We Can Celebrate Adele without Celebrating Thinness
On Tuesday, Adele turned 32. She posted a photo of herself on Instagram to celebrate the occasion, and even thanked essential workers in her caption. Her post was a gentle reminder that though she’s collected 15 Grammys, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and even earned Beyoncé’s praise, she accomplished it all well before the age of 40.
But that’s not why she was trending on Twitter.
In her photo, the singer looked different than the last time we saw her. She looked like she’d lost weight. I noticed. Maybe you noticed, too. But here’s the thing: Even if you notice that someone’s lost weight, or gained weight, or maintained their weight, or simply exists and thus weighs something, your observation is not an invitation to comment on their body. Period.
I understand wanting to lift someone up, especially if you think that that person is deserving of love or praise or whatever it is you think they’re giving them — you might even be thinking, “But we comment on people’s clothing, on their new hair styles, why can’t we share compliments about their bodies if we think they look good?” But addressing someone’s weight is not the same thing as addressing your friend’s new Normal People-inspired fringe.
Throughout the course of Adele’s birthday, people on Twitter were referring to her as a “skinny legend.” News outlets praised her “amazing new figure,” careful to add some version of, “while we always thought she looked amazing, look at her now!” All of which only reinforces what many women have had to unlearn in adulthood: Losing weight will earn you attention and praise. And isn’t that all we’re supposed to want?
A prevailing (albeit, often subconscious), ethos is that weight is an inverse correlation to self-worth. It’s a simple equation: The less you weigh, the more desirable you are. If we lived in a world where skinny people weren’t the “ideal,” where women of all sizes were cast as love-interests in the movies that shaped young girls’ expectations of their future selves; where the clothing we were sold wasn’t advertised on mannequins with impossible proportions and not even made in sizes most of us wear; where we never had to watch our mothers fret over every calorie while our dads made humiliating comments about their “obsessive behavior” one minute and the size of their thighs the next, then maybe things would be different. But I don’t live in that world. Neither do you, and neither does Adele.
When I was 19, I gained weight rapidly. I ripped the too-tight inseam of my jeans while walking up the stairs. I refused to buy more clothes, convinced that I would shrink down eventually — but also because I had sized out of my favorite stores. Instead of adding a link to my watch, I simply never wore it again. I hated myself. I regularly broke down in tears as I sat alone in my dorm room, refusing to go out because why would boys want this? In more hopeful moments I obsessed over planning how to get skinny and what I would do once I was — the clothes I would buy, the boys I would talk to, how my new life as a skinny person would begin.
When I came home from college that summer, my well-intentioned dad raised his eyebrows and told me I should “watch” my weight. “That’ll catch up to you,” he said. As if I was not already aware of every “flaw” in my body. As if it wasn’t the only thing I thought about 24/7. The eating disorders I’d developed throughout my adolescence intensified.
My story is not unique. Thirty million Americans of all ages and genders suffer from disordered eating, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. And the simple knowledge that our society is part of the problem can’t save us. We need to acknowledge that there isn’t enough size representation across the board, which means there isn’t enough awareness or acceptance of the idea that your health is no one else’s business but your own, and that being thinner does not equal being better, prettier, and it definitely does not always mean being healthier. But if you are feigning concern for someone who’s lost weight or lumping praise onto them for some perceived success, know this: You are part of the problem.
In the past year, after five years of maintaining a healthy relationship with food, I began losing weight rapidly and in a manner that was beyond my control. I was scared, booking doctors appointments constantly, and becoming well-acquainted with the phlebotomist who drew vial after vial of blood while making quiet jokes about the pros and cons of working in TriBeCa (the convergence of all the train lines and tourists, respectively) in order to calm my nerves. When I visited my family over the holidays, my aunt grilled me at the dinner table for my “secret” to shedding weight so quickly, praising my small waist. I looked around nervously, unsure how to talk about such a personal topic in front of my extended family, but also not wanting to be rude. “Um, severe anxiety,” I told her awkwardly, explaining my diagnosis across the table. “I’m working with my doctor to find the right medication, though.”
She was apologetic later, but the issue wasn’t in telling the people I loved that, like many of them gathered at the table, I had severe panic attacks, dizzy spells, and constant nausea that made life a living hell (whoo, genetics). The issue was not being able to tell them the way I’m telling the internet right now: on my own terms.
Adele didn’t ask anyone to comment on her weight. She is not a spokesperson for a weight loss company, touting the benefits of a diet plan that still allows her to eat bread and inviting people to share their own experiences. We don’t know how or when or why she lost the weight she did, or — and here’s the important part — how she feels about it. She didn’t comment on her own body in her birthday post at all, which means she wasn’t inviting anyone else to.
Adele posted a photo to Instagram in praise of her fans and essential workers and whomever may fall in the center of that venn diagram, and not to “reveal” herself or “show off.” If anything, she seemed to be encouraging all of us to spread the love, especially to those who are out on the frontlines while the rest of us are inside refreshing our feeds. So instead of ranting more about the ways in which we talk about weight, that’s how I’ll end this post. Thank you, essential workers. You mean a lot to me — and Adele. She said so herself.