Y2K fashion trends are coming back — and so is their inherent fatphobia

In the first Sex and the City movie, which was released in 2008, party girl turned monogamous girlfriend Samantha Jones shocks her cohorts by debuting a new look: five extra pounds of weight.

Based on the way her friends treated her, you would think she grew a second head, but the weight is barely noticeable to the average person. In fact, it wouldn’t be visible at all if she were not wearing low-rise jeans — a style indicative of the era.

https://www.tiktok.com/@thephilosopherqueen/video/6936040476130757894

Her friend Carrie Bradshaw confronts her as she slovenly eats cake, a behavior meant to emphasize her sloppy new appearance, by saying, “How could you not notice?” As if a longer shirt wouldn’t have covered it right up.

Source: HBO

This is a mindset that was common on the show, of course, as Sex and the City has long received criticism for its problematic jokes and rampant fat-shaming. But it’s also a symptom of the time that these scenarios were entirely acceptable in the aughts, especially given the fashion trends of the time.

Those dreaded low-rise jeans — as well as baby tees, skin-tight tracksuits, visible thongs, cropped cardigans and more — define what is now known as Y2K fashion, or the popular styles of the late 1990s to early 2000s.

The low-riding and skin-tight outfits, like what Samantha Jones wore in the Sex in the City movie, embody the hottest styles of the era for the ideal body type of the time: as thin as possible. For everyone else, they magnify perceived imperfections and make healthy weight gain seem like excess.

“The most famous accessory of the 2000s was skinny,” one TikTok commenter said, summing up the ideal body type for all those bold fashion choices.

Why we’re suddenly seeing Y2K fashion trends again

Those styles are now on their way back into mainstream fashion.

Credit: Depop

Trends tend to cycle in and out decade by decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic depression have played a role in popularizing clothing that has only recently become “vintage.”

TikTok user @guyfieri.superfan, whose real name is Alexandra Hildreth, explained in a post that the “skimpy, simplified aesthetic” of the early 2000s came from the dot-com boom. People imagined what our lives could be like with a simplified, streamlined approach to things, and fashion followed suit.

Hildreth said that lately there’s been a cultural shift toward spending less money that has people reverting to “archival” pieces from the Y2K era.

@guyfieri.superfan

It’s uncanny what house of sunny and Paloma wool are referencing in their prints & silhouettes 🤔 #palomawool #houseofsunny #depop #manrepeller

♬ original sound – guyfieri.superfan

This has given rise to a sort of thrifting boom, as well. Old trends are resurfacing because genuine vintage pieces are being re-worn. People in their 20s and 30s don’t often have access to clothing from the 1970s and 1980s, but they might have a few baby tees from the 2000s in their parents’ attics.

Why fatphobia is inherent in Y2K fashion trends

Unfortunately, the same old ugly cultural problems associated with those fashion trends are now coming back in style, too.

TikTok fashion expert Jessica Blair explained in a post that there was an “immense” amount of body-shaming happening during this time that led to rampant fatphobia. It goes far beyond the skinny white women who were shamed for putting on a couple of pounds.

“Anybody above a size 2 seemed to be demonized, fat people were blatantly ignored and clothing options for plus-sized people in the early 2000s were virtually nonexistent, thereby completely excluding fat people from fashion,” she said in a TikTok video.

Blair further explained to In The Know that most stores didn’t even carry plus sizes, and if they did, they didn’t carry fashionable and trendy pieces in them.

“The ignoring and neglecting of fat people are still shown today, as a lot of brands take forever to actually catch up with trends in plus sizes,” she said.

Katie Irving, an expert on youth trends and culture and the CEO and founder of Moonshot Agency, told In The Know that “exclusivity” was part of the “allure” of Y2K fashion at that time.

“[Trends] only worked for such a small percentage of people,” she said. “Sadly, you were either in or you were out.”

There is a sinister double standard that colors many popular fashion trends

Not only are those trends hard to access for people above a size 2, but when anyone else tries them on for size, they’re often seen as lazy and disheveled.

Blair used low-rise jeans as an example of the differing standards for thin and fat people in fashion.

Credit: Instagram

“These jeans are usually only considered cute and fashionable when they’re paired with a flat stomach,” she told In The Know. “When a thin person wears these jeans, they’re effortless and adorable. When a fat person wears these jeans, which often don’t even come in plus sizes anyways, they’re viewed as ‘gross’ or ‘unflattering.'”

A viral tweet from July 2020 described a double standard that exists in fashion, in which style “is judged exclusively by the bodies that wear it.”

Fatphobia in fashion can spread to ‘essentially every aspect of a person’s life’

Fatphobia doesn’t just give off bad vibes for people hoping to have fun dressing up the bodies they live in. It can make accessing fashionable clothing more difficult and expensive, and Blair said it can even lead to harassment and ridicule of plus-sized people hoping to wear the same trends thin people are praised for.

When fatphobia rears its ugly head in fashion, it sinks into pop culture as well, which is often at the root of the way people treat others.

“Fat characters are typically comic relief, lazy and unlovable slobs, or a ‘before’ picture before a character loses weight and becomes attractive,” Blair said in another TikTok.

Fatphobia can have “significant consequences for fat people in essentially every aspect of their lives” that “quite literally affect fat people’s livelihoods and lifespans,” she explained.

Blair said fatphobia negatively affects self-esteem, increases risk of disordered eating and significantly affects stress levels. Beyond that, it can lead to systemic discrimination in health care, employment and education as well.

All of this because low-rise jeans are becoming a trend again? No, of course. It’s not the fault of the jeans — it’s on us to judge the jeans for their inherent fashion value and leave our bodies out of it. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before that Sex and the City clip becomes another viral, real-life moment.

What we can do to stop fatphobia in its tracks

Camila Reed, a body acceptance blogger, said our society is still in the “hey, fat people exist and we like to look good, too” stage of things.

She called for increased representation in fashion, knowing plus-sized people will be held to higher standards than their straight-sized counterparts.

Blair said everyone — not just the people who are marginalized — should be advocating for and uplifting fat people.

“It’s really important for people to educate themselves about fatphobia and thin privilege and also to call out fatphobia whenever they see it,” she said. “Whether it be a brand only going up to a size L or your grandma making a comment about your mom’s weight: call them out.”

As Y2K fashion makes its way into the zeitgeist of the 2020s, I’ll be ready to rock a size 14 Juicy Couture tracksuit right alongside Paris Hilton’s size 2.

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If you enjoyed this story, read more about the aesthetics the pandemic has popularized.

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