Is the ‘Heroin Chic’ look as catchy as it seems and how has it changed since Corinne Day started it?


Corinne Day was a model turned photographer after she realised that she didn’t have the right facial features and body to fit in with the then glamorous high end fashion models. She got her first big break after finding and photographing Kate Moss for the cover of The Face. It wasn’t long before the look she had created took off with the help of her ‘Fashion Family’ which consisted of Kate Moss, Mark Szaszy, Melanie Ward and Phil Becker. Although at the time it was known as ‘Grunge’, as the look evolved so did the name and she soon became the creator of the Heroin Chic look. It was the foundations for what we now know as the size zero look and with it has brought some drastic changes to society and how we as people perceive how we should look.

Heroin Chic has become a widely sort after look especially in Hollywood and therefore we are constantly bombarded with images of unhealthily thin people, especially girls, with lank blow away hair, deep circles under their eyes and an over all image that screams drug user.

Although Corinne Day took inspiration from other photographers, it was her who introduced this new genre of fashion to the world because of her own experiences as a model and not fitting the glamazon look.

“I was quite plain-looking for a model, Everything was so glamorous then, and I didn’t have the kind of face that could take makeup. I don’t have great cheekbones, or huge lips to pile lipstick on. When I first saw Christy Turlington, I realised that my hopes of ever getting on the cover of Vogue were gone. So I just made the best of it, and really enjoyed it – I loved the travelling.” [1] Corinne Day.

Her first pictures that graced the Kate Moss edition of The Face in 1990 were just the beginning steps to creating the look that would make her famous. For the following three years she continued taking photographs of Kate Moss but it wasn’t until she did a photo shoot for Vogue magazine in 1993 that people really started to question what these pictures were saying to the young girls who were looking at them. The magazine, the public and Kate Moss’s modelling agency took a stand and it wasn’t long before Corinne Day was being accused of promoting eating disorders such as anorexia, promoting the use of drugs and even paedophilia. Kate Moss also shut down communication with her after she started being bullied in school for her stick thin body and flat chest.

Although at this point, Corinne Day shied away from the spotlight and went on to do a documentary for the British rock band Pusherman, it was too late and the damage had been done. Other photographers had caught on to the Heroin Chic look and were using it in advertisements and magazines.

Between 1988 and 1993, when this look first pioneered statistics show a five time increase in eating disorders such as Bulimia Nervosa[2]. However, as the genre continued to grow so did the way the average public responded to it. By 1996, in the UK alone, hospitals had admitted four hundred and nineteen cases of anorexia and it was thought that only a very small few seek help. By 2000, it had risen again to four hundred and eighty two cases[3].

In 2000, Kate Moss and Corinne Day rejoined for a photo shoot as by then the hype and critical hatred towards the Heroin Chic look had died down. Corinne then started working on less Heroin Chic shoots and once again the Glamorous genre retook the spotlight.

By the time 2006 came around, the Heroin Chic look had started working its way back in and with it so did the rise in eating disorders and drug abusers. In 2006 alone there were six hundred and twenty new cases in the UK of admittance due to anorexia.

In 2008, British Newspaper The Daily Mail, listed one hundred and thirty seven males with the most severe cases of anorexia. This had risen from the eighty-two patients of the same condition in 01/02[4].

If you follow the trend of eating disorders rising and falling, it seems to match up almost instantly with the type of photographic genre that is being hurled at us. Weight loss is one of the biggest selling markets in both the UK and the USA, it is estimated to be at a net worth of ten billion a year and it seems to only be getting higher each year.

In the last few years, this look has been taken to the extreme by other photographers and even other media related people such as actors and musicians.

Thanks to the use of the internet, the public are able to create online communities for people who have the same interests as them and have the same goals. There has been a large increase in the amount of websites devoted to pro-ana and pro-mia and blogs that seem to worship the illness. It has created easy access for young girls to obsess over the weight of their favourite celebrities, especially one website that takes pride in knowing the exact weight and measurements. These websites set unrealistic goals as the majority of pictures have been airbrushed to look even smaller.

The use of airbrushing has become very prominent in today’s society and although everyone knows magazine photographs are airbrushed, people are still trying to get their bodies to look the same.

In 2002, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Information Clearinghouse released a fact sheet stating the rise in drug abuse in the United States. The statistics state that In 1993 50.2% of eighteen to twenty-five year olds were using drugs, by 2001 this had gone up to 55.6%.

As the imagery is spreading, so is the public following and teens as well as adults are striving to look like the models they see everywhere. Since Corinne Day first introduced it, the basic style has remained the same but the little details have changed keeping it more relevant. From looking at all the statistics and information I found out, I can see that there is clearly a following for this genre and that unfortunately it has lead to a more unhealthy lifestyle for a lot of people.

Sources – all accessed 29/11/2010:

[1] Sheryl Garratt. The Guardian, Saturday 4 September 2010




Other sources:

The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against women. Naomi Wolf. 2002. ISBN0-06051-2180