Why Billie Eilish’s recent body shaming episode is an important lesson on body positivity
This week, a paparazzi photo of Billie Eilish circulated on the internet, and it wasn’t because she was doing anything illegal or controversial. It caused a stir because she was spotted wearing a form-fitting camisole and shorts instead of her usual baggy outfits. And many people seem to think that they are entitled to comment on that. Specifically, a Twitter user called @GamesNosh.
He tweeted: “In 10 months Billie Eilish has developed a mid-30s wine mom body.” Needless to say, the backlash was swift. Amidst all the clapbacks from her fans and celebrity friends, the singer responded by reposting a TikTok video of YouTuber Chizi Duru talking about normalising real bodies on her Instagram Story. “Y’all gotta start normalising real bodies, okay?” Chizi said. “Not everybody has a wagon behind them, okay? Guts are normal; they’re normal. Boobs sag, especially after breastfeeding. Instagram isn’t real.” Capiche?
While this episode seems entirely unwarranted for, it’s not the first time Billie Eilish has dealt with—or spoke about—body shaming. In fact, she’s been vocal about why she wears clothes “800 sizes bigger” than she is. In an interview with Vogue Australia last year, she explains that “It kind of gives nobody the opportunity to judge what your body looks like. I want layers and layers and layers and I want to be mysterious. You don’t know what’s underneath and you don’t know what’s on top.”
Back in May, she released a short film titled Not My Responsibility that’s directed to body shamers. In the video, she can be seen slowly undressing before sinking into a pool of black water, with a voiceover saying, “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? Softer? Taller? Would you like me to be quiet?” She continues saying, “If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I'm a slut. Though you've never seen my body, you still judge it, and judge me for it. Why?”
For someone who’s been so notoriously protective about her body image, who has spoken about this issue publicly, and who has stood her ground against body shaming, her body is still being scrutinised and discussed mercilessly time and time again. And it got me thinking: What about those who are in the fashion industry?
Body shaming in fashion
In an industry which is so focused on appearance and visuals, it’s no surprise that models are constantly being body shamed—for being too thin, too fat, too curvy, or too muscular. A quick search on Google will lead you to a slew of articles where models speak out about their experiences.
Danish model Nina Agdal was denied a cover story because her athletic build did not fit into that particular country’s market; Australian model Bridget Malcolm was asked to cover up her hips and show more ribs at a swimwear shoot; plus-size supermodel Ashley Graham was fat-shamed by a stylist when she couldn’t fit into a pair of pants; and Kaia Gerber was also body-shamed for looking “too skinny” in her Instagram photos. And the list goes on.
And if you think that this only happens overseas, you’re wrong. During KL Fashion Week in 2018, local fashion critic Zaihani Mohd Zain, known as Kak Zai, shared a post on Facebook saying, “Kalau berat badan melebihi 60kg, tak payah lah datang, sebab nya peha awak tu melimpah kat kerusi sebelah kiri dan kanan awak (If you weigh above 60kg, you shouldn’t come, because your thighs will spill over onto the chairs on your left and right). It’s so awkward and uncomfortable for the person seated next to you!!!”
Needless to say, her post drew a lot of flak from the fashion community and the public. Although she apologised for her controversial comments via an Instagram post later on, she maintained that her statement was taken out of context, and that it’s not entirely her fault. Well.
Body positivity in fashion
Thankfully, the rise of ‘woke’ consumers has pushed the fashion industry to be more aware when it comes to environmental and social issues, with body positivity being one of the biggest topics. There has been an emergence of body-positive fashion labels such as Girlfriend Collective, Universal Standard, and Sotela that celebrate size 00 to 40, and more and more brands are featuring a size-diverse cast in their campaigns.
Even luxury fashion houses (that have always had a plus-size problem) have started including curvy models in their line-up, with Versace, Chanel, and Fendi being a few of them during the recent SS21 Fashion Month. For an industry that has arguably the most power to influence change, these little moments definitely have their positive impact on the growing body positivity movement, and they’re absolutely worth celebrating.
That said, body positivity is more than just that. Nora Whelan from Buzzfeed News said it best. Body positivity is a movement to unlearn “the idea that only certain bodies are worth acceptance and praise, and instead, recognising that all bodies are equally valuable.” Learning to love your own body is the first step to empowering yourself to embrace the fact that everyone—regardless of their size, physical abilities, or appearance—deserves an equal amount of acceptance.
Lest we forget, the world needs more love and less hate right now.