Adele’s birthday post reared an uncomfortable obsession … again
- August 24, 2020
This was published 3 months ago
May 7, 2020 — 3.55pm
Adele posted a photo of herself to her Instagram on Wednesday, standing amidst what looked to be her own birthday party celebrations.
The multiple Grammy-winner, who turned 32 on Tuesday, thanked fans for their “love” and expressed appreciation for essential workers and first responders, calling them “angels” for risking their lives during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the photo, which has since received over 170,000 comments, and spawned dozens of articles in the 24 hours since it went up, all focused on one thing: her apparent 45-kilogram weight loss.
We already knew Adele had lost weight in December, but this was the first time she had shown us herself proper – in a short, figure-hugging black dress and heels. Which means one undeniable thing: she likes how she looks. And why shouldn’t she? She looks great, and happy too. Thousands of fans, many of them celebrities, complimented her for looking “gorgeous”.
But body image activists have argued that praise of her weight loss is “fat-phobic”, and that any attention for weight loss, so the argument goes, just serves to reinforce the idea that thin bodies, via the harmful narrative of “before” and “after” shots, are the only type of bodies worth celebrating.
There is a larger critique running through this argument, which underpins much of what we understand about body acceptance today and that is the question of why we pay attention to women’s bodies at all. Adele, like all women, is so much more than her weight. It is unfeminist, therefore, to even mention it.
It’s true, our culture does have an unhealthy obsession with women’s bodies. And with bodies that are thin and white. But the ironic thing about the many op-eds is that weight is exactly what they are focusing on, even while they encourage the rest of us to look elsewhere.
There is another discussion going on amidst this public discourse, too. It’s happening in group chats and texts and comments and it might be best summed up by quoting Chrissy Teigen, former Sports Illustrated model turned celebrity cook, who commented underneath Adele’s photo, “I mean, are you kidding me”.
This is the politically incorrect discourse, the one which is a little incredulous that someone could lose half their body mass. And perhaps wants to find out how she did it, (that has already been answered months ago – she stopped drinking, eating sweets and exercised more).
But in all of these private and public discussions, there’s context to keep in mind. The first is that Adele is not and never has been a “body positive” role model. She never acted as if her body was part of her marketing arsenal. That said, she didn’t ignore it either. Adele has worn Givenchy to award ceremonies, Burberry to perform in and Stella McCartney to accept her MBE from the Queen.
Fat phobia is a real and dangerous part of our culture, but how do we know for sure if it ever mattered to Adele? She has said she wanted to get healthy for her son, Angelo, now seven, and to have greater stamina on tours. Do we believe her? Could we be projecting?
Could part of the strong reaction — both positive and negative — be about Adele no longer being ‘one of us’? Wasn’t that always part of her appeal? The idea that she drank and smoked and blubbered about Beyonce when she won Grammys?
Perhaps what we are feeling, in all of our heavily policed little hearts, is that Adele, with her once-in-a-generation talent and 300 million-dollar fortune, is in the end a celebrity.
The truth is – and this is a bitter pill to swallow – but we don’t own Adele. She was never our reliable fat friend, the one we found “relatable” like Oprah and Khloe Kardashian. Maybe that part is on us. Because it is naive to think that Adele herself should remain unchanged for our comfort.
Yes, the “before” and “after” is a tired old narrative, one that flattens women into caricatures of themselves. But perhaps equally tiring is the silent assumption that a woman, particularly one in the public eye, should be deprived of the opportunity to be proud of herself, on her own terms, without being deemed a “sell-out”.
Adele belongs to nobody but herself. And isn’t that, in the end, something feminist worth celebrating? Let’s hope so.
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Natalie Reilly is freelance writer for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and WAtoday.
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