Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 30 November 2020

Shame on the Billie Eilish body-shamers: Why a woman's appearance should not detract from her achievements

The teen has won five Grammys, two American Music Awards and three Billboard Awards ... so why on earth are we talking about her body?

Billie Eilish arrives at the 2020 Spotify Best New Artist Party at The Lot Studios on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)
Billie Eilish arrives at the 2020 Spotify Best New Artist Party at The Lot Studios on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

She’s as famous for her oversized clothes as she is for her prodigious musical talent. A talent that netted her five Grammy Awards at this year’s socially distanced ceremony.

So it’s probably not a stretch to imagine that she’s won, at a guess, at least five more Grammys (not to mention Billboard, American Music and MTV awards) than the host of body-shamers who took to social media after a photo was published online of Eilish wearing the uniform of teenagers everywhere – vest, shorts and sliders.

Luckily, for every discussion about her body shape, there were many more on Twitter who came to the star's defence to point out her many achievements, and wonder what her body had to do with anything.

"Body shaming a 18-year-old girl must make you feel so confident and manly," wrote user @BCB_G. @mckeenziiee added to the thread: "Why do people feel it's so necessary to judge one another? Billie Eilish can do whatever she wants. She doesn't have to conform to your expectations just because you may or may not like her body."

‘Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath’

Eilish and her peers have been saddled with a host of narrow expectations pertaining to female pop stars, and how they "should" look and dress.

It’s a legacy inherited from the likes of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and their controversial music videos. And there is nothing wrong with that, if it was their personal choice.

Britney Spears's album 'Oops!… I Did It Again' is 20 years old this week. YouTube
Britney Spears's reign as a pop princess was marked by her revealing stage costumes and controversial music videos. YouTube

It was into this arena that Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Cardi B and more have willingly stepped – again, their choice. But not so for Eilish, who, with her four-sizes-too-big tops and trousers, is both hailed and derided as the outlier.

“The only reason I did it was because I hated my body,” she told Dazed of why she wears baggy clothes. “I’d be like, ‘What rules are there?’ I didn’t consciously go, ‘I’m not gonna do that, I’m gonna do this.’ I [just] didn’t think of myself as being in the realm of those people. I was never comparing myself to them.”

When people try to suppress something, it's normally because that thing holds power

Billie Eilish

This has not meant she shies away from the fashion world. Design houses, including Chanel and Gucci, have created bespoke, oversized pieces for the singer. The Los Angeles native also appeared in Calvin Klein's "I speak my truth in #MyCalvins" campaign, when she said: “That’s why I wear baggy clothes. Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath. Nobody can be like, ‘She’s slim-thick, she’s not slim-thick’ … No one can say any of that because they don’t know.”

World record-holder

After releasing her debut EP Don’t Smile At Me in 2017, Eilish’s sleeper success took the music industry by surprise when the release went top 15 in the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

Her 2019 follow-up studio album, When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, went straight to number one on the Billboard chart and since then, the teenage prodigy has been racking up accolades, with five Grammys, two American Music Awards and one Brit Award.

Billie Eilish accepts the award for top Billboard 200 album for "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" at the Billboard Music Awards on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Billie Eilish accepts the award for top Billboard 200 album for 'When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?' AP

Last year, Time magazine put her in its Time 100 Next list, and to date she has sold more than 37 million singles in the US alone.

She also holds two Guinness World Records, one for being the youngest female to reach number one in the UK album chart, at the age of 17, and the other for being the youngest winner of Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards when she was 18.

Oh, and did I mention she co-wrote and sung the theme tune to the upcoming James Bond film, No Time To Die, which went straight to number one in the UK?

‘They’re afraid of your power’

So far, Eilish has stayed silent on how much the sight of her body has offended people for whom it’s none of their business.

She did, however, like a TikTok video posted by user Chizi Duru, who filmed herself saying: “Y’all gotta start normalising real bodies, OK? Not everybody has a wagon behind them, OK? Guts are normal ... Instagram isn’t real.”

In May she released a YouTube video titled Not My Responsibility, which has so far racked up more than 29 million views. In the short film, the Ocean Eyes singer delivers a monologue about public opinion of her teenage shape.

“You have opinions about my opinions, about my music, about my clothes, about my body,” she says. “Some people hate what I wear; some people praise it. Some people use it to shame others; some people use it to shame me.

“Would you like me to be smaller? Weaker? Softer? Taller? Would you like me to be quiet? Do my shoulders provoke you? My stomach? My hips? The body I was born with, is it not what you wanted?”

But perhaps the reason Eilish hasn’t bothered to address this recent storm in the Twitterverse is because she already has.

When collecting her Billboard Award this year for Top Female Artist, she noted in her speech: “Let me tell y’all something: when people try to suppress something, it’s normally because that thing holds power. They’re afraid of your power.”

Updated: October 19, 2020 02:21 PM

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