Adele Isn’t Discussing Her Weight So Why Are We?
Even compliments send a powerful message about whose bodies we value.
ast Wednesday pop superstar Adele posted a photo of herself in recognition of her 32nd birthday. Not a topic of the post? Adele’s weight loss. Her caption thanked fans for wishing her a happy birthday, and wished them safety during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Thank you for the birthday love. I hope you’re all staying safe and sane during this crazy time.I’d like to thank all of our first responders and essential workers who are keeping us safe while risking their lives! You are truly our angels ♥️2020 okay bye thanks x
Few of the singer’s followers echoed her thanks to first responders and health care providers. Instead many focused on something she hadn’t even mentioned: the changing shape of her body.
In the days following, Adele’s weight loss became a trending topic. “Adele shows off stunning weight loss,” proclaimed one Yahoo! headline. CNN spun the story into weight loss inspiration. UK tabloid The Daily Mirror went one step further, using the photo to cover the Sirtfood Diet, saying that “it’s believed” to be the method the singer used to lose weight. Page Six asked two plastic surgeons if they thought the singer had cosmetic surgeries. Even Bill Maher chimed in on his HBO show, Real Time With Bill Maher. “Adele lost a lot of weight—it was all over the press—and there’s a controversy about this. This is not controversial! This is purely a good thing.” Comment after comment lauded Adele for her “new look” or for “getting healthy.”
While some commenters discussed weight bias and fat shaming in the comments, a great many people—the majority, it seems—were breathless with excitement about the singer’s new body, eager to shout it from the rooftops. Everyone, that is, but Adele.
As I combed through the thousands of responses to her Instagram post, I didn’t find a single comment from the singer addressing her size. When I googled “Adele weight loss” and looked through search results, I didn’t find any that cited recent quotes from the pop star, either. Despite all the excitement, it appears the singer hasn’t publicly commented on her new, smaller size. Media story after story was published, tweet after tweet fired off, but none included any comments from Adele herself about her weight loss, so we don’t know how or why Adele lost weight, much less how she feels about it. That is: We are all engaged in a global conversation about someone else’s body without that person being part of the conversation.Most Popular
As I read the comments on Adele’s posts, I was stricken by the readiness with which thousands of people offered their opinions on a stranger’s body. Having gained and lost hundreds of pounds in my lifetime, I imagined myself in the singer’s shoes. I wondered if she’d read these comments, watched the debate. I wondered what it was like to see hundreds of thousands of people debate your body in real time. I wondered if she was happy and healthy, as so many commenters believed, or if she was in crisis.
Then I remembered that whatever is happening in the singer’s life or with her body is none of our business. I had unwittingly slipped into the same mode of judgment that so many commenters and media outlets seemed to. And I had mistaken a stranger’s body as, somehow, mine to comment on or speculate about.
The trouble with all this isn’t Adele, or that her body changed, or that she lost weight, or that she posted a photo of herself after losing weight. It also isn’t that a celebrity’s “achieving” thinness continues to make news (although that certainly doesn’t help). The trouble here is our driving desire to publicly pick apart a woman’s body, even if we do it in praise. It might be the ways in which we project our own desires to shrink onto anyone else who loses weight. It might be our disregard for the impacts of our actions on people whose experiences we can’t relate to—people who are fat, and people who have eating disorders. But whatever’s at the root of it, our public conversation about Adele is revealing many of the cracks in the facade of body positivity, and it’s revealing a whole lot about us, including whose well-being we care about and which narratives matter most to us.
While many of us would never comment on someone else’s weight gain to the person who lost weight, plenty of us are nevertheless quick to celebrate weight loss. That is, in part, because weight loss compliments are tricky; many of us feel compelled to celebrate what we imagine is only good news: the concept of a woman’s shrinking body. And that excitement is supercharged when that woman was previously fat. We see her weight loss as deliverance from a body that would certainly cause her shame and would likely kill her. Some of us feel compelled to comment on weight loss due to social pressure. Some of us conflate weight with poor health and weight loss with improved health—mistakenly, as it turns out—so we think we’re celebrating someone’s move toward a longer, healthier life. Whatever our reasons, weight loss compliments abound.
But weight loss isn’t always desired, nor is it universally cause for celebration. Some lose significant amounts of weight after major traumas or heartbreaks. Others lose weight during cancer treatment. For some, weight loss is the result of an illness, or treatment of a health condition. Weight loss is often a feature of anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia and other eating disorders that can be life-threatening. For those folks, weight loss compliments are unwelcome reminders of painful, often intimate experiences.
When it comes to Adele—or anyone—we simply don’t know. We don’t know if her weight loss was a hard-fought goal, an intentional, desired change in her own size. Although “a source” has said that it was part of the aftermath of her highly publicized divorce, we can’t know that for sure. (And even if someone loses weight following a major breakup, that doesn’t necessarily mean theirs is an intentionally molded “revenge body”; it could just as easily be the result of appetite changes that often come with post-breakup depression.) We don’t know if she’s struggling with an illness, or if she’s been treated for one. When it comes to the changes in her body, despite Adele’s fame, she is a stranger to most of us. We simply cannot assume we know how she feels about her own body. And we don’t know how she’s receiving this whole conversation about her body. We’ve got to be open to the idea that she is affirmed by it, and also that it could be hurtful or harmful to her. We simply don’t know.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlMost Popular
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And ultimately, our responses to Adele’s weight loss reveal more about us than they do about her. With a dearth of information about her weight loss (after all, it’s none of our business anyway), many have made the assumption that Adele’s weight loss is desired and was intentional, and that our praise for her changing body will be affirming for her. In the absence of any evidence or comment, we all collectively decided not just to comment on a woman’s appearance without her request or consent, but that the commentary will be welcome and appreciated.
As a fat person, the outpouring of celebration of Adele’s smaller body was a stinging reminder that becoming thin will earn you just as much (if not more) recognition and admiration as your accomplishments in life or work. Adele has won 15 Grammys and holds the number-one spot on the Greatest of All Time Billboard 200 Albums list for 21. Yet for several days the media and commenters on social media were fixated on her body.
While Adele is the primary person impacted by this conversation, she’s not the only one who is. Millions of tabloid readers, social media users, and fans around the world are also hearing the ways in which we discuss Adele’s body. For some this conversation is an affirmation of their weight loss goals. And for others it is a harmful and troubling slide back into old ways of thinking that they’ve long struggled to leave behind.
For those recovering from bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia, or another eating disorder, their mental health can be a matter of survival, fighting disordered thinking that can prove fatal. Conversations like this one drag national focus back into a binary that insists that weight loss is reliably good and weight gain is necessarily bad. In doing so, these comments can similarly drag eating disorder survivors back into the zero-sum thinking that so many of us struggle to escape. Suddenly we’re confronted with what feels like proof positive that we aren’t the only ones fixated not only on our size, but also on the ways in which we must forever shrink our bodies—everyone around us is too. Conversations like these, complimentary as they may seem, whisper to many in tenuous recovery that their eating disorders might be right—that weight loss is a viable path to affirmation, to praise, to love, and to feeling at home in your own skin. For many people, it might seem like the only one.
This public conversation also sends a powerful message to fat people. It tells us that even if we create beautiful, moving music, even if we build an empire of a career, even if we sell millions of records and cement ourselves as a titan in our field, we will still be seen as failed thin people. It tells us that we are only as valuable as we look, and that no accomplishment will bring us the praise and celebration that can only be achieved by becoming thin.
Yes, many people desire weight loss and want to be praised for it. And some aren’t harmed by this public conversation. But for fat people, for people with eating disorders, and possibly for Adele herself, this conversation holds the potential for immense harm. For some, it could be one of the things that helps trigger a relapse in an eating disorder. For others, it could do the same for major depression or social anxiety. As anyone in eating disorder recovery can tell you, wading through a constant onslaught of weight loss messages in a thin-obsessed world can make recovery an even more gargantuan task. But when those messages arrive on our doorstep—as they did during this conversation about Adele—they become heat-seeking missiles, seemingly determined to obliterate our stability and mental health. Those concerns are far from niche. At least 30 million people in the U.S. have an eating disorder.Most Popular
This public conversation about one singer’s weight loss is a teaching moment, but only if we learn from it. We can do better by one another and by the celebrities we say we love. We can let the people in our lives—famous or not—tell us the stories of their own bodies, only if and when they want to. We can hold our tongues if they don’t ask for our input. And we can listen when others tell us that the way we’re talking about weight loss hurts them.
There are middle grounds here, but only if we find them, and only if we challenge ourselves to live up to our values. If we really value consent, we won’t discuss strangers’ bodies without it. If we really value people regardless of their size, then it becomes unimportant to comment on changes in their bodies. And if we really support fat people and people with eating disorders, we’ll find ways to respect their requests. Until then, we’ve got a long way to go.