Origins of Diet Culture in the 2000s

The early 2000s are often thought of as a time where skinny more than usual was the beauty standard. Celebrities for one of the first times were exposing as much skin as they wanted to, moving away from the more “conservative” fashions of past years. This new era of skin ushered in low-rise pants, crop tops, mini shorts, and miniskirts. With these new fashion trends, the clothing industry changed accordingly. Using models that were stick thin and placing them in the clothes that highlighted their slimness became the norm.2 With the growth of technology and increase in the awareness of celebrities, it was hard to escape from this idealization of beauty.

The above photo shows the flaunting of skin, in this case both for men and women. These ad campaigns were a staple of the early 2000s, plastering pictures of unrealistically thin young people across malls and in magazines.

Everywhere that women looked, they were exposed to unhealthily skinny women dressed in clothes to accentuate their thinness. This evolved from the 90’s look was referred to as “heroin-chic”, pointing to the skinniness that comes from doing drugs.

Unsurprisingly, this media led to a cultural shift towards thinness. Pushing girls and women away from their natural bodies and closer to an acceptance of unhealthy habits and self-hatred in order to look like people in a magazine.


The major question that comes up in looking into this period in the fashion industry is whether or not companies were aware of the impact that they were having on consumers.3 For some celebrities or clothing brands it’s easy to assume that they were just following along with the trends. But for others, looking at their history reveals an awareness of their impact on young people.

In Abercrombie & Fitch’s case, they used their exclusivity as a standard. Only some could fit in working, modeling, and wearing their clothes. And this was something that their CEO took pride in, a brand that only few could wear. But in representing the “cool kids” of the early 2000s, it isolated many teenage girls who didn’t fit the impossible standards set before them by Abercrombie and stores like it.4


2 Helen Malson, The Thin Woman: Feminism, post-structuralism and the social psychology of anorexia nervosa, (New York: Routledge, 1998), 6, 92-94.

3 Karin Eldor, “The Founders Of The Chain Shine A Light On Eating Disorders In Fashion And Media,” Forbes, February 27, 2019.

4 Bridget Dolan & Inez Gitzinger, Why Women? Gender Issues and eating disorders, (New Jersey: The Athlone Press, 1995), 44-50.