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Let’s Leave Heroin Chic in the ‘90s

A fashion movement we shouldn’t want to relive. 

(Chloë Sevigny and Harmony Korine in Kids (1995) / IMDb photos)


We’ve been watching the trends of past decades resurface into modern obsessions for years. From Lisa Frank’s color scheme to the endless versatility of the banana clip, the ‘90s seem to be having a moment. However, if there’s one thing we should leave behind, it’s the glorification of opioids and the detrimental lifestyle they foster. 

Coined ‘Heroin Chic’, the provoking name represented a, “mid-90s style of fashion photography that was accused of glamourizing super-skinny, strung-out models.” Notable names such as Calvin Klein, Kate Moss and the late Davide Sorrenti were all once at the forefront of the trend, plastering the look on every magazine and runway possible.

What exactly is the look? To be blunt, it’s a malnourished club kid that comes home to a grungy apartment. They can always be found with a cigarette in hand, mascara streaking down their face, hanging around a gas station or laundromat. Although it was considered to be a harmless aesthetic by those who participated, their ignorance has produced dangerous inclinations and mockeries that refuse to die. 

That’s not to say that the movement is back in full swing; Within the 21st-century fashion industry, there has undoubtedly been an increase in representation of body diversity. We’ve entered a period of celebration and self-love, switching over to clean-beauty and green juices. However, that doesn’t mean that our past mistakes aren’t lurking beneath the surface of our specifically curated Instagram feeds.

While accounts that idealized an impoverished lifestyle and eating disorders used to infect sites like Tumblr, I unfortunately see a common thread of posts running through new platforms such as TikTok, especially within the ‘alt’ community.

Some of the most prevalent content include fixations with films or shows that aim to expose the harsh underbelly of corruption. Whether it’s Kids from 1995 or The Florida Project, these types of movies have been deemed as works of art that accurately depict brutal realities. And while that may be true, art shouldn’t always be emulated.

This particular TikTok video got a lot of attention for essentially turning poverty into a photoshoot while visiting the Magic Castle in Kissimmee, Fla., where Sean Baker’s The Florida Project was filmed. Following the initial waves of criticism, it’s since been flooded with comments defending the girls saying that this is just them showing their appreciation for a great film. I’m not entirely convinced. 

I don’t care that it’s a pretty purple building. They missed the point. These interstate motels are home to so many low-income individuals. If you’re not going to do anything to help these communities, you shouldn’t be allowed to exploit the living situations of those who are genuinely struggling. It’s uncomfortable and too reminiscent of the atmosphere ‘90s photographers attempted to idolize. 

On a more serious note, the eating disorders that ‘Heroin Chic’ promoted and encouraged were beyond damaging to the industry. What’s even more terrifying is the way TikTok presently pushes toxic diet cultures. 

Although TikTok has attempted to put barriers around this kind of content, there are apparent loopholes. In a piece from i-D Magazine, it’s explained that, “Not only are eating disorder and anorexia hashtags frequently used, but there is also a plethora of misspelt variations of the words. Though typos are an easy mistake to make, #Anorexie, in particular, has 17.2 million views and the content using the hashtag tends to be more triggering than that of #anorexia, suggesting an intentional attempt to disguise the content from TikTok’s moderation.”

It's heartbreaking to see these disorders reemerge on platforms time and time again and leads me to wonder whether the lasting effects of the fashion movement ever truly left. Heroin Chic always encouraged life-threatening alterations for the sake of style. It’s important to address the small signs before it gets out of hand again. 

Whether it’s the viral audio from Skins about picking up drugs or the ‘What I eat in a day’ videos, these are all problems that stem back to a movement that was born before most of us. Although it’s currently more of an underground issue, I fear that the normalization of these seemingly casual trends could lead to something more concerning. There’s a fine line between style expression and a sardonic portrayal of a life we know nothing about. 

Let’s keep the Mary Janes and slip dresses, but please, can we throw Heroin Chic away? 


Madeline Murphy is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She’s currently studying Journalism with a minor in Women’s Studies. Madeline can be found making Apple Music playlists, trying Nigella Lawson recipes and binging SATC. She’s fiercely passionate about social justice and the power of words. 

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