Ever since she got famous, Billie Eilish has been adamant that her signature baggy clothes have nothing to do with other people. "I’m not rebelling against anything, really. I can’t stress it enough. I’m just wearing what I wanna wear. If there’s a day when I’m like, 'You know what, I feel comfortable with my belly right now and I wanna show my belly,' I should be allowed to do that," Eilish told Dazed back in April.
Earlier this week, Eilish was wearing what she wanted to wear — a nude camisole and matching sweatpant-style shorts — when paparazzi snapped photos of her in Los Angeles. Since it’s the first time the public got a glimpse of the contours of her body in a while, the image obviously went viral for the worst reasons, with strangers picking apart her appearance on social media. The worst offender was a 29-year-old man from the U.K. who cruelly tweeted, "in 10 months Billie Eilish has developed a mid-30's wine mom body."
Fans raced to her defense, shutting trolls down for body shaming the 18-year-old singer. Actress Kat Dennings summed up a lot of people’s feelings when she tweeted, "Anyone reacting to @billieeilish having a normal body has to take a hard look at themselves. As someone who looked exactly like that at her age, it’d be nice for this unhealthy nonsense to fuck right off. She’s beautiful and normal goodbye!"
For her part, Eilish handled the unsolicited critiques of her body with poise. The musician posted a photo of herself wearing a form-fitting tank top on Instagram and captioned it, "do you really wanna go back in time?" She also reposted a video by YouTuber Chizi Duru, encouraging people "to start normalizing real bodies." "Not everybody has a wagon behind 'em, OK? Guts are normal. They're normal. Boobs sag — especially after breastfeeding. Instagram isn't real," Duru says in the video.
Our culture is stupidly conditioned to harshly judge famous women for their physical appearance, no matter what other talents or attributes make them worthy of our admiration. Eilish is a prodigious musician with a haunting voice, who’s unafraid of exploring the darker sides of the human psyche in her work. And yet, the auxiliary decision to hide her figure from public view is the thing people fixate on. While it’s often framed as an act of rebellion, her baggy wardrobe originated from insecurity. "The only reason I did it was 'cause I hated my body," she frankly told Dazed last spring. "It’s not that I like [my body] now, I just think I’m a bit more OK with it," Eilish added.
Eilish is well-aware that people are obsessed with her corporeal form. Early this year, she posted a vacation selfie in a swimsuit, with just her head and shoulders visible in the photo, but some people went berserk. "It was trending. There were comments like, 'I don’t like her anymore, because as soon as she turns 18 she’s a whore.' Like, dude. I can’t win. I can-not win," Eilish told Dazed.
She’s been put in an impossible position — which Eilish addressed in a poignant short film originally screened at her concerts. "If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I’m a slut," the musician says while slowly undressing and sinking into a vat of black goo. "Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it. And judge me for it. Why? Is my value based only on your perception? Or is your opinion of me not my responsibility?"
It’s pretty screwed up that by trying to take her body out of the equation, Eilish inadvertently fueled other people’s fixation with her flesh. It’s also distressing that she’s shouldered so much body shaming at such a young age. Eilish has remained incredibly poised as the internet has cruelly nitpicked her appearance. But it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t hurt. We owe so much more to young women, who deserve fame and fortune and the freedom to create art no matter their physical form.