Duff wasn’t the only one mercilessly raked over the coals for a body type that supposedly fell outside the “ideal” of the era, epitomized by Nicole Richie (who, at the time said, “I wouldn’t want any young girl looking at me and saying, ‘That’s what I want to look like’”) and the Olsen twins (one of whom received eating disorder treatment). From weight-related scrutiny about Titanic’s Kate Winslet to the disgusting dissection of Jessica Simpson’s waist size, we were spoon-fed a warped perspective and mercilessly cruel narrative that left many of us with lasting scars—whether in the form of a full-fledged disorder or simply the enduring encyclopedic knowledge of every food’s caloric content, which our brains automatically rattle off when we try to be “normal” at meal times.
So now what? We’re becoming aware, and that’s amazing. But is awareness enough to overcome the distorted, destructive rhetoric we’ve received all our lives? According to fellow millennial therapist and eating disorder specialist Alyssa Mass, MFT, it’s an important first step. “Creating awareness and space from toxic messaging is the best thing anyone can do,” she says. “It’s easy to disregard and take it as ‘the norm,’ but it doesn’t have to be. The norm changes when we actively push against it. If we want to feel better about our bodies, it’s important to reframe and restructure and rewrite the toxic messages we were all sold as fact. Also begin to notice how certain messages affect you—follow the feeling you want.”
Based on the uptick in millennial-made content analyzing and actively dismantling the “norms” of our early years, there does appear to be hope. And I have immense hope for Gen Z, who, for the most part, already appears to be far more evolved in their understanding of body diversity and acceptance, despite the unprecedented amount of photoshopped influencer content they’ve consumed since birth.
My 12-year-old niece recently said to me, “Can you believe Victoria’s Secret just started using plus-size models, like, two years ago? What took them so long?” I got actual butterflies at the prospect of this narrow, suffocating, singular standard of beauty ceasing to reign supreme if her generation can actually put a stop to the cycle. But eating disorders and negative body image don’t just go away with age, and unless millennial women do some serious healing around these wounds, we’ll continue to suffer.
Light believes that work begins with being honest about our shared generational pain. “If we can start to recognize and acknowledge some of the things that have led us to see our bodies in such a negative light, and have such a desire for thinness, we can heal and hopefully move to a better place where what we weigh on the scales matters far less,” she says. “I also think recognizing these moments is super helpful in tapping into self-compassion, by realizing that it’s not our fault that we feel the way we do about our bodies and our body image. And, ultimately, self-compassion underpins this entire journey of getting to a place where we’re at peace with our bodies and comfortable with the skin we’re in.”
In writing this, I discovered that even the most confident representatives of our generation were fighting their own internalized fatphobia and body image issues. I reached out to Miller—a.k.a. the woman on page 194 of that September Glamour issue. She was just 20 when that photo was published, inadvertently becoming a body positivity icon. But she’s still working through her own millennial traumas.
“Growing up in the ’90s and 2000s messed with my body image,” Miller tells me. “Women and young girls felt like we needed to be perfect all the time—an impossible and daunting task. Thank goodness nowadays we have the space to be human and beautiful in all of our own perfectly imperfect ways. We fought for this. We deserve this.”