The Return of Y2K Fashion is Harmful to Young Women

Sammi Bray ’25

Opinion Editor

Low-rise jeans, tracksuits, and baby tees are once again on the racks. Recently, The New York Times declared that smoking is back, with 2021 being one of the first times in recent years that smoking was on the rise. Y2K fashion and ideals are becoming mainstream again.

To some, these are just items of clothing. Consider, however, the influence of fashion trends on young minds, especially the minds of young girls. These items are designed to fit an extremely specific type of thin body. As a society, we have progressed past this phase, or so we thought, creating an inclusive fashion industry with a greater range of sizes and models. It all seems to be disappearing though.

Fashion, especially fast fashion, cycles quickly through trends. Now, young girls can adapt to these trends in a matter of moments, leading to the world of trends changing almost instantly. Trends can either die fast or, more dangerously, spread like wildfire.

Even plus-sized models with access to plenty of resources are being forced to look beyond traditional stores and brands for clothing. For some time, companies had been doing a decent job of offering inclusivity. With trends changing, girls who do not fit the idolized size need to have clothing specifically made. For those living without access to such a resource, size inclusivity has always been problematic. It continues to worsen with the current trend cycle.

Emma Markowski ‘25 says, “I think the main problem with Y2K trends, like low rise jeans, is that the person’s body becomes an accessory, and it is only perceived as fashionable if that body fits society’s beauty standard: skinny!”

Markowski continues, “The reaction a thinner person would get from the general public for wearing low jeans and a baby tee is way better or different than a plus-sized person wearing the exact same thing. The problem is not so much the clothing themselves.” She explains that while the items themselves are cute, they come with deeply ingrained fatphobia.

Some influencers counter this negative fashion mindset. TikTok star Eli Rallo (@thejarr) for example constantly tells her followers that clothes are meant to fit you, but you are not meant to fit your clothes. The return of Y2K fashion represents something opposite.

Beyond fashion, the media is beginning to embrace the Y2K aesthetic again. On TikTok, Kate Moss is trending as a fashion icon and being idolized as the perfect body type. Amy Winehouse and Lana Del Rey are also trendy, both with incredibly sad lyrics and rather tragic histories of substance misuse.

Television series such as Euphoria mirror previous shows like Skins, which have been frowned upon for their glamorization of drug abuse.

Now Euphoria’s characters are not necessarily glamorized, but they are normalized. They appear to be healthy and attractive and lead somewhat “normal” lifestyles. The partying lifestyle rather than drug consumption is idolized. Only recently has this begun to change.

This mindset also changes the bar for young viewers, pushing what is considered normal and acceptable. The thin, beautiful leading stars are often hypersexualized; specifically, Sydney Sweeney’s character is often nude, something Sweeney herself feels is unnecessary.

Even body-positive icons like the Kardashians seem to be shrinking in size, leaving young women with fewer normal-sized women to look up to. Even the dating choices of these women, like Pete Davidson and Travis Barker, seem to embrace the Y2K aesthetic. Kim Kardashian’s ex, Kanye West, is now dating Julia Fox, another woman who has this specific body type.

“Wellness” is also no longer trendy. While the “girl boss” aesthetic also has its own toxicity, the desire to be organized, motivated, and put-together is no longer seen as cool. Skincare brands are now using champagne, smeared makeup, and an obvious link to drugs to promote their products.

Trending makeup tutorials have gone from creating a bronzed or healthy look to learning how to create faux dark circles under one’s eyes. Messy hair is in, sleek buns are out. Again, it is not necessarily drug use that is being glamorized but the aesthetics of drug use.

The Kardashian sisters, for example, have also long promoted a somewhat healthier lifestyle. Most of them do not drink, embrace fitness, and somehow made giant salads a trend. Fox shares something different and darker, simply with her own makeup and clothing choices.

Even when one stumbles across a video deemed “healthy recipe” the people present in these videos fall into the same body category: thin. It may not be obvious but focus on who social media algorithms seem to be promoting.

There is certainly nothing wrong with a grunge aesthetic. It is certainly cooler than wearing a blazer every day and sometimes better than aiming for perfection; however, the grunge aesthetic is linked to the Y2K glamorization of heroin chic.

It is not just a grunge look that is problematic, but styles like twee popping up again on social media. Television shows like Gossip Girl come to mind, with preppy main character Blair Waldorf openly struggling with an eating disorder. The show fails to address this in a positive way such as leading Waldorf to recovery or being supported by her family. The show’s other main character, Serena van der Woodsen, was notorious for her messy hair and makeup and partying lifestyle that often led to a divide in her friendships.

Last summer, Gossip Girl returned as a major pop culture conversation, gaining new viewers as an HBO reboot. The new episodes remain problematic with every character being thin and sexualized. Despite being in high school, partying and addiction are intertwined in the characters’ everyday lives. Both the original series and the reboot include suicidal characters and both series fail to address the topic in an appropriate and healthy way.

Other icons of the time like Alexa Chung and even Taylor Swift were popular for being very tiny. In her 2020 documentary Miss Americana, Swift spoke up about the pressure she felt from the music industry and society to be painfully thin. Many also came forward feeling the same way. Their work in fostering a healthier narrative now may be erased.

Finally, it is important to recognize that these fashion trends do not only idolize thin women but thin, white women. The lack of inclusivity is intersectional, and the rise of Y2K fashion means a focus on white models.

If we want to bring back certain trends, we must do so responsibly. The negative impact of Y2K trends is obvious to most of us. Now, mixed with an even more powerful internet and social media addiction, the influence of these trends could potentially be even more dangerous.

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