“If Gen Z are wondering why every millennial woman has an eating disorder it’s because in the 2000s a normal thing to say to a teenage girl was ‘when you think you feel hungry, you’re actually thirsty so just drink water and you’ll be fine’.” Since this Tweet appeared on my timeline last week, I have barely stopped thinking about it and have been relentlessly consuming the discourse it has provoked about the hellscape that was Nineties and early 2000s fatphobia.
It reminded me of reading a Cheryl Cole interview in a women’s magazine at about the age of nine, where she confessed that one of the ways she kept in shape was to sometimes just eat a Mars bar instead of dinner. I vividly remember thinking “wow, what a good tip!” and adding it to my personal vernacular of fatphobia.
This is just one of the many ways that millennial women were silently and collectively traumatised by an obsession with skinny. They told us that Kate Winslet and Hilary Duff were fat, and we believed them. Size eight Jessica Simpson got called “Jumbo Jessica”, “beefy” and “obese”. Kelloggs tried to have us eating 30g servings of Special K instead of meals.
This mosaic of toxicity was inescapable. There was an unspoken understanding among women that we were on a collective and never-ending diet. It was a hellish time, but it seemed completely normal. And I haven’t even touched on Bridget Jones. Don’t get me wrong, I still suspend my feminism to watch it on a semi-regular basis, but maybe a film series portraying a 130lb woman as a disgusting sad lump, and making the plot how wonderful it is that Hugh Grant and Colin Firth would stoop to fight over someone as unlovable as her wasn’t the best idea.
Of course this is not to suggest that millennials are the first or last generation to be subject to unattainable beauty standards. While the body positivity movement has done so much to shift the conversations we have about our bodies, Gen-Zers are already beginning to deconstruct their own relationship to TikTok and Instagram’s faux empowerment of the “slim thicc” ideal-type.
I mourn the life I could have lived if the Nineties had just let me weigh what I weighed. I wonder how many millennial women would be justified in charging their therapy bills directly to women’s magazines of the 2000s. At the very least, we are owed an apology.