It began as a fashion and weight-loss trend. Could it end in devastating illness and death?  

A claim that ‘heroin chic’ is back has dismayed commentators. 

'Bye bye booty: Heroin chic is back' - reported The New York Times recently.

The early 90s trend to hire fashion models looking waif-thin and ill was followed by the exaggerated curves of the Kardashian sisters – in itself problematic because the bootylicious image persuaded young women to seek butt-enhancing surgery. 

Now fickle fashion seems to have cycled back to ultra skinny. Alongside the return of 90s staples such as crop-tops, low-rise trousers and tiny skirts come unfeasibly thin catwalk and stills models.  

But should body shape be a fashion trend?  

While the fashion industry needs to constantly reinvent itself to continue selling clothes, does it need to do so at the expense of women’s (and men’s) health?  

Heroin chic was said to be a reaction against the vibrant style of 80s models, and saw pale, thin models with stringy hair and dark circles beneath their eyes leading fashion campaigns.  

Many models looked ill, and some actually were ill, dragged into addiction as they maintained an unnaturally thin body shape. Vulnerable viewers attempted to copy the look, with sometimes catastrophic results. 

Fashion designers, models and film-makers were accused of glamorising drug-taking and US president Bill Clinton called the look ‘destructive’ and a ‘glorification of heroin.’ 

However other commentators said an aesthetic used to sell clothes was unlikely to get people hooked on heroin – and by 1999 curves were back. 

Now some international fashion shows and shoots are once again focusing on thin – although there is a suggestion that the latest iteration of emaciation involves more toned bodies than before.  

As Britons are wrapping up for winter the fashion industry is stripping off for 2023 and what it is revealing is worrying people. 

While the industry is about selling clothes, the images may be selling a body shape. Doctored, filtered pictures filling social media feeds risk persuading people that they too could or should look like that.  

Twenty-first century fashion might feature more plus-sized models than in the original ‘heroin chic’ years but highlighting curves can be problematic too. 

Norwich and London model agency Sandra Reynolds has been providing people for photographic and film shoots for almost 50 years.  

Eastern Daily Press:

Head booker Jessica Tracey said: “I think any trend that focuses on a need for a person to alter their natural body image in any way is detrimental.  

“I would be concerned that individuals, particularly the younger generation, would feel the need to lose weight to fit in with society and the clothing they aspire to wear.   

“I believe it is important for brands to avoid fashion trends that centre around a requirement to lose, or indeed gain, weight.” 

She said the agency pays very close attention to its models’ well-being. 

“If we felt a model looked unwell or unhealthy in any way, we would not look to represent them and would discuss this with them at the time, to encourage a healthier industry standard. This is considered both at the first meeting with them, as well as any subsequent meetings throughout their representation with us.

“We are looking for a diverse selection of models who are representative of today’s society. Although it is important for models to have a unique look, it is equally as important for us to find models with a great attitude who will represent the values of our agency. 

“As a commercial agency, we don’t tend to get specifically asked for ‘extra thin’ models. Our clients often look to represent more everyday models, for brands such as Boots No7, TUI, Ford, Fortnum and Mason and Virgin Atlantic, to name a few.”  

Sandra Reynolds is increasingly being asked for body-positive models and Jessica said: “I think brands are keen to show a true representation of the range of sizes and show that all body shapes are beautiful.” 

Eastern Daily Press:

One of the agency’s busiest curve models is Pearl Froud who shares fashion, style and beauty images and information with her 105,000 Instagram followers, using the platform to help people feel good about themselves. She has recently worked for brands including Adidas, In The Style and Fat Face. 

Jessica said she would be worried by any return of ‘heroin chic’ as a fashion aesthetic. 

“Models who were already very skinny were measured constantly by clients and increasingly told to lose weight, in order to secure bookings.  The main fashion designers made their sample clothes in tiny sizes and fashion models were expected to be the right size to fit into these."

Seeing images of extremely thin people can affect people with eating disorders.  

National eating disorder charity Beat is based in Norwich. Beat director of external affairs Tom Quinn said: “Negative body image isn't something that impacts every person with an eating disorder, however unrealistic body ideals can impact people affected by eating disorders.  

“Thinner bodies are often praised and glamorised in the fashion industry, and we know from the people we support that this can serve as inspiration for someone unwell with an eating disorder to engage in harmful behaviours to reach a certain body type. 

“Social media can also have a harmful impact. For instance, posts that encourage weight loss can spread unrealistic body goals."

Eastern Daily Press:

Tom added: "Harmful content can also contribute to an eating disorder developing.  

He said social media platforms are obliged to protect users from harm. "We recommend that platforms are more transparent about how algorithms work, remove posts that breach guidelines quickly, and signpost users to support," said Tom. 

“Eating disorders impact 1.25 million people in the UK of all weights, sizes, ages, genders and ethnicities. If anyone is worried about their health or someone they know, we'd advise them to contact their GP at the earliest opportunity. Eating disorder recovery is possible, and Beat provides support and advice 365 days a year.” 

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677 or