Thin is in again: why your body shouldn’t be a trend

Thin is in again: why your body shouldn’t be a trend


Bien avec mon corps
Based on an interview with Dr. Stéphanie Léonard, psychologist and founder of BienAvecMonCorps

After the body positive movement, we’re now witnessing a return to the 2000s fashion trend that showcased skinnier and skinnier bodies on the runway and in the media. Many celebrities today no longer think twice about extolling their recent weight loss thanks to dangerous diets or medications. As for social media, TikTok recently started offering its users a new filter that shows them what they’d look like 100 pounds lighter with just a few clicks …

As a parent, this can cause alarm, especially as summer is here and some teens may be feeling anxious about showing more of their body.

What impact can this trend have on young people’s mental health? Are we really talking about a new fashion trend? How can you help your teen build a healthy relationship with their body despite the pressure they feel?

Dr. Stéphanie Léonard, a psychologist specializing in body image, breaks down the situation.

Is being thin really a new fashion trend?

After the early 2000s, when extreme skinniness was glorified with celebrities such as Kate Moss or Paris Hilton, more generous body types were put in the spotlight with the rise of Kim Kardashian and fitness influencers. Unfortunately, the goal remained the same: keeping your body under control so that it is thin and firm. Idealizing thinness thus made way for a new conception of a very gendered, unrealistically proportioned body. Plastic surgery exploded during this period as people struggled to conform with heavily edited photos of influencers that proudly showed off small waists, athletic silhouettes and thigh gaps (in women).

The arrival of the body positive movement did, however, help with the development of a more genuine and kind vision of the body. Though very inclusive, this movement has been the subject of numerous debates. For instance, it has clashed with certain fatphobic prejudices such as the idea that overweight people should not be put in the spotlight as this glorifies poor lifestyles. Yet, it has been shown that some overweight people are still in good health and can engage in intense physical activity. Despite these conflicting voices, the success of this movement with young people has raised awareness about body diversity and promoted self-acceptance.

But was this the end of glorifying thinness? Unfortunately, platforms heavily trafficked by teens, like TikTok for example, have continued to glorify extremely thin bodies by massively sharing edited images with sophisticated filters.

Furthermore, the “That girl” phenomenon on social media promotes a “healthy” lifestyle with a highly monitored diet and daily athletic discipline. This phenomenon has confused teens about the very notion of “well-being.”  In fact, “That girl” is the girl that everyone envies because she’s slim, athletic, rich, happy and in control of herself. Thinness has therefore progressed from a purely aesthetic goal to a model of success that creates an unhealthy hierarchy of people based on their ability to control themselves. This confusion reached its peak during the pandemic when many young people were looking to control their bodies, leading to an increase in body image issues and eating disorders.

Tracing the thread of fashion, we can put the impact of the “return of thinness” into perspective since it never truly disappeared from the media despite the body positive movement. Young people have therefore already more or less learned to live with these aesthetic rules and have sometimes even been made more aware of body diversity. They remain, however, very aware of the pressure these trends put on them.

Why can following fashion be dangerous for one’s mental and physical health?

As we’ve been able to see since the early 2000s (but also in previous periods), aesthetic criteria never stop changing: having a body that fits the “trend” is therefore practically impossible and also risky.

A considerable percentage of a person’s body type is a result of genetics and losing or gaining weight are complex mechanics that depend on numerous physical, hormonal, psychological and other factors. Wanting to change your physical appearance can thus often lead to adopting dangerous behaviours like:

  • following restrictive diets,
  • excessively engaging in a sport,
  • using questionable products to modify your appearance.

Faced with deprivation, the body develops a form of resistance to protect itself against subsequent diets, which can eventually lead to weight gain and aggravate problematic behaviours further.

What’s more, in reducing the body to a superficial trend, we create an atmosphere of constant pressure and dissatisfaction in teens and push them to enter a frantic race to attain the ideal body, which is perpetually changing.

All of this can have harmful consequences on young people’s mental and physical health and lead them to develop:

  • eating disorders,
  • low self-esteem,
  • stress and anxiety,
  • a negative body image.

It is therefore essential to make teens aware that everyone’s body is unique and that a person’s value is not determined by their physical appearance, but rather by their personality, moral values, achievements, etc.

What can you do to help young people develop a healthy relationship with their body in spite of the pressure?

🧐 In order to help your teen build a good relationship with their body, it is important that you, as a parent, educate them about misconceptions related to controlling one’s body or diet. To do so, you can consult other content about this subject in our toolkit on mental health, which contains articles like this one . You can also consult other organizations’ sites such as Équilibre (in French only) or Bien avec mon corps (in French only) to help guide your child.

🧘‍♀️ It is also important to take stock of your own relationship with your body and your diet. Children are often more influenced by their parents’ actions than their parents’ words. Adopting healthy and balanced behaviours and avoiding making negative comments about your physical appearance or that of others are good steps to take.

💪 In addition, it’s better to emphasize your teen’s personality, strengths and accomplishments rather than their appearance. Thus, you can encourage them to take part in a physical activity, but it’s better to emphasize the fun they’ll have rather than trying to meet aesthetic goals. Before anything else, sports should be a source of well-being and not a stress imposed by superficial beauty standards.

📱 You can also visit the accounts your child is following on social media to familiarize yourself with the influences they are being exposed to. Even if this content doesn’t interest you personally, it can help you better understand your teen.

🗣 This can be an opportunity to talk with your child about the subject of physical appearance without making it a heavy, official conversation. You can also use news, events, TV shows and more to talk casually and openly about this subject.

💙 Finally, if you notice your child is uncomfortable with their body, it is important to ask them open questions to better understand what they’re feeling. Try not to succumb to the temptation to comfort them at any cost or to judge them: above all, your teen needs a safe space where they can express themselves freely. By listening attentively and validating their emotions, you can show them that you support them and that you’re there to help.

Useful tools for teens and adults dealing with teenagers

What does it mean to accept your body? What are the psychological impacts of a negative body image? Where do the beauty standards come from and why is it sometimes so hard to love your body when it doesn’t correspond to these criteria?

In this video, psychologist Maeve O’Leary-Barrett, gives several tips to young people to help them develop a positive and expanded vision of the body and the notion of beauty.

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