Recent paparazzi pictures depicting Billie Eilish in clothes that are significantly more “form–fitting” than any of her stage ensembles have reinvigorated the conversation surrounding celebrity body positivity. However, with a number of celebrities opening up about their weight fluctuation and more “plus–sized” musicians achieving mainstream success, it's as if the internet community has shifted the narrative from shaming non–perfect bodies to praising them. Now, singers, actors, and public figures are brave, confident and inspirational — for simply looking like the rest of us.
Society’s obsession with celebrities and their looks isn’t anything new. In fact, lookism is a part of everyday life as much as it is a part of life in the public eye. If you’re physically attractive and fit into society’s norms of beauty, your chances of success are much higher than those of someone who doesn’t. In our patriarchal society , this concept applies most strongly to women. But, while many tabloids focused on shaming these women in the early 2000s and 2010s, likening them to whales, the late 2010s has brought a shift, where female artists, such as Lizzo, are praised for being beacons of “empowerment” simply for fitting outside of the box.
But, is it empowering that Lizzo refuses to diet, refuses to shrink, refuses to hate herself for her size? By deeming a plus–sized songstress empowering simply for the fact that she is plus–sized and calls herself “100% that bitch”, the music industry gives a clear indication that looks are everything. Ask yourself this: If Lizzo was a size 0, would she have received the media coverage that she did? I vote no.
In recent years though, male celebrities have also come under scrutiny for their size. Kanye West, rapper Gunna and the late Chadwick Boseman all recently came into the public eye for their fluctuating weight. In 2017, Kanye West showed noticeable weight gain, with one Twitter user asking “What is Kim feeding Kanye West?” The hate comments got the best of him, with the rapper–producer turning to liposuction, which unfortunately pushed him into an addiction to painkillers. Gunna’s Instagram posts are frequently met with comments spamming emoji pizza, hot dogs, french and french fries.
Then, in April of this year, an Instagram live showing a gaunt Boseman was immediately memed, with one viral Tweet calling him the "Crack Panther." It was only in the aftermath of the actor’s death from colon cancer that these Tweets were shamed. However, it’s worth noting that none of the many plus–sized male musicians or actors have been labeled as “brave” or “inspirational” simply for living in their bodies. For male artists, their looks aren’t a part of the package. It’s all about their music.
Billie Eilish joined Sia in the small club of female musicians who cover a part of themselves so that their art can be properly appreciated. While Sia’s breakthrough into the American mainstream brought mystery, with many wondering whose face it was under the wig, Eilish’s breakthrough sparked curiosity, with many questioning why a then–17–year–old would hide their body under such large clothing. In Eilish’s short film, Not My Responsibility, she asks, “Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it—and judge me for it. Why?” In an industry that' essentially based in the marketing of bodies and looks, it would be naive to ignore the fact that Eilish’s body could be used as a marketing tool. On the other hand, this tool can come under scrutiny if it’s too large in some places and not small enough in others.
In light of the online comments, mostly from men, about Eilish’s body, many young women attempted to defend her. But in doing so, they created a narrative that Eilish is brave—for living comfortably in her own skin. Her looks shouldn’t matter, but rather her vocal skills, lyrical ability and overall stage presence. An 18–year–old songstress living her life outside of a size 0 isn’t brave or inspirational—it’s just living.