f**k the establishment’ way that appeals to me. In fact, a lot of the art I make uses these models as a reference. As aesthetically pleasing as it is, I have to admit, it has had a negative effect on my eating habits and in the way I perceive my own body.

As a disclaimer, I have to mention, I’m thin enough. I have never been considered overweight in my life. I have a healthy diet, and I used to exercise quite a bit in my teenage years. I’m a trained dancer too. So, by all accounts, I am what can be considered ‘conventionally fit’. I am also not someone who is too affected by what I see online. I know that a lot of the images we see on social media are doctored. I dabble in digital art, and I know enough about filters to know that you can, quite easily, completely change the way you look online. It isn’t that hard to loose a few pounds and edit out any other ‘imperfections’ your digital avatar may have. I’ve never suffered from any serious mental illness and I was raised in a very happy and functional family (one where your parents stress how important it is to be happy, to do what you love, and even go to the lengths of supporting you while you figure it all out – what a drag, I know). But I want to tell you, that even with all this, even armed to the teeth as I was with self-confidence, I noticed a steady decline in my appreciation for my own body as I started spending more and more time online.

It started with checking out Pinterest to look for art inspiration and references. Without meaning to be, I was drawn to images of these beautiful, extremely thin and flawless, but clearly unstable women. I wanted to paint them. But to paint them meant I had to look at them a lot. In time, my Instagram feed turned into a reflection of my Pinterest feed. Good for art references, bad for self esteem. Believe me when I tell you, that in the last two years I have tried every diet I could get my hands on. I started with the Keto diet. I moved on to intermittent fasting. Then I started skipping lunch – in what I referred to as the ‘Prince Charles’ diet. I don’t know if he actually does this, but in one episode of the Crown, Camilla’s character mentions that he never has lunch because he thinks it is bad for his health. I didn’t even research to check the veracity of this claim. I just started skipping lunch. I don’t know if any of this made a difference. It probably did – though I never checked my weight to confirm. I know that sounds odd. Why go on all these diets if you’re not going to check to see the results? The thing is, I was never convinced I was losing any weight. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror – I thought I looked the same, if not bigger. And I didn’t want my suspicions confirmed.

Added to this were the many, many times people around me told me I was acting weird. I didn’t need to lose weight, I was already so thin, If I lost anymore I would just disappear, what is important is I eat nutritional food instead of going on all these new-age diets – I have heard every variation of this coming from my family and friends, but mostly my mother. If you have struggled with developing healthy eating habits and positive body perceptions for yourself, you know how useless these comments are. Yes, I know all of this logically. But it doesn’t change how I look at myself in the mirror every morning. It’s like my brain is split in the middle. I look at other women who look the same as me, or may even be slightly larger. I love how they look, and I would tell them the same things my friends tell me if they ever told me they wanted to lose weight. But I just can’t seem to be as forgiving of myself. I hold myself to a different, harsher standard than those around me. I can easily recognise the signs of someone else having an unhealthy relationship with their body or weight, but I just don’t think of myself in that way. There is a term to describe why we do this I think, ‘optimism bias’. We just don’t think the negative things we hear about or see around ourselves can ever happen to us – ‘yes, eating disorders are a thing, but I don’t have one. I just want to be fit and healthy’.

But here is the thing, it does apply to us. It applies to me. I still go on diets every once in a while. I still freak out about not fitting into the pair of jeans I bought as a sixteen year old. I still dream of how I would look if I could just eat less, exercise more, and be a little thinner. But I’m trying to be a little better about it. I try not to think about it all the time. I also started journalling about my food habits. I watch a lot of cooking shows that talk about having a healthy diet – and I enjoy these. I’ve started cycling every day, and generally being a little more conscious of how I treat my body and how I think about it.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s