Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

The problem isn’t your body… it’s capitalism

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.
On heroin chic, the perfect body myth and how capitalism benefits from your insecurities.

According to the New York Times, ‘heroin chic is back’. For someone who made it through the battlefield of 2014 Tumblr, this supposed resurgence is making the prospect of a decade-long hibernation look very appealing. Indeed, from the Kardashians being rumoured to have removed their BBLs to the concerning state of my TikTok feed, the zeitgeist seems to be shifting back towards the glorification of dangerous emaciation that I hoped had been learnt from and left firmly in the 90s.

The ‘return of heroin chic’ will be immeasurably damaging for a generation already suffering under the toxicity of social media. Social media in the 2010s definitely had its horrors, but I maintain that the current situation is far more harmful. The key difference lies with the insidious way that disordered behaviours and ideas have become normalised. Weren’t the Skins-quote, thigh-gap, anorexia-promoting corners of the internet incredibly damaging for impressionable teenagers? Most definitely. But there was at least an implicit level of understanding that this was not normal, healthy or vaguely acceptable by society at large.

The current TikTok-centric era of social media lacks this understanding: the constant flippancy about subsisting on iced coffee and nicotine, glorification of increasingly emaciated celebrities, and ‘what-I-eat-in-a-day’ videos that would leave a toddler underfed are presented essentially as standard practice and breed unnecessary comparison. My heart breaks for the young girls who are internalising this incredibly dangerous rhetoric as something normal, in a cultural climate where a healthy relationship with food and body image has almost become a rarity. More alarming still is that all of this was present long before this new supposed ‘trend’, alongside the long history of diet culture and fatphobia in the media. How much further an increased emphasis on ultra-thinness will exacerbate it is terrifying to think about.

The problem, however, doesn’t start and end with heroin chic. The article announcing its return has been widely criticised – with good reason – but the issue is much bigger than simply not promoting a body ideal that is fundamentally inspired by drug use and emaciation. Heroin chic might be the one of the most overtly pernicious, but ultimately it’s just the latest of an ever-rotating, twisted carousel of body ‘trends’ that we are subjected to under a capitalist system that seeks to profit from our insecurities and, in doing so, upholds notions of beauty which are rooted in patriarchy and Eurocentrism. Because who benefits from keeping us chasing after these fickle, ever-moving goalposts? The multi-billion dollar beauty industry that always has something to sell.

The 80s revered the athletic, sculpted, supermodel build. The 90s wanted waifish frailty. The new millennium idealised the ‘Kardashian’ look. With the resurgence of heroin chic, many are raising the ultimate question: when will it end? The sad reality is that it won’t – at least not in our lifetimes. Beauty standards and body trends are designed to keep us perpetually dissatisfied and perpetually consuming. We are socialised to fixate on completely natural features – body hair, wrinkles, cellulite – that we would not have thought twice about had they not been demonised. The core of all of this is profit. Because if we were all comfortable in our skin, who would buy the razors and diet pills and anti-ageing creams and keep the heart of the beauty industry ticking?

All of this seems to paint an extremely pessimistic picture. How are we ever to find peace if we are socialised to never be content with ourselves? All hope, however, is not lost. For me, the knowledge that the pursuit of the “perfect body” is ultimately a Sisyphean task is somehow the most comforting. Let’s say I eventually contort myself into the current notion of absolute perfection. This would be exhausting and agonising and obsessive, but most of all, it would never be enough. It would only be so long before the goalpost inevitably shifts out of reach, setting another arbitrary standard for me to fixate on and buy into. Whether it’s detox teas or waist trainers or hourglass-promising implants, there will always be something to consume and a billion-dollar corporation benefitting from my endless pursuit of every capricious standard.

Fleabag once said that she was a bad feminist for wanting to trade five years of her life for the “perfect body”. She wasn’t. Succumbing to the rhetoric that we are spoon-fed our whole lives isn’t an individual moral failing – it’s a symptom of a society which profits from our self-dissatisfaction. Unlearning all of this can never be an overnight process, but it is possible. The ‘perfect body’, fundamentally, is a myth, and it is this realisation that holds the capacity for us to genuinely accept ourselves.

University of Bristol student studying Politics and Spanish.