These days, frankly, anything that isn’t about COVID-19 feels like solace, so the news surrounding Adele’s return to Instagram should have been a welcome relief. And there really has been a lot of it. There’s a sense that we’re all just happy to have something else to talk about. And as one of the most defining and beloved artists of our generation, more news about Adele should be a positive force.
To name just a few of her accomplishments, Adele has received nine Brit awards and fifteen Grammy awards for her work. ‘21’ is so far the biggest selling album of the century. She’s also heavily involved in the charity Drop4Drop, which furthers access to clean water globally, and she’s run events to help children affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. And yet she’s made more news in the last few days than possibly ever before, simply by posting a few photos of herself online where she looks smaller than she has in the past. It is incredibly frustrating that we’re talking about how she looks and what she eats, and not her achievements as a successful woman.
The Daily Mail describes her as looking like “a completely different person” and “the spitting image of her new set of Hollywood friends”; a more sinister article in the Metro praises her weight loss because, according to Dr. Hilary Jones, she’d be at higher risk of coronavirus complications if she was heavier. Vanessa Feltz, a television personality with (as far as I know) no medical qualifications, spoke on This Morning about the “battle” Adele will have to fight to stay this thin. While some have expressed their concern about the impact of this media coverage upon wider mental health, most reporting has been overwhelmingly congratulatory at best, and at worst, aggressively invasive.
The thing is, Adele didn’t actually reference her weight loss at all when she posted those photos. Her caption praised essential workers for all they’re doing to save lives and thanked those who have sent her birthday wishes. Perhaps, if she’d commented upon how happy she was with her body, it would be more understandable for the world to share her joy. But instead we’ve taken those few photos and acted as if they are the achievement of her lifetime. She isn’t actually a part of the global discussion we’ve all decided to have about her body.
Why do we consider Adele’s health to be a public topic for conversation? Many are saying that she deserves admiration for looking ‘healthier’, assuming that a person’s weight tells us all that we need to know about their health. I’m reminded of an interview with personal trainer Jillian Michaels a few months ago, where she commented on how it “wouldn’t be awesome” if Lizzo got diabetes, despite knowing nothing tangible about Lizzo’s health. We cannot claim to be focusing solely upon female celebrities’ wellbeing when all we have to go off is a few photos; we simply do not have the information, the qualifications, or quite frankly the right to be able to comment.
Others say that they’re glad she looks ‘happier’, as if being skinnier automatically leads to happiness. Restricting or crash dieting often proves incredibly harmful for both physical and mental health and has been linked to increased levels of depression and anxiety. We’re also forgetting that women lead full, busy, and interesting lives, and their happiness should not hinge upon how they look.
While ostensibly appearing innocent, the praise she has received for her weight loss sends an unconscious message – losing weight equals success, so gaining weight must equal failure. Such an ideology often underpins disordered eating. It’s harmful even at the best of times, but in a nationwide lockdown, when most of us are more sedentary than usual and our bodies may be changing, this mentality can more easily exacerbate eating disorders, or trigger those in recovery into a relapse. Recovery from an eating disorder often means silencing the voice that says the number on the scale defines who you are, the shape of your body is all that matters. The media’s coverage on Adele’s weight loss tells us that voice has been right all along.
Throughout history, women’s bodies have been considered public territory. The media’s treatment of Adele’s weight loss proves that this has not changed, no matter how ‘positive’ or ‘health-focused’ their façade is; it fails to recognise that she is far more than her size and her weight. Adele does not owe the public her health. The size of her body is her business and hers alone.