It is no secret that controlling women’s bodies is one of the patriarchy’s biggest tools to undermine women: Women are taught to hate how they look and are pressured to change their bodies, ending up stuck in a vicious cycle of self–hate. For years, women have been hounded to minimize the space they take up in this world. After all, "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."
The obsession with becoming skinny was at an all–time high in the early 2000s, when the covers of tabloids called out female celebrities for gaining weight, and models preached ways of maintaining their petite figures. Over the past few years, however, women have come to recognize how the skinny body is just a consequence of intense beauty standards. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the representation of women with bigger bodies in the media. The Kardashians have helped shift the ideal body type to a curvier one. Celebrities like Lizzo have made it their mission to spread body positivity. Many women online have also become aware of the toxicity of diet culture heavily seen in the early 2000s, and they have acknowledged that this can contribute to disordered eating behaviors. Consequently, bigger bodies have started to share the stage with skinny ones.
However, recent changes in trends allude to the fact that skinny truly never went out of fashion.
The Kardashians, who carried the flag for curvier bodies’ acceptance in society, allegedly undid their Brazilian Butt Lifts, showcasing to the world that curvier figures were no longer in style. Kim, in particular, has been vocal about losing weight: Last year, she made headlines for losing 16 pounds to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress. Although more curvier women have been appearing in magazines and runway shows, the truth is that these women are still a minority and are often used as tokens of inclusivity. Gradually, it has become increasingly clear that a skinny body still dominates the media.
The fashion industry has begun celebrating skinniness again. In the fall of 2022, Bella Hadid made headlines as a dress was spray–painted onto her as part of the Coperni show at Paris Fashion Week. The central feature of the show was Bella’s body, which is visibly very defined and angular. Miu Miu also showcased its spring 2022 collection, featuring a lot of defined abs and hip bones, and putting micro mini skirts on the map as a highly sought–after piece of clothing. The skinny body is coming back to center stage, pushing out other body types to the side. It is no surprise then that young women on social media apps like TikTok still yearn for a smaller body.
Over the past year, social media has similarly been overrun by trends and posts that idolize thinness reminiscent of the early 2000s. Buccal fat removal has taken TikTok by storm, low–rise jeans are having their moment, and unqualified gym bros are still giving unsolicited, unproven diet advice that demonizes all kinds of food, from fruit to oats. The girl dinner trend on TikTok, in which women post their “dinner,” i.e., an aesthetically pleasing array of snacks, is a prime example of how women eating the bare minimum has become romanticized again. Numerous women have taken the trend as a challenge to flex how little they are eating: A Diet Coke with ice, leaves of lettuce with meat, or a single lollipop. The term "girl dinner" in itself reinforces the notion that there is an inherently “girlie” way to eat—more substantial (and usually calorically–dense) meals, like steak, are reserved for men.
The obsession with becoming skinny is not just a Western thing—it has spread to areas all around the world. In South Asia, for instance, being curvier used to be a sign of wealth and opulence—after all, well–fed women were rich. However, in today’s world, the picture is completely different: Most women, both young and old, are determined to become skinny. At weddings, middle–aged aunties sit in a circle and discuss the latest diet they’re experimenting with. This is followed by countless conversations by these women, picking apart their own bodies and then promising to lose a certain amount of weight by the next wedding. Among young girls, the scene is not too different. Many of them starve themselves, surviving on nothing but coffee, coupled with an extreme fear of carbs and sugar. For most South Asians, the beauty ideal is the white, skinny woman, and so they will do anything, from bleaching their skin to surviving on juice cleanses, to become part of the club. And in numerous other parts of the world, the situation is not too different—women will do anything to fit into the beauty ideal set by the West.
Even though women today recognize that their desire to become thinner is a consequence of unrealistic body ideals, it is still immensely difficult to step away from doing so when skinny bodies are still underlying in the industries most women deeply look up to. Most of the women who are romanticized in TikTok aesthetics, such as old money or the clean girl, have smaller bodies. There is no glamorization of being a woman with a bigger body. The overarching narrative about bigger bodies is that these women deserve happiness and self–love, i.e., the bare minimum: The main focus when it comes to women who aren’t a size 0 is their body.
It is no secret that trend cycles constantly repeat. But we live in a world that has made something as natural as women’s bodies a trend, and this has led to countless women’s entire lives centering around how they look—how concerning is that? It’s time we not only realize the repercussions of this toxic mindset but also work towards fixing it. We need a world where bodies don’t play a crucial role in women’s opinions of themselves—bodies should just be able to remain bodies without a mountain of pressure molding them into different shapes.