Thin is in — again

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 26 Sep 2023


It seems like only yesterday, we were hurrying and scurrying to get ready for our summer by the sea. Now summer is almost over and here we go again, getting ready for a whole new season.

Too many beach parties brought back some bulges and pouches — and they cannot be ignored.

The “cult of thinness” is making a comeback. The style press is reporting that thin is in — again.

Alarming news, indeed. We were feeling so comfortable for over a decade, loosening that belt, and finishing off that creamy slice of cake. The K sisters were well rounded and they were the rave of chic society. But now even their well-endowed primadonna, Miss Kim, had to go on a diet to fit in the famous Marilyn Monroe Happy Birthday dress for her Metropolitan Gala appearance. She even was subjected the surgeon’s knife to reduce a certain part of her anatomy which made her famous in the first place.

If Kim and sisters are discussing their diet journals, what about the rest of us?

No two ways about it — we must follow suit.

It is not hard to find the right diet. The diet culture inundates us with a myriad diets for every organ in our bodies, every cell in our brain. Topping the list is always a weight loss diet.

The fashion industry is also busy aiding and abetting the diet industry, both feeding on our insecurities. We are caught between them and there is no escape.

You may remember the “heroin chic” of the 1990s, with the model Twiggy, who was very tall and very skinny, as the role model of the day. That is what the goal should be today, back to those abominable starving days — and we must hurry.

With crash diets, eating disorders are on the rise. Hospital admissions for people with eating disorders rose by 84 per cent in England during the past five years. It is obvious the cult of thinness never really went away.

Body image is a topic which informs us of how we live, from our success at school to our mental and physical health, as well as our careers and relationships. This is unfortunate. Body diversity should be the standard. It is not. “Fat is bad, indicating failure, weakness.” You would have hoped we were beyond this, that we are judged by our character, not our weight. We are not.

Thinness is back and proudly so, unmasked, with little regard for health and well-being. What would you call that? Fatphobia, sexism, classism, racism — what is it that leads to the often violent relationship with our bodies?

This is all relatively new to mankind. The obsession for thinness invaded our space about a century ago and though it is liable to wax and wane, the ready food market is ready to profit as everything is available anytime, anywhere due to progress in transportation and preservation.

Art books and museums show women were curvaceous and voluptuous up to early in the 20th century. What happened since? Why is thin in?

After running around naked for centuries, homo sapiens discovered yarn from plants; invented the needle and covered themselves up from head to toe. Modesty was the dictum then. Now women wear less clothes than at any other period since ancient times.

The 1920s came roaring in, making clothes lighter, simpler, and more comfortable.

After WWII, Dior’s maxi did not last long as the mini and micro-mini took over and took hold. The trend for less cover followed us to the beach where the modest one-piece bathing suit was replaced by the bikini, introduced by French designer Louis Reard in 1946 and named after a group of islands in the pacific, the Bikini Atoll.

The bikini is decidedly tame compared to what we see, by the sea, nowadays.

Less clothes means less bulges, yet the Marilyn Monroe era was not skin and bones by any means. She would be considered heavy compared to the thin revolution of the 1990s.

Thinness became the most alarming and deadliest of obsessions, when weight-loss drugs were discovered. Then it was Fen-Phen (Fen-Fluramine and Dexfenfluramine), now it is a diabetes drug called Ozempic, which can also lead to a dramatic weight loss. The demand is so high that those diabetics who need it for their well-being cannot find it.

How many industries are getting fat because of our obsession with thinness. The food industry, the diet industry, the fashion industry and the pharmaceutical industry are eating us out of our pockets and our bodies.

The global weight loss diet market size reached a value of $174.44 billion in 2022. The fashion industry which suffered great setbacks during the Covid-19 years has come back with a vengeance reaching $1.7 trillion in 2021-22.

Crash diets are doomed to failure, as 95 to 98 per cent see the weight coming back.

There is some good news. A few extra kilogrammes in later life are not as risky and may actually protect us. That excludes obesity which has its own hazards.

The perennial advice remains the same: increase activity, reduce consumption.

The body’s internal activities need a certain amount of calories for a healthy survival.

A balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and fat is best. Do not go below 1,200 calories and make every calorie count.

Forget the diet culture.

Thin or not, stop dieting, start walking.


“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1960)

* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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