The Commodification of the Body as a Fashion Accessory, and its Effects on Health


CW: This article discusses topics of eating disorders which could be distressing to some readers.


Within the fashion industry, different styles are constantly interchanging with what is ‘in fashion’, resulting in popular clothing that people desire in order to join in with the trends. An example of this can be seen when looking at how the most popular styles of jeans have changed over the last decade alone; at the beginning of the 2010s, skinny jeans were everywhere. By 2015, it was the high-waisted mom jeans, and by the 2020s, flared and low-rise jeans made a comeback.


Whilst this has always happened with clothing, this has inadvertently effected the way primarily women’s bodies have been viewed, as different trends often demand a certain body type in order to fit. This has snowballed into different body types and shapes becoming trendy, seen in the stick-thin ‘heroin chic’ of the '90s, to the hyper-curvy figure of recent years heavily influenced by the likes of the Kardashians and Nicki Minaj.


In order to fit these body expectations, some people are making extreme health choices, which often disregard health completely, as the commodification of their figure as an accessory has surpassed the importance for bodily health.


Heroin over health


Popularised in the early 1990s, heroin chic was a trend that included an emaciated figure, dark under-eyes, stringy hair, and pale skin – essentially simulating the appearance of being addicted to heroin or other hard drugs. Not only does the name of the trend directly contradict any idea of health, but in order to ‘successfully’ fit the aesthetic heroin chic championed, there were standards that are unattainable for most people.


Obviously, the inclusion of pale skin in the criteria instantly gatekeeps the trend for light-skinned people, encouraging the Euro-centric Western beauty standards. The ‘ideal’ figure for heroin chic is not just slender but emaciated – a physique that is not healthy for anyone and can’t be achieved in a manner that retains health.


From a very young age, we have been exposed to quotes such as “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” by Kate Moss (which she now regrets saying), and have all grown up in a culture that bombards us with diets and tricks in order to shed off as much weight as possible.


The heroin chic trend not only glamourised the very damaging addiction of heroin but contributed to this pressure on mainly girls and women to be as skinny as possible, subsequently encouraging eating disorders such as anorexia. Eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other mental health condition and can cause life-long health complications even after recovery.


Through the commodification of the body as an accessory in order to fulfil the aesthetic of heroin chic, physical appearance and the adherence to trends is given more importance than maintaining a healthy body and mind, contributing to our superficial culture that often disregards the genuine wellbeing of people.


The hourglass hoax


With the rise of the Kardashians and cultural phenomena such as twerking, a different popular body shape has taken over the media and society. In contrast to earlier years when saying a woman’s bum looked big was the worst thing a partner could say, the goal for a lot of young women now is to have as big a bum as possible with thicker thighs – all whilst maintaining a tiny waist.


Throughout the 2010s, an increase in dramatic hourglass figures were seen within the media, resulting in an onslaught of squat routines being shared on the internet in order to obtain that ‘thick’ physique too. However, in the age of rampant photoshop app use by influencers and celebrities on Instagram, this figure is just as unattainable to achieve through healthy and natural measures, and once again encourages unhealthy habits concerning food and exercise.


Whilst these effects can be damaging enough, the desire for a big bum has driven some to take even more drastic and life-threatening action. In order to attain this figure, Star Delguidice had implants double the recommended size inserted, and prior to the surgery gained four stone to use fat from her thighs, arms, and stomach. Due to the extreme size, the fat in her bum began to dissolve, resulting in the implants sagging and doctors warning her that if she didn’t get them removed, she could end up in a wheelchair for life as they were now resting on her spinal cord.


The desired bum-to-waist ratio has become so extreme that people are often resorting to surgery instead of exercise, and although this can be done is a safe and successful manner, this is not always the case, and emphasises the lengths that people can go to in order to emulate the current trends, and subsequently disregard their health.


Prioritising health


When having a certain figure is included in the criteria to fit in with a trend, fashion becomes an exclusive space, thereby forcing people to either accept being excluded, or do whatever it takes until you can acceptably join in. If we want to create a society in which people have good physical and mental health, this can no longer be a part of the fashion industry and the trends it creates.


The body positive movement is an attempt to counter the commodification of people’s bodies, and instead embrace the uniqueness and individuality of humans. At the centre of this is how we can be as kind to ourselves as possible, leading to a healthier body, a healthier mind, and a healthier relationship with ourselves.