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The 2000s Are Back, and So Are Its Body Issues

If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you’ve probably seen the latest fashion obsessions of the up-and-coming Gen Z. Miniskirts, low-rise jeans, baby tees— clothing hallmarks of a bygone Y2K era where the Internet was still being hawked as the “World Wide Web.”  The fervor for the early 2000s has revived these Y2K fashion trends and spun them into a social media and pop culture phenomenon, with popular platforms such as TikTok raking in over 274 million views across the search “Y2K” as young adults everywhere long for a time when fashion was simpler, messier, and lower-cut. 


Scrolling Instagram reels, you could easily come across a popular Y2K influencer like @aliyahsinterlude, who has crafted an entire image and career around the 2000s “McBling” aesthetic. With nearly a million followers, creators like Aliyah have paved the way for the Y2K aesthetic to become a mainstream fashion trend. She has styled and collaborated with mega-artists like Lizzo, Kali Uchis, Rico Nasty, and even the original Millennia queen herself, Paris Hilton.


The nostalgic yearning for the early ‘00s is not without cause; after a (literal) plague of societal setbacks, economic downturns, and political fears anguishing the adulthoods of emerging youth everywhere, it’s no wonder that turning back to a time before you could learn everything in a swipe is sought after. 


But the resurgence of these Y2K fashion trends has also seemingly dug up another artifact we as a society thought buried long ago: the idolization of thinness. 


Warning: This article delves into eating disorders, early-2000s diet culture, and body shaming.


“Bye-bye booty: Heroin chic is back”


The headline of the controversial New York Post article certainly blasted away any sliver of optimism for modern-day body standards. When the write-up dropped in 2022, Google search trends for “heroin chic” skyrocketed, though the phrase had been steadily regaining traction in the cultural zeitgeist since its coinage in the 1990s. 


Famous models like Kate Moss became the face of the term in the 90s, with her restrictedly skinny frame garnering attention on runways and in high-fashion Calvin Klein shoots alike. 

Kate Moss in a 1993 campaign for CK. Photography Mario Sorrenti

Although its initial infamy lived in the years just before and after Y2K, interest in the gaunt, lethargic aesthetic that inspired the “heroin chic” phenomenon then still shows up in searches on today’s social media. 


Despite platforms like TikTok restricting the search term, the need to blacklist it reveals the extent of society’s desire for disordered images.


Other related tags like #thinspo are outright banned on Instagram, prompting an automated safety message directing users to mental health support resources, though similar tags on the app remain to perpetuate unhealthy ideals for what is “fashionable” or “beautiful.”


Social media has evolved in a way to mirror the consumer conscience of targeted demographics like Gen Z, so this uptick in disordered eating aesthetics to modern-day fashion fodder should be a warning of where the trend winds are blowing.


Not Just Bringing Back Y2K Fashion Trends, but Dieting Culture Too


It goes much further than just online keywords, however. In the wider social realm, diabetic drugs like Ozempic have been rumored to be a favorite of many celebrities in their “fitness” journeys, with its slimming side effects being highly sought after. 


TV personality Kelly Osborne outright praised the medication in a viral red carpet interview, telling entertainment network E! News that “there are a million ways to lose weight, why not do it through something that isn’t as boring as working out?” 


The video exploded on social media, highlighting the prevalent misuse of the drug as a dieting pill and further sparking up debate for and against weight loss. 


With the 2010s being characterized as the era of the body positivity movement, a campaign that originated online to challenge the negative and unrealistic portrayals of women in media, this recent cultural shift back towards thinness and weight loss promotion has been alarming.


How has our society backslid right into the unhealthy trends the media and fashion industry once sought to move on from? Or is the better question, did we ever truly give up the love for being skinny?


A Brief History of How We Got Here, Courtesy of the Fashion Industry


The fashion and beauty industry has long held a contest to see how to make the world even more self-conscious and self-critical when it comes to appearances. 


While its claws on the American conscience have only tightened in the last few decades, the fashion industry itself is a relatively recent product of the early 20th century when manufacturing truly took off. 


Innovations like the sewing machine together with the expansion of factory processes mechanized the work of simple handmade clothing, transforming our everyday wear into a fashion of mass-production. 


As manufacturing created the product, marketing fueled the consumption. Advertisements pinpointing the desires and ideals of the American consumer became necessary to sell a disposable commodity like clothing. 


Commercializing the whims of ego and image became the driving force for fashion marketing because it took what you were buying and transformed it into what that article of clothing could represent—a look, a lifestyle, an identity to show the world who you are by what you wear. 


Large luxury fashion houses like Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, and more accelerated their advertisements in the 80s and 90s, using multimillion-dollar ad campaigns as overarching statements about brand identity and the people wearing them. 


As high fashion trends populated and circulated in the modern mediascape, they conveyed another message: to wear these clothes, one must be thin.

Gianni Versace Fall ‘94. Photography Richard Avedon

Thin Was (And Still Is) in Fashion


The early 2000s is well-known today for its controversial body image issues, with many young women growing up during the time citing this era as the beginning of disordered eating in their lives. 


The popularization of thin bodies through print magazines, advertisements, television, and the newly developed Internet paved the way for models and celebrities to be rapidly exposed on every level to every demographic, furthering the overexposure of beauty norms of the time.


Navigating a world that rejected body types above an increasingly smaller number contributed to the prevalent culture of body dissatisfaction, negative self-talk, and restrictive eating habits, with many who survived the times remembering it rife with “unhealthy practices and body shaming.”


Writer Lucy Huber garnered over 70,000 likes when she posted a tweet examining this toxic culture and the relationship between eating disorders and Millenial women, recounting “…in the 2000s a normal thing to say to a teenage girl was ‘when you think you feel hungry, you’re actually thirsty so just drink water and you’ll be fine.’” 


This post epitomized the harmful sentiment young girls and women recounted hearing and internalizing during the early 00s, as thousands of netizens recall these types of fatphobic mantras as unhelpful, damaging, and even downright traumatic.


To keep up with the impossible body ratio the rich and famous were flaunting in the ‘00s, dieting, over-exercise, and eating disorders ramped up in prevalence as the years went on. 


The Statistics on Eating Disorders 


The percentage of eating disorder sufferers among the U.S. population steadily ticked up in the years since 1990, starting at .43% until its peak of .50% by the time the 2000s rolled around. 


Hospital stays also jumped over this period as well, with a 24% increase from 1999-2000 to 2008-2009 in eating disorder-related hospitalizations.


With the most current trends pointing to an exacerbation of eating disorder behaviors following the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent cultural influx reinventing Y2K as the latest trend certainly hasn’t helped the self-esteem of those dealing with the omnipresent perfection obsession of American society.


Even after the period of body acceptance and body neutrality that gained massive mainstream approval in the early to late 2010s, generating conversation on how we portray the average body in media and marketing, the desire to be skinny has steadfastly persisted as our beauty trends revolve back to praising thinness. 


Final Thoughts: Y2K Fashion Trends and Body Image


The revival of a time that glorified thin bodies has, naturally, brought along with it outdated societal meanings that we meant to leave in the past. 


The cyclical nature of fashion trends and their consequential beauty standards has led Gen Z to draw inspiration from wardrobes of an era when style was ubiquitous with a number on a scale.


Although mainstream fashion trends can influence our perceptions of what looks good, ultimately beauty is an entirely subjective concept that doesn’t need to bend to what current look is being the most hyped up. The current Y2K fashion trends and their corresponding body images may be in right now, but it certainly won’t be forever.


A person’s body isn’t a fad or a style to alter as the seasons go; it’s our source of energy, a permanent physical manifestation of the person we carry within. 


Reclaiming strength and belief in yourself in the face of these oftentimes confrontational influences that target our insecurities, selling confidence to the highest bidder, is more than difficult. Sometimes, it’s a task that takes an entire lifetime of undoing and unlearning. 


Recognizing that you are more than the number of likes on a photo or a number on a scale is how we begin to embrace ourselves on our paths to unconditional love and acceptance. 


Trends may come and go, but living life by your own standards is something that never goes out of style.

With Peace,

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