Em Readman weighs in on the Insta post that sparked an international frenzy across the internet last week.
💌 💌 💌
AN: I would like to say, that while I am talking about bodies and fatphobia, I am speaking from a place of privilege. Although I have felt insecure about my body for periods of my life, I have never been discriminated against because of my weight. I have not gone through what Adele and countless other women have gone through, and will always defer my voice in this conversation to someone who has gone through the issue at hand.
💌 💌 💌
Comment sections are a faceless behemoth, nothing new. They are a virtual no man’s land, where missiles fly freely; no one has seen the ruthless nature of the commenter more than Adele.
Adele, one of the seminal voices of our generation, holds an undeniable brilliance in her field. Whether you look at the 15 Grammy Awards, the 18 Billboard Awards, the nine Brit Awards, the five AMAs, the 11 world records she holds or if you’ve listened to even just one song on any of her albums, her talent is clear-cut. For anyone (all of us) who attempted to cover her hits at our years 5-9 talent shows, we know her talent is not easy to replicate. That woman’s lungs are so powerful she could blow me over with a whisper.
But, here we are. In the afterglow of her 32nd birthday the internet is not talking about her, or her talent, or her technical skill, or the absolute bullshit that was her divorce settlement. No, the internet is talking about her figure.
Her May 5 Instagram post shows Adele celebrating her birthday in a gorgeous black dress none of us can afford, smiling in front of a flower arch. Oh — and her body has changed, she’s skinnier. Okay, cool. However, this picture has caused a flurry of comments about her weight. There are a series of corkers; some celebratory, well-meaning-but-misguided, some malicious, some cruel.
‘She lost weight for her health, not for you 😘✨’
‘I miss when Adele was relatable.’
‘Some people are not meant to be skinny.’
‘Congratulations! But I’m so sorry I like you better before 🤗’
‘So ummm what happened to I make music for ears not eyes boo?’
Note the pointed absence of people wishing Adele a happy birthday.
Instead, the commenters take up three distinct positions. The first, celebrating her ‘glow up’, that her old weight was dangerous and unhealthy, and congratulating her on a long-overdue transformation. The next, a group that feels betrayed. They liked Adele the way she has previously been and criticise her for giving in to the critics. The last, well, they just hate women universally. All of these positions conform to the notion that there is an inherent skinny/fat binary.
Many memes have started circling, weaponising Adele’s figure. One meme pictures Adele next to fast food, asking women whether they’d prefer to have her body or eat fried chicken. Right on cue, internet watchdog and my celebrity crush of many years, Jameela Jamil comes to Adele’s defence. ‘This is so offensive. So destructive. So reductive. It encourages us to demonize and become afraid of food.’ Reductive is right. Their diatribe is fatphobic and suggests that skinny equals healthy and fat equals unhealthy, while the truth is that health is relative, and does not have a linear correlation with weight.
The group suggesting that Adele is less relatable now that she has lost weight is equally problematic. They send the message that Adele was their icon of celebrities who were ‘allowed’ to be overweight. In their eyes, Adele lost weight because she gave in to pressure from the media, from her agent, from her romantic interests. This argument reduces Adele to a woman who is weak, who blindly follows commands, who abandoned her values so she could be skinny. To those people I say: Adele is not your martyr. She is not your thick-girl-Thursday. She is a real woman, who makes her own choices, who owes you nothing.
There’s so many other conversations to be had when discussing Adele. There’s her phenomenal music, her sincerity and sense of humour, her progressive parenting, and her brave choice to discuss her postpartum depression — again, another thing she owes no one an answer for. And yet, the pervasive dialogue is her weight loss. Pages and pages of Google search results tout her ‘transformation’, how she did it, why she did it, who she did it for.
As one of the many topics that have long been taboo to discuss about women, any conversation about weight doesn’t appear to have a correct point of view. Zingers fly about confidence and nutrition and loving yourself and health, all dismissive of a woman’s autonomy. Adele has no need to justify to the public a change in how she looks, she is allowed to change if she wants to, just as much as she is allowed to stay as she was. And when I say ‘allowed’, I do not mean that we have to give her permission, I mean that she has agency of her own to make decisions about her body.
Above all, the comments of the last week bring to light how people feel entitled to weigh in on a person and their personal choices, trying to praise or critique with the aim of justifying their own narratives about body shape and weight. Adele is a public figure, but her figure should not be up for public debate.
💌 💌 💌
Em Readman is a flourishing writer and editor from Brisbane, Australia, and her favourite Adele album is 19. She can be read in Kos Magazine, Concrescence, Good Material Magazine, and F*EMS Zine. She is also the editor for Glass Magazine. Keep an eye this up-an-coming BO$$ at @emreadman.