A close friend of mine was institutionalized with an eating disorder last year. She was so malnourished she had to be fed through a tube to stay alive. A former partner went through a similar experience. After, she was not allowed to keep scales in the house. She found a way around this though by using a hidden tape measure to monitor the size of her waist. Reading into the subject of body dysmorphia recently I realized I too had been taught, over a lifetime, to hate my body.
I have some bad news for you. We have a problem. Society is in the grip of an unprecedented wave of anorexia, bulimia, dysmorphia, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and body-related depression. Eating disorders are the second-highest cause of mental illness-related deaths. Every 62 minutes someone in the US dies from an eating disorder-related condition. What is more, eating disorders are on the rise.
People are bringing themselves closer and closer to death each day. Why? To achieve the body they think will bring them happiness. You only need to log on to any of your social media accounts to see we live in a society where beauty is valued over health. Every day we are bombarded with messages from the mainstream media and beauty industry telling us happiness comes as a reward for having an ideal body. Human suffering as a result of these messages is reaching unparalleled heights. And the silence which surrounds it is deafening.
People Are More Than Physical Appearances
Billie Eilish is keenly aware of this. Not only does she know that something is not right, but she is also willing to turn this life-destroying media narrative on its head. Her recent British Vogue cover is the latest example of how she challenges silent yet deadly assumptions about our bodies.
After covering her body in baggy clothes – something Eilish has recently reminded critics she did due to the fact she was “an actual child” – she has now presented herself in a Gucci-styled outfit throwing back to the pin-up stars of Hollywood’s past. So much discussion has been placed on whether Eilish’s body “looks good” it feels like the world has missed the statement being made. Which is this. As long as it makes her feel good, she can do whatever she wants.
Eilish on the cover of British Vogue.
Why Judge A Musician By Their Hair?
In March this year, a 19-year-old Eilish revealed she had changed the color of her hair from skunk green to blonde. It made news headlines across the world. Is the intense scrutiny placed on the color of Eilish’s hair a double standard for someone famous for writing original and widely appealing songs?
By March 2021 Billie Eilish had four chart-topping hits, 43 million monthly listeners on Spotify and one of the most wildly popular debut albums in recent memory. She was also the youngest person in history to win the four main Grammy categories—Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year—all in the same year. What relevance does her appearance have on any of this?
The iPhone Generation
Billie Eilish was born in 2001. I must admit I am a little older. To bring me into her world I asked a younger writer what it was like to grow up around the same period as Eilish. Like Eilish, Pippa Haupt was also born in 2001.
“The first iPhone came into existence when I was six,” Pippa shares. “Of course, like all the other six-year-olds of the world, I had no idea that this would be the door to the technology that ruled us all. Social media. It was a ticking-time-bomb.”
“Instagram and Pinterest took off in 2012,” she continues. “By the time I was 13 I was obsessing over my body, my hair, my skin, even the shape of my ankles… Billie Eilish was also six when the first iPhone came out. She shares what we all have gone through. It’s the same experience.”
Billie Eilish Refuses To Change Her Appearance To Please Others
Pippa notes that a large part of Eilish’s appeal is that she refuses to change her appearance to fit in. Her now-iconic, instantly recognizable baggy style contributes greatly to her likability. Not to mention her attitude and personality. Recently, Billie Eilish beat the Kardashian clan at earning the title of “the most Influential person in Fashion“.
Eilish is a stark contrast to the Kardashians. Her Instagram is filled with candid selfies, untouched by the heavy filters often used by influencers and the Kardashians. “It’s understandable why her engagement is so high,” Pippa reflects, “Billie is real, a breath of fresh air away from photoshop unreality other stars project.”
“Eilish is known for her rejection of the societal pressure put upon women to be quiet,” Pippa continues, “feminine, and pretty. In 2020, Eilish faced body-shaming and backlash after a paparazzi image of her not adorning her usual baggy Gucci attire blew up on Twitter. The singer was snapped wearing a singlet and shorts. While this is completely normal, Eilish was more exposed than usual.”
A candid photo such as this one is typical of what fans see on the star’s Instagram feed.
What You Think About Billie Eilish Is Not Her Problem
Eilish’s Vogue shoot is only part of a continued and hard-won effort to present herself as a real person. Earlier in the year, she commented on the public obsession with her and other women’s bodies with a short film titled NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY. “Nothing I do goes unseen,” Eilish asked during the viral video. “If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I’m a slut … Would you like me to be smaller? Weaker? Softer? Taller? Would you like me to be quiet?”
Her final comment is one of the most powerful. “Is my value-based only on your perception?” she says as she sinks into black goo. “Or is your opinion of me not my responsibility?”
“Billie’s struggle with body positivity resonates with me and many others,” Pippa explains. “Her response to it, however, resonates far more. Being a young woman in the spotlight is hard enough, but Eilish refuses to back down, or be quiet. The NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY video struck a chord with many people, including me. It was refreshing to see a celebrity of her status speaking so loudly about it and doing something about it. It’s become a common shortfall of social media for influencers to hijack the body positivity movement for likes, appreciation, engagement and even brand deals. With Eilish it’s different. She’s gone through it, and more. As well as dealing with the crushing expectations placed on teens by society and social media, she’s also had her personality, appearance, and body openly criticized by the world. She’s not afraid to say she struggles either.”
Does Billie Eilish Still Struggle With Her Body Image?
In this regard, Billie Eilish is deserving of praise. And while the pressures of fame are no doubt intense I still feel it would be dishonest to ignore Eilish’s own negative perception of her body. During her Vogue shoot, Eilish shared a self-critical view of her body not far removed from the kind of distortions those with Anorexia express. “If I’m honest with you,” she told journalist Laura Snapes, “I hate my stomach.”
In 2020 she informed Vanity Fair she had taken diet pills at age 12 in an effort to improve her appearance. She also voiced frustration with the hatred she received online. “I thought that I would be the only one dealing with my hatred for my body,” she confided, “but I guess the internet also hates my body. So that’s great… The internet hates women.”
The Internet Hates Women
Eilish has been subject to intense public scrutiny. She has also been the subject of thousands if not millions of negative and abusive comments. “Billie Eilish is overrated and kind of annoying,” reads one highly visible on Reddit’s Unpopular Opinions thread. “I could never get into her music and I hate her,” this Reddit user shares, “‘I’m so weird and quirky look at me’ personality.”
“Yes, Billie Eilish is overrated, overhyped and overly pretentious,” comes another comment from Quora’s ‘Is Billie Eilish overrated'” thread. “And she’s laughing all the way to the bank. Her music isn’t particularly creative or even remotely original.”
“The attributes that gain Eilish huge popularity are the same ones that garner hate online,” Pippa notes. “Her quirky personality, her success, and her music all seem to strike the wrong chord. In various online discussion boards, popular theories try to reason the hate she receives. Some find her personality repelling ‘because it seems forced’. Others suggest she dresses differently and dyes her hair to get attention, or she’s trying too hard to be unique. Or that her success isn’t genuine, because it happened so easily.”
Society Distrusts Talented Women
This is far from the end of it. “Critics also,” Pippa adds, “have tapped into a common misogynistic view that men are responsible for a women’s success. In Eilish’s case, her close collaborative relationship with producer and brother Finneas has provided many a justification to dismiss her. Some believe she is an ‘industry plant’. All of the above seem to all boil down to a distrustful audience.”
This could speak to a wider societal issue. “Instead of the fault being Eilish’s,” Pippa notes, “it lies instead with the audience, unable to fully trust in the authenticity and talent of an artist. It begs the question – what made us so suspicious of women artists, their talent, and success?”
It’s Time To Take Anorexia Nervosa And Other Eating Disorders Seriously
Of all the millions of animals on this planet, only humans and chimpanzees recognize their own reflection. Yet not even chimps, our closest relatives, have such an advanced ability as ours to judge, criticize and evaluate their own appearance. A need for others’ approval is hardwired into our survival instincts. In this media-saturated era, the insecurities these instincts give rise to have been kicked into overdrive.
The media bombards us with the message that happiness, self-esteem, and a positive image of ourselves is a reward for having ideal bodies. A negative body image often starts with early childhood bullying. Our response is the greatest deceit. We tell ourselves that a positive image can be restored or attained through a body different from the one we have. The lie repeated a thousand times then becomes the truth.
“Let’s turn it around and be empowered in that,” Eilish told Vogue. “Showing your body and showing your skin – or not – should not take any respect away from you.” Eilish expresses an unmet need that is running across an entire culture. Far too much emphasis is placed on outer appearance.
Billie Eilish Is Breaking The Silence
“Despite the fame, Eilish is a real person, a teenager, flung by chance into the fortune she has today,” Pippa concludes about Eilish. “Her journey is genuine, as are her public struggles, her personality and her intentions. Billie Eilish is a force, a positive influence to a generation raised on social media. Eilish is the personification of ‘If she can do it, I can do it!’ She is proof that it’s okay to do whatever you want.”
Billie Eilish is championing positive change. After watching people close to me suffer in past I see that it falls to the few, not the many to stand up for what is right. Rosa Parks ignited the American civil rights movement by refusing to give a bus seat to a white person. Hungry women marching on the royal palace of France put an end to a centuries-long idea a person’s worth was determined by birth, not character. Long-held assumptions can be cast aside in an instant when brought into the light of truth by a single act. Eilish’s actions in the media spotlight, perhaps even more so than her words, express the need for a revolution. To change our body image we have to change our attitudes towards ourselves.