Characterized by their sickly appearance, “heroin chic” models first appeared in the 1990s. The fashion industry popularized their hollow figures, pale skin, protruding bones, and dark eye-bags. Not only did they resemble corpses, but they were also dying due to heroin abuse. They depended on the substance to attain such an appearance, as Hollywood romanticized delicacy, drugs, and death.
During this decade, much of the stigma surrounding heroin had dissolved. Even as the AIDS epidemic peaked, it did not impose drug usage. Instead of injecting the substance into the bloodstream with dangerous needles, a new method of intake was introduced—snorting. Additionally, a high concentration of the drug was sold for less, appealing to the middle-class and wealthy crowd. The rise of “heroin chic” and social acceptance of its intake resulted in its permeation of pop culture and access to a wide audience. As heroin’s popularity rose, so did the number of deaths by overdose.
After three decades of healing the obsession with skinniness, beauty gradually evolved from starvation to slimness to curviness. However, just as desirability began straying from physical characteristics and ditched this single image of beauty, “heroin chic” resurged.
We live in the digital age, where the internet dictates popularity and trends. Social media influences us beyond our materialistic and intellectual consumption; it imposes mental illness. With the revival of styles such as grunge from the 80s to the 90s and Y2K from the early 1990s to 2000s, came the beauty standards of those times. Low-rise jeans, flared yoga pants, and micro skirts target only a specific audience. These fashion choices barely pose a choice; they insinuate exclusiveness to those conforming to the outdated definition of beauty.
Thus, to attain a choice, people had to attain a specific body—a “heroin chic” body. These unrealistic standards required implementing drastic measures. Restricting caloric intake or excessive exercise developed into eating disorders. After opioid overdoses, eating disorders are the second most deadly mental illness. Life is consumed by body image but also taken by starvation. The two words that compose this term contradict; they glamorize a not-so-glamorous and in-fact-fatal drug. From 2012 to 2015 in the United States, the opioid heroin was the leading cause of death due to drug incidents. This term, this appearance, this aesthetic, this lifestyle, this mental illness strays far from chic.