Arts and Entertainment

Scrolling to Starvation

Anorexia has not only persisted in the dieting regimes of supermodels but now in the average teenage girl’s social media feed, lurking in their wishlists and the Vogue beauty secrets that they watch and obsess over.

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Today, Pinterest boards are more than just clothes, food, and nails; now, social media revolves around your dream body. Skinny bodies flood vision boards, TikToks, and Instagram feeds. Many teenage girls go on rampages where the blue light burns their eyes as they search the web to find the secret to attaining these bodies. The topic of body image is inescapable for anyone on social media.

Perhaps this iteration of our skinny-worshiping pop culture began with Kate Moss, the rock star trapped in a supermodel’s body and de facto “it girl” of the ‘90s. With her sharp face and borderline unhealthily thin body, she embodied the beauty standards of the era. Her reign lasted until the mid-2010s, when a more voluptuous body ideal became popular (see: the Kardashians). Kim Kardashian made a huge splash with the release of her sex tape, and her popularity would usher in the Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) era. Though the promotion of the BBL body advertised a different lifestyle than the 2000s, it still promoted a harmful ideal that many felt they had to follow, whether through surgeries or photo editing. 

Even as these various fads in beauty standards swing in and out of fashion, eating disorder culture persists. It has only become less dormant in recent years with the rebrand of Victoria’s Secret and with models becoming a key part of this decade’s media haze. This rapid shift in the female beauty standard pushes the expectation of lithe, narrow figures over the previously favored hourglass body.

The popularization of Asian media in the West has also aided the growth of eating disorder culture. K-pop began its ascent to fame in the U.S. in the 2010s following a breakthrough in 2012 with “Gangnam Style” by PSY. Since then, the genre has become widely listened to in America, especially among Gen Z. The genre’s idols, who are famously subjected to strict diet regimens and unforgiving Korean beauty standards, are also conditioned to represent ideals of thinness. Skinniness and beauty are marketed to their devoted fans just as much as products from brand deals. “Wonyoungism,” a trend inspired by the hugely popular idol Jang Won-young, is based on the idea of self-betterment and beautification achieved by emulating her. However, this is commonly conflated with eating disorder habits inspired by her physique; Wonyoung herself has encouraged her fans on social media not to diet if they are underaged. Nonetheless, the fetishization of celebrities’ bodies continues to encourage dangerous eating habits in young people.

Skinniness, which seems to be the universal stamp of being fashionable and desirable, is central to the marketing of the women’s clothing store Brandy Melville. The brand’s notorious “one-size” (small) fit for their clothes has sparked controversy; might this kind of marketing promote anorexia? Its employees have to be skinny and tall to reflect the brand’s ideal consumer base. The recent HBO exposé, Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion (2024), reveals the company’s disgusting practices. To ensure their employees remain skinny, Brandy Melville management requires employees to send a daily picture of themselves to corporate executives. Furthermore, in order to apply to work there, the cashiers will judge you based on your body type and perceived attractiveness. Moreover, on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, skinny girls promote the brand; the comments, mostly from teenage girls who aspire to emulate these people, uniformly rave about their skinny bodies voluntarily. 

The ultimate irony of Brandy Melville is that the brand’s concept of selling on-trend clothes to skinny American girls was conceived by an Italian father-son duo over forty years ago. These are the people who profit off of the store’s power, setting the golden ideal in fashion and appearance. Today, the employees, who are part of the consumer demographic itself, help keep the products up-to-date; the product research team is made up of teenage girls. Brandy Melville has sold the concept of being cool and pretty—and thus, slim—with fantastic success. An old man reaps the benefits. 

With skinniness at an all-time high, the question becomes, “What’s the secret?” Similar to how many teenage girls follow beauty influencers to get tips on their makeup, there’s also a type of influencer that specifically markets their body type. Many content creators promote products that will “flatten your stomach in 20 seconds” or “help you drop 20 pounds,” both of which teen viewers are desensitized to, even though they are obviously scams. However, the vulnerable teenage girls these products are marketed toward are liable to compulsively buy these products. Not to mention, many influencers promote dangerous diets and over-exercise that make these girls dangerously thin. Trends like “looksmaxxing” also promote eating disorders, as they put down any body type that doesn’t look like Adriana Lima’s or Bella Hadid’s. This trend entered the mainstream as a joke, but it has now become a targeting game, with anonymous accounts replying to people’s videos and pointing out any “flaws” their bodies have. Similar accounts surfaced and even promoted products that are completely unnecessary, even including medication like Ozempic.

Ozempic has been popularized as a “weight loss medication,” but the reality is that Ozempic is a supplement to produce insulin for those with type 2 diabetes. Weight loss is one of the side effects of Ozempic as the drug causes the body to move food more slowly to prevent as much food intake. To many, Ozempic is an appealing and easy way to lose weight besides throwing up or going to the gym; therefore, many get it prescribed illegally. Despite Ozempic being viewed as some magical pill, for some, it’s a pipe dream, and they barely lose any weight, leading to them deploying more desperate measures. Ozempic slithered its way into conversations where people joke about how fat they are despite being skinny—how they “need” Ozempic. It has become a casual everyday comedic reference, something so normalized that the internet has forgotten its true danger. 

The many niche internet-born “aesthetics” created in the quarantine era have become widely popular and further lend themselves to the romanticization of anorexia. “Coquettism,” associated with hyper-femininity, Lana Del Rey, and the color pink, also idealizes childishness and thinness. Unfortunately, the use of romantic and playful fashion elements such as bows and lace has also become associated with the persona of a vulnerable ingénue. The inspiration for the aesthetic drawn from ballet has also influenced the trend’s fetishization of daintiness and a slim figure. Many girls who follow this aesthetic also follow a strict eating regime, usually consisting of very empty meals and drinking only water, which they post online as a mark of their adherence to the trend. Coquettism promotes eating disorders because it surrounds the concept of a child-like body; ideally, a perfect woman should have a thin, hairless body. It’s treated with such eerie normalcy as comments themselves encourage influencers to keep their bodies slim and to reveal their beauty secrets. This leads people to think becoming dangerously thin is normal and that they should limit what they consume.

Although there are multiple beauty standards, anorexia cannot persist in the media any longer. These confusing and toxic standards send teenage girls worldwide into spirals of self-harm, hospitalization, and even death. Even such a small diet can be blown out of proportion as they target vulnerable teenage girls who might not recognize these videos as unhealthy because of their normalization. Instead of backlash and pointing out other body types as disgusting, we should push for more inclusive media. Social media may be an outlet that allows people to escape from the horrors of reality, but with the promotion of eating disorders, these horrors surface in popular media and, consequently, reenter everyday life.