Very few items of clothing illicit such a visceral response as low-rise jeans. Mention them to any millennial and you’ll likely be met with an eye roll, a faux gagging gesture or a more aggressive response like, “They should be considered an actual crime against women,” as one colleague put it. Despite the fact that so many people unabashedly loathe low-rise jeans, trend forecasters and data from numerous shopping-trend sources suggest they’re coming back into style. And with them also comes the sexist, fat-phobic, hypersexualized anxiety that surrounded the trend in the first place back in the early 2000s.
I distinctly remember the frustration I felt as a young woman attempting to make myself look like Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan—lamenting the fact that my stomach wasn’t flat like theirs and how cropped tees worn with low-rise jeans made me feel self-conscious and uncomfortable rather than trendy or cool. Not even the largest size at Abercrombie & Fitch could make it over my athletic thighs, and yet, all I wanted was to squeeze myself into them in an attempt to fit in with the trend du jour.
And I wasn’t the only person doing their body and mental health a disservice by forcing myself into an unrealistic mold. Body positivity (and body neutrality) simply wasn’t a thing back then, so when celebs and fashion magazines told us that low-rise jeans were the way to go, everyone believed them. Today, younger generations sporting these Y2K trends for the first time might think of them as just another fun throwback style, but for millennials, low-rise jeans come with a surprising side of emotional baggage.
It’s not lost on me that the restrictive denim style came into popularity at a particularly bad time for young celebrity women. Stars like Bynes, Lohan, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson were scrutinized within an inch of their lives while simultaneously expected to maintain bodies just on the right side of concerningly thin—and to show them off without looking too sexy. It was an impossible standard—one that still exists in different forms today—and it no doubt contributed to very public breakdowns, like Lohan’s DUI arrests and Britney Spears’s infamous run-ins with paparazzi.
So, yeah, it’s incredibly confusing to me to be living in an age when the #FreeBritney movement gained enough national attention to cause a reckoning within media about how she and other young women were treated back in the day, and yet the spring 2022 runways were populated by too-thin models rocking impossibly low jeans with crop tops. How can we both throw our support behind Britney and her contemporaries while embracing this outdated, and frankly sexist, look?