- Alex Light said the pressure to be thin had a “hugely detrimental” effect on her life.
- In her early 20s, Light developed multiple eating disorders due to societal pressure to lose weight.
- Now 34, Light said she’s “horrified” by a potential return of the trend.
Alex Light started dieting at the age of 11.
It was the ’90s, and Light, now 34, realized that her body wasn’t like the thin physiques she saw in the media. “I was bigger, painfully aware of it, and just desperate to fit in,” she told Insider.
After trying “every diet under the sun in an attempt to lose weight,” Light said her eating became increasingly disordered and, in her early 20s, she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, which later morphed into bulimia and then binge eating.
A decade on, Light, a London-based author and influencer, is happy in her own skin and has healed her relationship with food after working with a dietitian and therapist, she said.
But with popular culture suggesting “heroin chic” — a problematic term used to describe the thin body ideal in the ’90s — and the extreme thinness seen in some celebrities of the 2000s may be back in fashion, Light and others are very worried.
The debate around thin being ‘in’ has been reignited
Light, whose recovery coincided with the rise of the body positivity movement, which became mainstream in the 2010s, is “horrified” by recent media reports suggesting a return to the trend for thinness.
“Bye-bye booty: Heroin chic is back” reads a headline in the New York Post. “Could thin be in again?” asks The Cut.
The debate, which has been building for around a year, stems in part from speculation around Kim Kardashian and her sister Khloé appearing thinner, after their “slim-thick” bodies were seen as the ideal for years.
The apparent reappearance of thinness as a body trend also coincides with the return of Y2k fashion, including low-rise jeans that bare the midriff.
Chrissy King, author of the upcoming book “The Body Liberation Project,” told Insider that big butts no longer being seen as fashionable is harmful to many non-white women who have them naturally.
They were ridiculed for their body types “until they were popularized by the likes of Kim Kardashian, and it became a popular look all of a sudden — but only when it was tried on by someone who was not Black,” she said.
“People’s bodies aren’t costumes that you put on and take off when you don’t feel like they’re popular or cool anymore,” she said.
Nadia Craddock, a body image researcher at the University of the West of England, believes headlines proclaiming that thin is back are problematic, fat-phobic, and offensive.
Such messages in the media can reinforce insecurities in people who are already struggling with body image, she told Insider.
“We know from the scientific research that psychological factors like low mood, low self-esteem, and perfectionism are all associated with poor body image so messaging like this may be more harmful to people experiencing any of these issues,” Craddock said.
Poor body image is not benign, she said. Research suggests it’s a risk factor for eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.
“Not everyone who diets develops an eating disorder but most people who have an eating disorder started with a diet,” Craddock said.
‘My world closed in around achieving a weight that was never meant for me’
Light was “horrified” when she saw the Post’s article because the pressure to be thin led to the eating disorder that changed her life, she said.
“Growing up, as is the case for most of us, the only body type I saw represented was a thin one, and it was one that was very clearly celebrated and admired in the media,” Light said.
All the celebrities she admired were thin, and Light remembers seeing larger women treated poorly on TV shows such as “America’s Next Top Model.”
“I internalized this mistreatment and let it further frame the way I viewed my own body and my thoughts around thinness and fatness,” Light said.
As a girl, Light remembers seeing thin celebrities like Paris Hilton, the Olsen twins, Kate Moss, and Lindsay Lohan.
“They were all very thin and openly discussed weight,” Light said. “Who can forget Kate Moss’s famous, ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ quote?” In 2018, Moss said she regretted the widely quoted line.
Light grew up equating thinness with worth, desirability, health and success, which led to struggles with body image and “extreme restriction,” she said.
Light lost lots of weight in her early 20s, barely eating and “punishing herself” with exercise, she said.
“The restriction meant that I gradually became very unwell, both physically and mentally,” Light said. “I withdrew socially, I did the bare minimum at work, and my world closed in around achieving a weight that was never meant for me.”
Light was so focused on losing weight that she weighed herself multiple times a day, monitored every calorie she ate, and tried to manipulate her fluid intake to reduce water weight.
“It had a hugely detrimental effect on my life,” she said.
‘Bodies are not trends’
In her recovery, Light learned about how beauty standards change over time and the goalposts are always moving, she said.
While some people are naturally thin and healthily so, the problem lies in when people feel pressure to change their bodies to fit a trend.
Body image trends occur for complex reasons, according to Craddock.
“Each shift in societal appearance ideals can be explained by a set of specific factors particular to the time and context, but ultimately ever-changing appearance ideals are held up because of factors like power and capitalism,” she said.
Light now believes fitting a body trend is never worth compromising your health, and people should resist trying to look however is deemed fashionable.
“Body shapes and sizes are not trends,” she said. “What happens then in a few years’ time when the ‘ideal’ changes again? We’re never going to be able to keep up with looking like other people, because we’re not supposed to — we are ourselves, and that’s something I wish that was celebrated.”