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Woman Recounts The 90s Pop Culture Moments That Explain 'Why Your Relationship With Your Body Is So Bad'

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Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Khloe Kardashian, Anna Nicole Smith, 90's kids 'role' models

It's no wonder there's a 90s nostalgia trend right now. The "grunge" era is having a resurgence, and everything from pop music and sitcoms to the technology-fueled optimism of the Wild West days of the internet are back.

It all has a sort of innocence that makes it feel like the last truly fun decade we had before everything immediately went sideways in the 2000s. But it's easy to forget that the 90s also had a true dark side, and it's still affecting many of us to this day. 

A fitness influencer shared a series of 90s pop culture moments that explain 'why your relationship with your body is so bad.'

As 90s trends come back among Gen Z, there's even been talk of the curvaceous body shapes popularized by women like Kim Kardashian throughout the 2010s falling out of fashion in favor of a slimmer, more 90s silhouette. Fashion is always cyclical, but in this case, the trend carries with it a very dark history.

The 90s aesthetic was based on the so-called "heroin chic" look, exemplified by models like Kate Moss, meant to emulate the deadly emaciation of drug abuse.

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Times have changed so much that the very idea of that now seems shocking and downright crass.

But the situation was made even worse by the fact that we, as a society and a culture, hadn't yet realized the ramifications of openly commenting on, criticizing and mocking people's bodies and weight. Not that it doesn't happen now, of course, but when it does there is an instant backlash that barely happened in the 1990s.

This created a toxic sludge that was everywhere in the 90s — a constant barrage of messaging that proclaimed, if you're not emaciated you're not beautiful, and a tacitly accepted culture of public shaming that enforced it.

Recently, fitness influencer Hayley Madigan shared a video highlighting some of the examples of this truly dark side of the 90s, and how it damaged so many Millennials and Gen Xers.

Madigan's video included horrifying moments of celebrities like Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith being publicly mocked for their bodies.

"POV: You grew up in the 90s and now realize why your relationship with your body was so bad," Madigan wrote in onscreen text on her video. What followed was a compendium of truly shocking moments of wildly inappropriate commentary on celebrities' bodies from the era. (And, as a warning, this may be upsetting and triggering for some.)

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The first clip shows a 17-year-old Britney Spears being interviewed in 1999 by Dutch television presenter Ivo Niehe about a topic no 17-year-old should have to discuss, period, let alone on television: her breasts. Sadly, her physique was a topic of fevered conversation in the media and pop culture for years.



"Everybody's talking about it," Niehe said in the clip, "your breasts." A visibly uncomfortable Spears — who, again, was just 17 — was then asked to give her opinions on breast implants, which she was widely accused of having herself.

In a truly harrowing 2008 Rolling Stone cover story about what led to Spears' now infamous mental health crisis at the time, a source close to Spears claimed that she, at her mother's and management's urging, did, in fact, get breast implants around 1999, before her natural breasts had finished developing — because she was still a teenager.

When her bust became noticeably larger, she was subjected to equal parts vicious mockery and lascivious leering in the media, and the trauma of enduring this compelled her to then have the implants removed, all before the age of 18. It was unconscionable that an underage girl — or any woman, period — was subjected to any of this, but it barely inspired the batting of an eye at the time. 

Nor did the other clips in Madigan's round-up, like one of Howard Stern and his co-hosts openly mocking a visibly impaired Anna Nicole Smith for her weight just a few years later in 2002, berating her to get on a scale and be weighed right there in the studio.



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Smith's offense and indignation at being "humiliated" on-air became so heated that Stern staffer Benjy Bronk got into a shouting match with Stern and the co-host cajoling her, screaming in a rage to leave Smith alone and attempting to physically fight the co-host to defend her. Once things settled down Bronk was then mocked for caring and Smith blamed for causing the drama. 

These beauty standards, sickly, went in the other direction, too. In 1999, fashion designer and former Spice Girls member Victoria Beckham was widely mocked as "Skeletal Spice" for being too skinny.

This came just four months after Beckham was cajoled into being weighed on national television by "TFI Friday" host Chris Evans in order to prove her claim she had lost the baby weight gained while pregnant with her oldest son, Brooklyn. (Beckham herself has only just recently come around to the ways she later reified these toxic body standards in her own fashion line.)

It's hard to verbalize the impact of 90s beauty standards and the horrifying pop culture moments they inspired, but Madigan managed to do so in her post.

"This complete disregard for women’s dignity forced a societal pressure amongst many of us who were growing up watching it," Madigan wrote in her Instagram caption. She went on to say, "I constantly compared myself even at the young age of 12, I remember wanting to be as skinny as possible like the models on the TV."

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It wasn't just little girls, either. I will never forget a woman in her 40s I met in the early 2000s while working at a gym. "I want to look like Madonna," she told us as she signed up for a membership and a slate of personal training sessions, her face radiant with excitement at the transformation she expected to undergo.

The trainer finally had to explain to her that Madonna was "basically a professional athlete" with an entire staff employed to whip her into the sinewy, fatless, muscle-bound shape she employed for her strenuous live performances at the time. The woman then burst into tears as she realized her dream body — the one she was told by our culture was the only acceptable one — was completely unattainable for her.

It's worth noting that the 90s introduced equally impossible body standards for men, too. The 90s were when the super-pumped, washboard abs aesthetic of stars like Mark Wahlberg, MTV host Eric Neis, and model Marcus Schenkenberg became the cultural default for what was considered "desirable" and a "good body" for men.

That standard persists to this day, especially for gay men — though, men thankfully have the "dad bod" trend, unthinkable in the 90s, that gives us an easier standard to obtain. Women aren't really so lucky. Though the fashion industry and pop culture have begun to finally be more inclusive of plus-size bodies, there is still a long way to go.

Even worse, the reintroduction of the 90s aesthetic has brought with it a resurgence of fat-shaming and diet culture — all of the darkest parts of the decade — along with it.



Here's hoping that this time, we can actually learn from our mistakes, and rein in this ugly rhetoric before it infects another generation of girls and boys with the disease of self-hatred. It was bad enough the first time around.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.