Y2K aesthetics: Generation Z revives the thin obsession of the 2000s

Photography via Imaxtree

Toxic expectations of thinness plagued the early 2000s. So why, given that Gen Z champions inclusivity, is the Y2K aesthetic trending?

In the early 2000s, I dreamed of being thin. I leafed through the problems of Cosmo Girl and D-14, yearning for a flat stomach like the pop stars they so often featured. I didn’t look like them; in fact, I would never look like them: I was a bullied fat kid who wore football shorts and Gap hoodies to school while popular girls wore platform flip-flops and tank tops adorned with jewelry. But it was more than just closet envy. I studied LiveJournal blogs that taught girls like me how to be slim. I went on a diet. I hid my body and blamed it for preventing me from having the life I wanted. I thought thinness was my ticket to being loved, accepted and desired by the world around me.

I have since learned to appreciate, and even love, my body as it is, thanks to body-positive influencers, healthy relationships, and lots of therapy. So when I saw miniskirts, low-rise jeans, and tube tops parading the Fall 2022 runways at Miu Miu, Versace, and Diesel, my brain jumped. Desperate to pretend it was a bad dream, I took to social media to do some stylish research. A quick search for “Y2K” on TikTok produced videos – mostly featuring ultra-thin white women – with over seven billion views. It was also all over Pinterest: searches in Canada for “year 2000 inspired outfit” and “early 2000s style” were up 20 and 23 times more than last year, respectively. I thought of that teenage girl who hated herself and wondered, “Didn’t we all learn our lesson the first time?


“Nothing tastes as good as the skinny sensation”

The Y2K aesthetic of the 2000s was one of complete abandonment – an embrace of the future with a hint of the retro past. Suggestive Juicy Couture tracksuits, extremely low cut denims and barely there bandana tops were scattered throughout every issue of vogue. Just look at the 2002 MTV VMAs red carpet queens to get the idea: Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

At the time, these trends were a colorful, fun and garish response to the more conservative style of the previous millennium and were in line with heroine chic of the 90s, an aesthetic that introduced us to Kate Moss and the type of “waif” body. And while that decade at least favored looser designs, in the 2000s the silhouette became alarmingly slimmer. It was less about fashion and more about celebrating slim bodies. In fact, the body has been the fashion.

“The Y2K style is largely based on thinness,” says Gianluca Russo, columnist and author of The power of more: the size inclusivity revolution inside fashion. “But it went beyond the clothes. The bodies of the models have inevitably become an asset to nail the Y2K style. The message was clear: it’s not for tall bodies. In a 2009 interview about her role in the fashion world, Moss acknowledged her commitment to the look with the statement “Nothing tastes as good as the skinny feel.”

And many apparently agreed with her. Hospitalizations for eating disorders among women of all age groups increased by 21% between 1999 and 2009 in the United States alone. And many of those people are still suffering today, as editor-in-chief Lucy Huber pointed out in a tweet last year: “If a Gen Z wonders why every millennial woman suffers from diet, it’s because in the 2000s, a normal thing to say to a teenage girl was ‘When you think you’re hungry, you’re actually thirsty, so drink some water and you’ll be fine.’

But after a toxic 10-year stretch, when women like me learned that our self-esteem depended on the size of our clothes, the tides slowly began to turn.

plus size model influencer wearing y2k aesthetic fashion

Is Generation Z to blame?

The body positivity movement, which grew out of the Fat Rights Movement of the late 1960s, entered small pockets of the internet in the early 2000s, but became mainstream with the advent of Instagram in 2010. People grasses started leaning towards visibility using hashtags like #OOTD. (outfit of the day), #effyourbeautystandards and #honoryourcurves. And then Sonya Renee Taylor’s multi-hyphenate spoken-word video of her poem “The Body Is No Excuse” went viral, leading to an international movement and a groundbreaking book, both of the same name.

The movement has also made its way to TikTok, with the hashtag #bodypositive garnering 6.1 billion views and others like #plussizefashion full of curvy people trying on clothes. When I log into the platform, my algorithm feeds me all these videos. But it’s mostly millennials that I see creating this content, while Gen Z, the generation known for fighting for diversity, LGBTQIA2S+ rights, and ethical consumerism, plays with the Y2K aesthetic. Is body positivity skipping a generation? And if so, why ?

Well, according to Russo, there are a number of things to consider, including the fashion cycle: we naturally arrived in the 2000s because it’s the decade after the 80s and 90s, which have been in fashion for the past couple of years. of years. We should also consider that low-rise jeans are new for Gen-Zers; they weren’t born yet or too young to take advantage of the trend the first time around.

And for many, adds Russo, it’s about nostalgia, which was especially prevalent during the pandemic, a dark and heavy time that made the boldness and brightness of the Y2K aesthetic appealing. The same dark period has seen many of us deal with weight gain, something that is completely normal but has nonetheless impacted our ability to access mainstream fashion.

It’s not necessarily that Gen Z doesn’t care about size inclusion. After all, the size average movement – ​​which promotes the representation of people who wear sizes 10 to 16 – was born on TikTok. In other words, other factors take precedence, and that is a problem.

plus size model influencer wearing y2k fashion
Tiaynna McClyde. Photography VIA INSTAGRAM/@TIAYNNAA

Self-esteem in the digital age

“If you don’t see people who look like you wearing these clothes, there seems to be an implicit message that maybe you shouldn’t wear them,” says licensed psychologist Kristin M. von Ranson. “It’s hard for young people to learn to see things with a critical eye when food culture and the thin ideal permeate everything.” Von Ranson helped shine a light on the struggles Gen-Zers face around body image and social media with the Dove Self-Esteem Project. Her recent study found that more than half of girls surveyed say idealized beauty content on social media makes them feel bad about themselves. Eating disorders are also on the rise, with the number of anorexia diagnoses among Canadian patients aged 9 to 18 increasing 60% from pre-pandemic numbers. Similar numbers have been seen in the United States.

Big brands don’t help either, with many partaking in curve washing – a marketing tactic that uses bodies of varying sizes to sell products on social media without actually providing adequate sizing options to their consumers, which gives the impression that the inclusiveness of the size has gone further than it actually has.

Where do we go from here?

Gen-Zers are new to the conversation about size inclusion and in the early stages of developing their own body image. “It’s still young adults and teens navigating various harmful messages around body image,” Russo says. “We can’t expect them to fight until they really understand what battle is about.” That may be true, but the Gen-Zers have the upper hand when it comes to spreading the message. They dictate what goes viral, and that’s the tool that will do the most work.

The vibe is changing, however, and the Gen-Zers (with the help of their older millennials) are proving that it’s possible to take the fun parts of the Y2K aesthetic and leave the bad behind. Plus-size fashion influencers like Tiaynna McClyde, Jessica Torres, Karina Gomez and Jessica Blair are reclaiming and ushering in an inclusive new take on the 2000s aesthetic.

It’s still hard for me to comprehend this updated version of an era that was so laden with an obsession with being thin and when being desired, cool and dignified meant building a case against the body I was told given – especially when body standards haven’t changed much at all except for the speed at which they move. But maybe this trend, which is resurfacing in an age of greater acceptance of body size, offers people like me the chance to reinvent it. I won’t be buying the Miu Miu micro-mini anytime soon, but low rise baggy jeans? I might just get behind those, if only to let the younger version of me feel seen.

This article first appeared in THE FASHION October issue. Learn more here.