Billie Eilish has broken the internet once again — this time with her interview and photoshoot for British Vogue’s June 2021 cover issue. Her Instagram post featuring it has broken the record for reaching one million likes the fastest — a feat that the singer achieved in under six minutes. Another photo from the same shoot that Eilish posted is among the top five most-liked photos on Instagram.
And the reason the singer is breaking all records is not hard to find — ditching the iconic baggy, oversized clothes and her signature punk look, Eilish embraced the 1940s pin-up aesthetic with a pink Gucci corset and skirt over Agent Provocateur skivvies, paired with latex gloves and leggings. The shock of green hair, synonymous with her, has been replaced with platinum blonde tresses, and Eilish appears to have fit into this new look with an ease that is enviable. She looks confident, sassy and as she told journalist Laura Snapes, the look was her own idea because she wanted to try something new and that, “My thing is that I can do whatever I want.”
But, of course, the internet being what it is, vehemently disagrees with that and immediately set out to prove her wrong. While there were fans who were more than excited to celebrate what looks like a new era for the singer, there were those who felt betrayed by the fact that she had decided to change things up veering away from her trademark style. Comments on her Instagram expressed their dismay that Eilish, too, had turned out to be just like the ‘other’ female celebrities.
The pressure to do the ‘right’ thing and be the ‘right’ kind of person is very high and debilitating.
Eilish’s clothing choices have always been a point of discussion, almost as much as her music. As the interviewer goes on to observe, “More simplistic interpretations of Eilish’s aesthetic saw her hailed as an icon of body positivity and a good example compared with female pop stars who wore less. She never claimed to stand for any of it.” Despite this her body has always been held up for scrutiny, whether she chose to hide it, show it off or for simply existing in it. A paparazzi photo of Eilish went viral last year because she was in a tank top, and everybody on the internet immediately felt they were entitled to comment on her weight, body, and clothing choices. It was baffling to see that a woman in a tank top is still scandalizing enough for every media outlet to wax eloquent about it.
The internet’s incapability for handling nuance means that you’re either boxed in as some kind of a hero and put on a pedestal, or you get canceled. The pressure to do the ‘right’ thing and be the ‘right’ kind of person is very high and debilitating, as it leaves no room for human error or evolution. The conversations sparked by the photoshoot were so overwhelming that it made Eilish want to never post again, as she admitted in an interview with Stephen Colbert.
The shocking backlash to Eilish’s photoshoot is also symptomatic of a larger phenomenon — we, as a society, are still uncomfortable with the idea that women have the agency to do whatever they want with their bodies without owing anyone an explanation or justification for it. In her previous avatar, Eilish was held up as some kind of a messianic hero who would save the world from all the other female celebrities who were comfortable with showing off their skin and dressing in a style that is more visibly feminine in the traditional sense. Eilish’s insecurities about her body and her attempt to hide those were considered revolutionary, making her an instant icon of the body positivity movement.
Women, celebrity or not, don’t owe anyone an explanation for learning to love their bodies in a way that best suits them.
The celebration of her aesthetic as superior to those who dressed scantily is a testament to the enduring presence of misogyny which continues to allow people to think that they have a right to decide what a woman should and should not wear. And so, the minute Eilish decided to shake things up and embrace a wholly contrasting, feminine look with all its lace and corsets, there were people who assumed that she was backtracking on her ideals of body positivity. These uncalled-for expectations had taken a toll on Eilish: “Suddenly you’re a hypocrite if you want to show your skin, and you’re easy and you’re a slut and you’re a whore. If I am, then I’m proud. Me and all the girls are hoes, and f**k it, y’know? Let’s turn it around and be empowered in that,” she told British Vogue.
What a woman, or anybody for that matter, wears is their own choice and a reflection of their self expression. There isn’t any one particular way of loving and being comfortable in your own body; and neither should there be a fixed definition of what femininity is and isn’t. Eilish is only 19 now, and naturally, will change and evolve as she grows older. This likely won’t be the last time she reinvents her style. Instead of binding ourselves to fixed ideas of what is right and wrong, it would be better to understand that women, celebrity or not, don’t owe anyone an explanation for learning to love their bodies in a way that best suits them.