A Brief History of Cameltoe

Several weeks ago, having embraced the excuse to swear off zippers and buttons for the foreseeable future, I bought a few pairs of discounted yoga pants. When they arrived, I excitedly ripped off the tags and tried them on, only to discover an inexplicably dramatic crotch seam that divides as the thin, clinging fabric simultaneously unites. “Holy cameltoe,” I said to the mirror. These pants seemed structurally engineered to maximize the front-wedgie effect, like a pushup bra for the crotch. I took my predicament to Jezebel Slack, genuinely wondering whether cameltoe had moved from faux pas to fashion without my knowledge. One of my editors helpfully informed me, “Tracy, you need leggings with a crotch gusset sewn in.” Turns out I’d just bought some poorly constructed yoga pants.

However, now I was thinking about the use of the term cameltoe as a peculiar cultural phenomenon that has fluxed for decades between critique, comedy, eroticization, and self-help. Now I was asking a very important question: Where does the crotch discourse currently stand, and how did we get here?

The term, already in circulation by the ‘90s, was more widely popularized in 2001 by the “Camel Toe Annie” skit on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, in which a woman wearing spandex pranced around with an over-the-top crotch bulge. Soon after, in 2002, “Cameltoe” appeared in ye old Urban Dictionary with a definition reading, “crotch cleavage, esp. on a woman. The outer lips of female genitalia visible through tight clothing.” The usage example is helpfully given by a user named Bungalow Bill: “Did you see that girl in spandex? She had serious camel-toe going on.” The following year, the hit single “Cameltoe” was released by the hip-hop group FannyPack, which was fronted by a trio of young women from Brooklyn. Their producers reportedly helped write lyrics by asking the girls, two of whom were still in high school, about the slang they used, according to the New York Times.

The song’s key lyrics: “Walking down the street/Something caught my eye/A growing epidemic that really ain’t fly/A middle-aged lady/I gotta be blunt/Her spandex biker shorts were creepin’ up the front/I could see her uterus, her pants were too tight.” An accompanying music video featured an animation of said middle-aged lady walking down the street in a crop top and spandex as her belly jiggled. Cartoon onlookers gawked, cried, and vomited in response. The Times delicately explained to readers: “Cameltoe is slang for a fashion faux pas caused by women wearing snug pants... The song is a cautionary tale, intended to help victims—help them, that is, by ridiculing them—into recovery.” The fashion misstep wasn’t spandex, so much as spandex worn by a middle-aged woman.

Within a year, some porn studios recognized this “faux pas” as opportunity—the supposedly revolting aspects of women’s bodies and behaviors always slide so easily into titillation!—and released titles such as Camel Toe, Camel Toe Perversions, and Camel Toe Jockeys 1.

There, it almost seemed, that the moment had passed. The “cameltoe” chatter quieted. Maybe it was less of an insult once men were masturbating to it.

But alongside the rise of yoga classes, skin-tight yoga pants, and leggings as fashion, a backlash was brewing—and it was, once again, fronted by women. In 2008, a group of women published the website Tights Are Not Pants, featuring printable posters with slogans such as, “tell your douche friends: TIGHTS ARE NOT PANTS.” The idea being that people would plaster telephone poles with anti-tights propaganda. Vox reports, “Around this time, the phrase ‘Leggings are not pants’ started showing up on mass-produced t-shirts and dedicated Facebook groups and rudimentary memes.” The leggings outrage seemed formally premised as a general offense against decorum, but there lurked the implication of cameltoe. An anonymous founder of Tights Are Not Pants told Glamour that the group’s mission was to specifically fight the “appalling” sight of a “legging-clad crotch.”

The following year, Marie Claire was calling cameltoe “the most humiliating clothing disaster we know of,” while linking to products such as Camelflage and Camel Ammo, purported fixes to the so-called problem. The magazine also proposed some questionable homemade solutions: “The most effective way to camouflage is with a panty liner. Instead of placing it in the usual spot turn the liner on its side, fold it in half and make sure it sits across the anatomy in question like a Band-Aid.” Other women’s magazines followed: Allure called it a “catastrophe” and the “worst wardrobe malfunction.” Glamour deemed cameltoe “a tragic byproduct of all the figure-hugging fashion trends we’ve grown to know and love over the past five years” in an article with a headline that didn’t even dare spell out the word itself: “Wear Skinny Jeans Without Fear! These Genius New Underpants Prevent _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _!”

It’s all just tiresomely predictable: alongside invitations to reveal their bodies, women are warned to appropriately contain them.

Here, in the early 2010s, is where we regrettably enter the Kardashian Kameltoe Era. It began with Kim Kardashian’s 2012 appearance on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, in which she riffed on the size of sister Khloe’s cameltoe. There followed feverish Khloe/cameltoe coverage from Perez Hilton, who, naturally, compiled a slideshow of her “Bravest Kamel Toe Moments.” When Khloe appeared as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, she announced, “I have a very big cameltoe. My pussy is large and in charge,” she said. “I embrace it.” Her cameltoe, which she publicly christened “Camille the Camel,” even became a plot point on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, with Khloe being advised on ways to conceal it.

In 2015, however, Cosmopolitan declared sister Kourtney Kardashian’s cameltoe “on fleek,” noted that it was “the third time that Kourtney has rocked the camel in the past month,” and queried whether “camel toe is the new side boob.” Around this time, there were the rare calls to “take back our camel toe” (in this case in Bustle, a publication that earlier that same year published an article headlined, “How To Prevent Camel Toe, No Matter Where You Are Or What You’re Wearing”). Still, there continued service pieces on avoiding cameltoe, trend stories about cameltoe surgeries, a spate of articles and slideshows about celebrities “suffering” (suffering, specifically) from cameltoe, and Lululemon’s new line of pants with an “anti-camel-toe gusset.”

Cameltoe loosely became a synonym for having a human vulva. Anything short of a Barbie crotch was abject and horrifying. Even the vaguest suggestion of an outline “down there”—no wedgie required—warranted scandalized blog and tabloid coverage. Heavily quote-unquote “cameltoe” paparazzi pics became a tamer reinvention of 2000-era upskirting shots, a euphemistic way to talk about, and look at, what was in between celebrities’ legs. Soon, Khloe Kardashian came out with a classic celebrity makeover story, only vis-a-vis Camille the Camel. “Now that I’ve lost weight, I swear my pussy has lost weight too, which I did not know that was an option but thank God,” she told Nylon in 2016.

Over the last few years, there has been the occasional kooky news story about cameltoe tattoos (literally, a camel tattooed on the toe) or a lady who legally changed her name to “Cameltoe” (literally, I don’t know), but the chatter has quieted again. Maybe we’ve mostly moved beyond the quick fixes and “most humiliating... disaster” gawking! Hahahahaha, I doubt it. As a newly-minted cameltoe expert, I have to make the regrettable observation that the “front wedgie” discourse tends to get cyclically reignited alongside outrage over the visibility of any kind of tight pants. We’ve entered a moment of loungewear trend stories, but also “yoga pants are bad for women” takes, and it could go either way. All I know is: learning your cameltoe outrage history is a way to avoid repeating it. Class dismissed.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel

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TheMeanestSnowflake

Interesting study of camel toe. While I realize that there was no internet back then, we were using Camel Toe back when I was in junior high (because our one piece gym uniforms gave almost everyone unfortunate camel toe). That’s the first time I remember hearing the term, but it was probably already in common usage. So, it’s been around because I am old and Jr. High? Happened in the 1970s.