If you haven’t seen, last week Adele posted a photo on Instagram on her birthday. She was dolled up, in a lovely dress and had a glowing smile on her face – she looked amazing. But this photo, as with everything in the public eye, was construed by the media and became the beacon of weight loss aspiration. This picture turned very quickly from a birthday celebration to a body weight shaming shambles.
I saw the photo first on Instagram when I woke up and, like pretty much everyone else, I thought she looked amazing. She’s wearing a lovely dress, her hair and makeup is done nicely and she has a massive grin on her face – she looks really happy. And of course, I noticed she’s lost weight. I then scrolled the comments and as expected they ranged from ‘YOU LOOK AMAZING’ to ‘Happy Birthday you look gorgeous’ etc etc.
Enter the tabloids: We had all the usual suspects – E! News, Yahoo! and of course Daily Mail. And the focus is, as always, on the visual, on the weight loss, on her ‘BRAND NEW LOOK’. And we all lapped it up, even me. I sent the Instagram meme’s to my friends of her ‘glow-up’ and all that. And it’s scary how numb we’ve become to how damaging this kind of media is. It speaks volumes of the focus of the media when they appropriate the title of ‘Someone Like You’ to ‘Slim like you’ – a song which, by the way, has sold over 17 million copies. But yeah, let’s focus on her body.
As we all know, the media and the public is visually driven. We love the aesthetic and what’s ‘pleasing’ to the eye, but the two feed into each other. The media has designed an ideal that we lap up and perpetuate as a public and the media keeps churning out more. Sadly, that ideal is the classic trope of the slim, toned, white, cis, blonde etc etc – the list goes on. We have a really specific set of criteria of not only ‘beautiful’ but somehow what is seen as successful as well. It feels dystopian to say but beauty seems to have become a form of success, something to strive for. And we’ve all become really very numb to it, to the extent that the media and the social discourse it influences have implemented the idea that weight loss = good and weight gain = bad. Those adjectives can be interchanged with ‘happy’, ‘successful’, ‘depressed’, ‘wrong’. Again, the list goes on.
The Little Black Dress…
It’s almost like some kind of twisted lexical asymmetry where for every good we have a bad to equivolate it to because we love to compare. And I’m sure, in everyone’s minds when we saw that picture we instantly thought of what she did look like singing at the Brit’s or splitting her Grammy on stage. Whilst these tabloid headlines are being clear with their interpretation of Adele’s post, there are more subtle, scary media trends that we don’t even pick up on nowadays. For example, I saw the phrase ‘little black dress’ floating around this topic a lot. I Googled the phrase – I already knew the Coco Chanel origins but I think something less people know is that it was meant to be something ‘accessible to the widest market possible’ (Wikipedia, soz). I think it’s funny how something originally intended to be accessible has become a niche, associated with being sexy or expensive. And within this context, it’s almost like Adele has got some approval now that she fits into that ‘little black dress’. She’s been wearing black dresses for years, but I personally can’t say that that was a phrase I ever saw associated with Adele because, let’s be blunt here – she wasn’t slim, therefore how could she even own a ‘little black dress’. *sigh* Since when did a woman with one of the best voices of all time (and 15 Grammy’s to prove it) need to loose weight and wear a dress to be validated? (Validated in a new way, visually.) It didn’t seem to matter 4 years ago, but because she fits into a much smaller size (and a more validated social group) now it matters.
I think the thing is with Adele was that she was so loved before she lost weight and compared to other artists I don’t remember ever hearing as much hate against her. A lot of people felt like she was ‘one of us’ in the sense that she was blunt, and very British in that respect. She has a fantastic laugh and accent and really owned who she was. She didn’t conform in that sense, but now she has lost weight for whatever personal reasons, has now conformed in the eyes of the media. (Considering her relationship with the media before, I really doubt it was for them.) So, now we celebrate her looks. I don’t recall seeing so many congratulatory messages when she stepped out at the Grammy’s in that (STUNNING) green dress…
Then came in the flood of body shaming. She’s accused of being a bad example if she doesn’t loose weight and a traitor if she does. It still takes me aback. Sometimes it can feel like we really are progressing the discourse of our bodies and then something like this hits and it’s like we haven’t learnt anything at all. We preach self-love, body-confidence all that and whilst there was some celebration of this, it was focused on her ‘glo-up’. Look at this language – it indicates that before this photo, she wasn’t glowing, she wasn’t as happy or (lets be frank) good looking as she is now. Really, apart from her weight, what has changed in her mental and physical appearance that we know for certain? Pretty sure she wore nice dresses, makeup, jewellery etc before. Please, if you have been given a direct explanation of her mental state from the woman herself correct me, but I’m also pretty sure no one has. If the term ‘glo-up’ was referring to an internal one, a) that’s not clear, b) that’s not known for certain and c) that’s not what people meant by using this term in this context.
As I edit this, it also appears that there is a new trend called ‘The Adele Challenge’. Most of the # is filled with comparative images of Adele from 2010 to now but it’s yet another factor of effect that branches out from this. Loosing weight isn’t a TikTok challenge, nor should it be a trend. Developing your mental health, your external and internal feelings isn’t a challenge. In an age where we’re increasingly concerned with mental health and the effects of the media on it, we also don’t seem to help ourselves.
The Key Distinction.
Let’s keep this simple. There is a very clear and important distinction we need to make here. If an individual loses weight because it was their choice, their goal and they are happy about that then yes celebration is a good response. However, if we are celebrating weight loss in general, as a public then that is what’s dangerous. Weight loss shouldn’t be celebrated, weight gain shouldn’t be – in general, what can be done with our bodies shouldn’t (need to) be celebrated generally, but should be celebrated by the individual if they want to. But it’s our own nosiness and boredom that leads us to thinking it should, leads us to thinking we have the right to make that judgement call, all headed up and tied in a neat little bow by the media.
What people do with their bodies is perhaps the most personal choice you can make. And yet here we are, all making judgements of one persons very personal decision. What’s more, your motivations and reasoning behind those decisions are key – sometimes intentional, sometimes uncontrollable. We have no idea why Adele lost weight. We have assumed that due to her divorce she’s had a ‘glo-up’ of some sort which we’ve cloaked as a mental, internal ‘glo-up’ but have focused on the external aesthetics of it. But really, we have no idea. We don’t know whether this was down to a personal motivation or an unintentional consequence of going through something like a divorce. So us interpolating, assuming where we shouldn’t, only adds to the multi layered complexity of the debate.
So no, I don’t find Adele posting this ‘inspiring’ because I have literally no context to the photo. I don’t find her weight loss inspiring, despite being on a similar journey myself. Instead, I find her posting this EMPOWERING that she felt happy and confident enough to share her happiness with us all. It’s just a shame we haven’t appreciated that as a public.