Billie Eilish graced the latest cover of British Vogue with an homage to old Hollywood, and the photoshoot is sparking a conversation about the sexualization of women’s bodies in pop culture.
The now 19-year-old singer made a point of wearing baggy clothing for public appearances since her rise to fame as a 14-year-old songwriter. Her signature style, she explained in a 2019 ad for Calvin Klein, was driven by a desire to avoid being perceived by the world.
“I never want the world to know everything about me,” Eilish said. “I mean, that’s why I wear big, baggy clothes. Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath, you know? Nobody can be like, ‘Oh, she’s slim-thick, she’s got a flat ass, she’s got a fat ass.’ No one can say any of that because they don’t know.”
Eilish’s body has been the source of inappropriate speculation since she gained popularity for her song “Ocean Eyes” in 2015. Her style was a means of protection to avoid being sexualized as a child, but that didn’t stop prying eyes from commenting on her body via paparazzi photos. She addressed the conversation about her body in a concert interlude, which she posted a recording of in 2020. In a spoken word poem, she asserts that other people’s opinions about her body aren’t her responsibility.
Her British Vogue photoshoot is a departure from her past image. Dressed in vintage-inspired lingerie, Eilish remains in control of the way that her body is presented in public while still evolving as an artist. In her interview, she explained that her body “was the initial reason” for her depression, which is why she opted for baggy clothing in public appearances. Her new look coincides with the release of her new single “Your Power,” a response to the way abusers manipulate and exploit underage girls.
“Don’t make me not a role model because you’re turned on by me,” Eilish told British Vogue, pushing back against the way she was hailed as a body positive icon just for covering up her body.
Her choice to dress modestly, she noted, was not a stand against other female pop stars who prefer to dress in more scanty apparel.
“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,” Eilish said. “Me and all the girls are hoes, and f**k it, y’know? Let’s turn it around and be empowered in that. Showing your body and showing your skin – or not – should not take any respect away from you.”
Critics of her photoshoot, who ironically missed the entire point of her interview, accused Eilish of selling out and succumbing to the industry pressure to sexualize herself. Other Twitter users pushed back on it, pointing out that Eilish chose to dress modestly and is now choosing to dress differently. Either way, she retains agency over her image.
also people saying billie is “not being herself” because she’s showing more skin is just bullshit. with how much society dictates and controls femme bodies, we don’t even feel comfortable in our skin because of it’s “perception”. so exploration is out of the question
— fatima ♡♡♡ very tired :'( (@fatimajpeg) May 2, 2021
Women are sexual. Sometimes intensely sexual. Many love projecting their sexual desires and desirability through clothing, makeup, etc. It does not harm women to be sexual. It’s life affirming and enhancing. It’s psychologically healthy.
— Caroline Williams (@WilliCaroline) May 2, 2021
why is this sexualized? I see a beautiful person wearing beautiful clothing? what’s sexual about it?
— lb1000 (@lrb100) May 2, 2021
billie’s been super vulnerable and honest recently with the doc, your power, and now this vogue photoshoot. like she’s really putting it all out there and i think that’s very meaningful and important and i know it’s helped, and will help, so many people including myself
— vic (@alittIemedieval) May 2, 2021
I remember reading about Billie + her reasoning behind her clothing choices (not wanting to be sexualized as a child). This cover is truly a special moment for her. British Vogue did an amazing job. 💖 https://t.co/SBQoHxqPnH
— 𝕮𝖔𝖚𝖗𝖙 𝕶𝖎𝖒 💥 (@TheCourtKim) May 2, 2021
please no more “i knew billie had a body under there” discourse anything but that
— oatmeal influencer (@acechhh) May 2, 2021
In her interview, Eilish also addressed those who criticize the way she presents herself while she speaks out about her own experience with abuse and exploitation.
“You’re going to complain about being taken advantage of as a minor, but then you’re going to show your boobs?” Eilish told British Vogue. “Yes I am, motherfucker! I’m going to because there’s no excuse.”