Kate Sanders was the Regina George of Lizzie McGuire's middle school. While Kate ruled the hallways, Lizzie — Hilary Duff's breakout role — couldn't even make the cheerleading squad, their equivalent of the Plastics. But before seventh grade, these rivals were actually best friends. Then one lacy undergarment came between them: a bra.
"I always make the joke, like the bra episode will be on my tombstone," Lizzie writer Nina Bargiel told MTV News over the phone. "That's the one that people are like, holy shit.”
"Between a Rock and a Bra Place" was one of 17 episodes Bargiel penned for the hit series, which aired from 2001 to 2004 on Disney Channel. In it, Kate's popularity skyrockets after she starts wearing bras, so in this unforgettable episode, Lizzie decides she wants a bra, too. Maybe underwire will help her climb the social ladder.
Bargiel knew from firsthand experience what a significant "rite of passage" a first bra is. "When you're a kid who has double-D boobs at fifth grade, it's one of those things where you either get very, very shy or very, very funny," she explained. "Because people are obsessing, especially boys and grown men, and so you have to find a way to deal with it."
On Lizzie, bras went beyond puberty and defined an entire friendship. "There's also something really interesting about being in grammar school and you're BFFs with someone, and then summer happens," she continued. "One of you comes back and is a different person, and suddenly they're popular and they don't talk to you anymore. Because you have this shared history that they really were friends, but now she's off with somebody else being this person that you don't recognize. It was always nice to make Kate super evil, but then I also like to take moments and make her super human and have those memories with Lizzie where she was vulnerable."
Growing apart from a longtime friend is something many people experience, and that was the point. Lizzie was supposed to be as normal as possible, so preteens could watch her survive the same growing pains they faced — from deciding what to wear on school-picture day to asking a crush to sign their yearbook. Even when an episode focused on bras, there was a secondary storyline about kung fu to keep the show's sizable male audience hooked.
"It wasn't like people aspired to be Lizzie. People were Lizzie," Bargiel said. "So you wanted real, actual feelings and real, actual friendship moments and conflicts ... I mean, for me, middle school was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. So it's like, as opposed to therapy, they paid me to write Lizzie."
Duff echoed this sentiment earlier this year when MTV News spoke to her on the set of her current TV show, Younger. "[Lizzie] was the relatable girl that everyone wants to be friends with, and that's who Kelsey is," she said about her latest role. Lizzie taught her to play extraordinarily average — but still beloved — characters.
After 17 years of writing children's television — most recently, Barbie: Dreamhouse Adventures — Bargiel's goal remains the same. "I don't have kids. I don’t want kids," she explained, "but I want kids to feel like they're less alone and less scared and there are people out there [like them]. ... Because honestly, we don't really grow out of — we're all still going through middle school and high school. We just have more money and swear a lot more."
These values stuck with Bargiel even as Lizzie's life became far more exciting. Logically speaking, kissing Aaron Carter and becoming an Italian pop star should've given Lizzie a little more hallway cred, but no celebrity encounter could catapult her popularity as much as getting a bra did for Kate. Middle school isn't a logical place, and let's not forget that Lizzie's adventures wouldn't have been possible without Miranda and Gordo, her ride-or-die BFFs — bra or no bra.
“When I talked to a lot people in my school, it wasn't necessarily what you looked like that made you popular," Bargiel said. "It was like this weird, overconfident cockiness. Now of course, that's probably masking complete insecurity, but [Lizzie] could never get to that point. ... No matter what she did, she ended up back where she started. But the thing is, where she started was great. Like she had really good friends who really cared about her, so who gives a shit about being popular?"