The Whale Tail Was Never About Sex. The Whale Tail Was About Power.

The whale tail is making a comeback, and literally no one cares if you, a man, think it's sexy or not

Closeup of Gillian Anderson wearing a black G-string thong under a navy blue backless dress at the 2001 Oscars
Gillian Anderson authored one of the most iconic whale-tail moments of the 21st century at the 2001 Vanity Fair Oscars party.
Jason Kirk/Getty Images

In case you haven’t heard, we are in the midst of an early-aughts fashion revival — except for sometimes when Gen Z seems to take a somewhat contradictory stance against certain Millennial fashion staples, like the great skinny jeans and side parts controversy that led to a brief but highly publicized period of generational warfare earlier this year. I don’t know, honestly it’s hard to keep up, but the latest internet rumor suggests the whale tale is the next early-aughts fashion trend on the precipice of a Gen Z renaissance, and I am here for it.

While the standard Millennial response to this news is a disdainful eye-roll bemoaning the ill-advised if inevitable return of some of the most regrettable fashion errors of the early 21st century, I, for one, I am thrilled by the prospect of thongs once again rising above low-rise jeans. The whale tail, for those who either don’t recall or never knew, describes the top part of a G-string intentionally peeking out over a pair of low-rise pants, which are themselves yet another oft-maligned early-aughts trend on the precipice of a long-threatened renaissance.

Paris Hilton, a living mannequin for many of the buzziest early aughts fashion trends, was a noted whale-tail enthusiast back in the day and could often be found running about with a G-string on display for paparazzi. Striking a somewhat different tone, Gillian Anderson authored another iconic whale-tale moment back in 2001, when she wore a nondescript black G-string (with the tag visible) beneath a low-backed gown to the Vanity Fair Oscar’s afterparty.

What both of these examples have in common, however, is that they are less about sexiness than they are about power. While the whale tail may seem like an overtly sexual fashion choice, I don’t think the trend was ever really about appealing to men. In fact, like Steve Carell’s character pondering, “What’s wrong with her panties?” after catching a glimpse of a woman’s thong over her jeans in 40-Year-Old Virgin, I think the whale tail is probably a style that tends to leave men more confused than aroused — and maybe that’s the point.

From a young age, women are taught to hide any evidence that we are, in fact, humans with female-presenting bodies, and to feel shame if we fail to do so. Starting in middle school or earlier, we sneak tampons — wrapped in packaging advertised as “discreet,” because what’s more humiliating than being a menstruating woman — into the bathroom during class, hoping our classmates don’t notice we’re bringing a bag with us and connect the dots. Well-meaning friends — and sometimes even educators — tap us on the shoulder and warn us in whisper tones that our bra strap is visible, because god forbid anyone find out that you, a human female, are wearing a bra.

A fashion trend inviting women to intentionally display their underwear feels like a refreshing fuck-you to the years of shameful secrecy we’ve spent desperately trying to conceal any evidence that we are, in fact, in possession of a female body. When you’re whale-tailing about like an early-2000s Paris Hilton in a G-string and ultra-low-rise jeans, no one is going to pull you aside and warn you that they can see your thong — and if they do, the joke’s on them.

Alas, one of the many tragedies of being a cusp-Gen-Z/Millennial is that I was too young for whale tails the first time, and now, I fear I am too old to participate in the whale-tail renaissance as a woman approaching my mid-20s. However, to paraphrase some dead white man or other who was almost definitely talking about me wearing a G-string, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. So women, non-binary and LGBTQ folx, I urge you to go forth and hike your thongs up over your jeans — it’s what Roosevelt or Churchill or whoever would’ve wanted. And straight men, if you happen to spy a whale tail out in the wild, remember that it literally doesn’t matter at all whether or not you think it’s sexy. It’s not about you.

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