We're not short of infuriating examples of society's sense of entitlement over women’s bodies. But those mindless ideas about what certain women "should" or "shouldn’t" look like are rarely quite as pronounced when a woman’s appearance changes on her own terms. This week, few can feel more familiar with that phenomenon than Adele.
This week the notoriously private singer shared a tiny snippet of her personal life with the world, this time, sharing a photograph in which she appeared noticeably smaller than we had ever seen her before. And, lo, the narrative quickly turned to what her weight loss "signified". Almost immediately, Adele’s slimmed-down look was seen as a “bounce back” from divorce, a “revenge bod” against her soon to be ex-husband.
We will quite possibly never know the reason Adele has lost weight - nor should we expect to. Speculating in this way, that a woman’s weight loss is only ever for the purpose of vanity, is neither helpful nor healthy. And as someone who knows exactly what it feels like for people to use your weight as an indication of your worth, the practice makes me quite nauseous.
While some on social media simply delighted in the fact that Adele chose to share anything of her private life at all, and (regardless of her "transformation") looked great doing it, there were, as always, others determined to sully the moment. Did she look better "when she was big", or now? That's all most commentators on social media could bring themselves to consider. Scanning the threads and posts, society's complicated relationship with fatness was impossible to ignore.
When we promote the idea that women, particularly fat women, can only be celebrated once they look the way we “want” them to, we’re not just telling women and girls everywhere that they’re not enough, but that others are within their right to tell them as much.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of that, you’ll know just how crushing that feels. I’ve dated men who’ve attempted to force me to live by those expectations; been disappointed by friends who’ve repeated them without thinking; and faced strangers who do the same. No matter who it comes from, it hurts. And - as too many fat women and girls often have to repeat - it will do nothing to deliver the outcome you think that person needs. Not a healthy version of it, at least.
When Adele first burst onto the music scene, I’m sure, that, just like me, many fat girls felt a sense of pride and nervousness. Nervousness, because it wasn’t immediately clear what treatment she’d receive from the press and the public, so familiar were most of us with being maligned. And pride, because we couldn’t remember the last time we'd seen a fat woman top the UK charts with less mention of her body than her talents.
Over a decade later, I feel the same way. Adele may no longer be fat, and the fact that she isn’t really is of no concern to me; I paid little attention to what she looked like when I first heard her music on Myspace as a teenager. But whatever Adele's body shape, we’re still thinking of her in the same terms, concerned only with what her body “says” about her when it’s simply existing, fat or not, like the rest of us.
Though many would enjoy salivating over it, I hope Adele never feels the pressure to offer an explanation about her weight loss. If you’re familiar with social media's "fat influencers", who have built their platforms on body positivity, you’ll know how heavy those expectations are.
There are endless examples of women who, for whatever reason, began their careers at one size and later emerged at another - and have felt unnecessary guilt about that. Women with thousands of adoring fans who’ve felt the need to apologise, or offer an explanation, for no longer being the same weight they were when we first fell in love with them. As if losing “too much” weight betrayed their core audience - just as much as being fat meant they were excluded from other markets.
I do not feel betrayed by Adele’s weight loss, and nor should anyone else. The politics of living in fat bodies is real, and ideas like that are almost as damaging for body positivity and fat activism as fatphobia. If we want to really talk about these issues, we should. We don’t need to speculate over one woman’s body to do it.
Whether Adele is a size 10 or a size 32 gives us no insight into her state of mind, even if it reveals heaps about our own misguided opinions. Her being slim has no bearing on fat “representation” either. There are, as we’re constantly reminded in scaremongering campaigns about obesity, a lot of us out there already. We can continue to inspire each other whether or not a beloved celebrity shares our waist measurements.
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