In September of 2002, Christina Aguilera made arguably the most perfect 180 turn from pop princess to pop sex symbol. She wasn’t the first to do it. Britney Spears had done something similar the year before with “I’m A Slave 4 U” — but Christina did it best. When she released the song “Dirrty,” she made it clear she was done playing coy. She was owning her sexual side and putting it front and center. I was 16, and my mind was blown.
I hadn’t been particularly attracted to Christina before, but that song — and especially the music video — changed my mind. If there was any doubt in my mind that I was attracted to women, that video cemented it. Christina’s push to take ownership of her sexual image became a cornerstone of my ownership of my sexual identity. It’s hard to believe that it was 20 years ago!
Twenty years ago, I had just started my junior year of high school. Compared to most of my friends, I was a “late bloomer” — I hadn’t had my first kiss yet and had never gone on a date. I had only had crushes on boys, and those never went further than the infatuation phase. At that point, I had known I was attracted to women for four-ish years, but that was more theoretical than anything. No one knew how I felt at that point — it would still be some months before I would tell a friend that I liked girls too, and Christina and “Dirrty” were a huge part of that.
Like I said, the music video was really what caused my teenage sexual awakening. The imagery of “Dirrty” and Christina’s Stripped era is so burned into our consciousness, and it’s still iconic. I can close my eyes and see those assless chaps even now. Gone was the platinum blonde girl who wore crop tops and sang “Genie in a Bottle.” She was replaced by X-tina, a woman with black streaks in her infamously blonde hair who had not only a nose stud but also a stud in her chin. (She also had piercings in other places including her nipple, tongue, and her outer labia.) She was wearing triangle bra tops and skirts so short they were practically a belt. But it wasn’t really the clothing (or lack thereof) that had me enamored, it was the raw sexual confidence that oozed out of her. It didn’t feel fake or forced — she actually looked more like herself than she had previously.
It takes someone supremely confident with their body to wear a bra, assless chaps, and bright red briefs. Even with the body I had at 16, I wouldn’t have been confident enough to dress like that and put myself on display. The way her tiny hands snaked up and down her body, through her hair — she fucking owned every touch, and there was no doubt about it. The pleasure in the video was never for anyone but her. You rarely see her touching a body other than her own, and even when she does, it’s only for a few seconds. She was 21 and taking ownership of a part of her that she had been forced to downplay.
“‘Dirrty’ was extremely controversial at the time, but it would be nothing now,” she told Cosmopolitan back in 2018. When the video was released, social media wasn’t a thing and we were spared from being beaten over the head by the discourse around Christina’s seemingly. sudden explosion of sexuality. People came out of the woodwork to disavow her choices, including a truly gross SNL sketch calling her a ho.
Before 2002, we only got to see very quick glimpses of the flirtatious version of Christina Aguilera. My mind automatically goes to the video for “What a Girl Wants” where she playfully dances and croons with perfectly glossed lips. Unlike her peers, this flirtatiousness goes all the way up to her eyes — the way she grins and exposes her garter-adorned thigh shows she really was having a blast creating this shocking moment. When given the opportunity to tap into that part of herself, she really shines. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to it.
But if “What a Girl Wants” was playful, “Dirrty” was just that. It was 100% unfiltered, unbridled, raw sexual energy. It felt like she was daring me to look away, knowing full well I wouldn’t. I couldn’t tear my eyes away even if I tried.
“To me, ‘Dirrty’ was all about being empowered and owning my sexuality for the first time, and not feeling that bearing my midriff was something for the label’s packaging or for commercialism. It was something that I was doing for myself, and being a little brash and having fun with it,” she shared with Billboard in 2018.
And have fun she did. By the time the video gets to the water scene, I was sitting so close to the TV. What is hotter than a woman dancing on her knees and rolling around while water is raining down on her? I can still recall the heat that began emanating from the core of my body at that point. Even just thinking about it now, I can feel it. That video was hot in a way that made the song’s title make sense. My purely visceral reaction to it kicked open the door to me beginning to fully understand my sexuality. Twenty years later and Christina Aguilera still makes me hot under the collar. Especially if she’s still wearing assless chaps.