Let’s talk about: the resurgence of heroin chic

Alarming trends in beauty point towards the rebirth of the ’90s heroin chic era

Jackson Doane, Staff Writer

Content Warning: This article contains references to drug use, eating disorders, pedophilia, body image issues and death.

In the early 1990s, a new trend in fashion had just materialized. Pale skin, dark circles underneath the eyes, emaciated features, androgyny and stringy hair had become the new ideal look, according to an article written by Amy Spindler in the New York Times entitled “A Death Tarnishes Fashion’s ‘Heroin Look.’”
Models like Kate Moss, Jaime King and Vincent Gallo experienced a meteoric rise to fame as the poster children of this new era in fashion. This new look was a significant change from the look of fullness and vibrancy that most models and celebrities sported in the 1980s.
This trendy new look was dubbed by the media as “heroin chic,” as many of these traits are associated with people who suffer from chronic heroin use. At the time, models and generally anyone with aspirations of achieving this look abused hard drugs, developed eating disorders and underwent dangerous liposuction procedures to maintain their desired features.
The rise in popularity of this new look and the destructive steps young women were taking to achieve it garnered so much widespread negative attention that then-U.S. president Bill Clinton even condemned the look, calling it “destructive” and a “glorification of heroin masking as art.”
It wasn’t until the death of famed Calvin-Klein fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti in February of 1997 due to heroin-related complications that the fashion industry began openly denouncing the glorification of drugs within it.
By the summer of that same year, magazine spreads and runways now featured healthier-looking models, and the fashion industry operated as if the heroin chic era had never existed.
On paper, all’s well that ends well, but sadly it does not seem that the heroin chic era is gone for good.
On Nov. 2 of last year, Adriana Diaz of the New York Post wrote a viral article declaring that “heroin chic is back.”
Diaz pointed out the alarming amount of celebrities who, in the 2010s, championed body positivity and “curvier” bodies and had now suddenly dropped large amounts of weight and underwent procedures to remove their lip fillers, buccal fat and augmentative surgeries. She cites the Kardashians as a prime example of this new overly-thin trend.
What’s more, among influencers and celebrities looking to capitalize on the recent trend of absolute thinness, there is supposedly widespread abuse of the diabetes drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, which are meant to help patients with diabetes manage their weight.
This drug use and so-called “thin worship” seem to mark the beginnings of a renaissance of heroin chic. Generation Z figures like Sydney Sweeney and Luka Sabbat even have Instagram feeds full of “dead-face” expressions and poses eerily reminiscent of the models in the early 1990s.
While Gen-Z is not as model-obsessed as previous generations, my generation instead idolizes social media influencers who take up the same cultural space as models did before them.
For example, on TikTok specifically, a narrative audio created by user @5punk5tain, which describes a video of model Kate Moss from a ’90s runway, has over 30,000 videos created using the audio.
In the video, the creator says Kate Moss “had plenty of drug problems and dated some questionable men” and has been blamed for promoting anorexia and heroin use.
The videos under this audio feature influencers, many of whom actively market products to their young audiences, sharing how they relate to Kate Moss, doing videos of their makeup to the audio, and even claiming that the audio is demonstrative of their “aesthetic.”
These videos collectively have millions of likes and thousands of comments praising Kate Moss’s participation in the heroin chic era as something celebratory.
While this is just one example, there are thousands of other examples similar to this one in nature across all social media platforms, including but not limited to: communities promoting eating disorders on Twitter and Tumblr, video compilations of heroin chic models on YouTube, and Facebook groups for people who are fans of Kate Moss.
Let us not forget that Kate Moss, along with other figures of the heroin chic era, held the mantra that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” and that the heroin chic era was notorious for its acceptance of pedophilia as it featured a plethora of underage models high on drugs and other substances.
Arguably, there is not one redeeming quality about this heroin chic era in western culture, yet people on social media glamorize the era to high heaven.
Moreover, major social media platforms have yet to take serious action against combatting content that glamorizes the drug use and dehumanization that characterized the heroin chic era.
I predict that for as long as these social media companies are profiting off of paid advertisements from fast-fashion brands attempting to emulate the heroin chic era, nothing will happen to solve the problem.
Now, reader, you may ask the question as to why I, as a male, feel the need to act as a whistleblower on the current state of the female-centric beauty and fashion industries.
My answer to that lies in the fact that I have a little sister who, I worry is already consuming this type of content online, just like millions of other young girls worldwide.
Influencers, celebrities and beauty brands are not concerned about the ethical implications of the content they push to young audiences. If they can promote insecurity among these young women, then they can sell their products to them to “remedy” their newly manufactured insecurities.
Do we really need another generation of young girls experiencing the exploitative nature of the heroin chic era?
Do we really need another generation of young girls who are being told that their God-given features are not beautiful?
The idea that our bodies are trends, and ones we can buy at that, benefits nobody but fashion and beauty companies. The heroin chic era is an infamous example of the dangers that insecurity and the need to fit in can cause a generation.
In order to stop the vulturine heroin chic era from infecting the minds of the younger generation once again, we must denounce all romanticization of it and instead look to promote the beauty and acceptance of the features and characteristics given to us by our ancestors.
As South African writer Ingrid Sischy wrote: “This is heroin, this isn’t chic. This has got to stop, this heroin chic.”