If you’re a person in the public eye—like, say, Adele—and your weight loss coincides with an increase in exercise devised to make you feel stronger and help take on mental health challenges, is it fair for the world to scrutinize you and snidely say you’re just doing it to be skinny? For that matter, was it fair for the world to zero in on Adele’s physical appearance when she weighed more than she currently does? The best solution is arguably learning to abstain from a celebrity culture that encourages us to place more value on a famous woman’s appearance than on her body of work.
The media industry stands to profit when we click on exclamation-point-riddled gossip articles about so-and-so’s “dramatic weight loss!!!”, and the diet industry thrives when we’re chasing the ideal of thin bodies that may not actually bear any relationship to health and comfort. But what about us? What do we stand to gain from evaluating and placing expectations upon other women’s bodies, and what could we be doing with all that mental energy instead?
Virginia Sole-Smith, a journalist who specializes in issues of body image and author of The Eating Instinct, wishes our conversations about women in the public eye could evolve past issues of weight, full stop. “Last time I checked, there is not a body type that one needs to have in order to be a talented musician. Musical ability is not tied to BMI in any of the research I’ve read,” says Sole-Smith, adding, “I think it would be so great if we lived in a culture that talked about people’s art, and didn’t talk about their bodies. And then, if their bodies changed, we wouldn’t have to examine that quite so much.”
Sole-Smith acknowledges that the issue of celebrity weight loss is a fraught one, explaining, “Teenage girls look up to Lizzo and Adele, so there is some responsibility there, but I also think it is a mistake to expect that just because one individual broke a boundary and became famous in spite of their weight, that they then have to be the poster child for fat artists everywhere. It just really speaks to how far we have to go in terms of increasing representation.”
A call for increased representation can often feel like a hedge, a way of acknowledging the severity of an issue while passing the buck to the nebulously-defined scourge of “society,” but when it comes to fat acceptance and body positivity, it’s frankly hard to imagine anything else working. One musician, or two, or even—gasp!—three, will not meaningfully move the needle in terms of convincing fat people everywhere that they are worthy just as they are; what it will do, however, is reinforce the pernicious notion that these individuals need to look a certain way to earn admiration and respect.
While fat individuals in the public eye can act as much-needed role models, asking them to take up the mantle of “self-love” all on their own, with no substantive or structural changes to a society that still profits off of rampant fatphobia, simply isn’t enough. Hopefully, someday, we’ll have enough fat musicians, dancers, actors, comedians and artists of all kinds—and a culture that actually supports them with fat-positive policies and meaningful consequences for size-based discrimination—that one person’s weight fluctuations will no longer make headline news.
Original posted at www.vogue.com