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Adele & The Female Body Politic

Sporting a yellow corseted dress, voluminous blonde hair and her signature cat-eye, Adele recently reappeared in the public eye after a 5-year hiatus as the cover star of British Vogue’s November issue.

The issue comprises an article detailing her first interview since 2016, in which she speaks to Giles Hattersley ahead of the release of her latest album ‘30’.

The interview is honest and refreshing: in the last 5 years Adele has been married to and subsequently divorced from charity founder Simon Konecki, and she discusses this divorce, its impact on her relationship with her son, and the embarrassment she felt about it.

The interview also addresses a topic that has dominated media discussions about her since May 2020, when she appeared on Instagram in a black mini dress with a different body type.

Since then there have been countless articles about her, with titles varying from ‘Adele shows off her stunning weight loss’, ‘Adele looks so skinny now and it’s amazing’, to ‘I’m a little bummed that Adele has lost weight,’ and ‘F**k off skinny Adele, I loved you just the way you were’.

The reactions that praise Adele’s change in appearance problematically relate ‘weight loss’ and being ‘skinny’ with being ‘stunning’ and ‘amazing’. This association reflects the culture we live in wherein fat bodies (and thus fat people) are deemed less valuable than ‘skinny’ ones. Articles like these strengthen this messaging and contribute to its potentially dangerous consequences.

Furthermore, these articles also embody the general societal belief that the media is entitled to police and scrutinise female bodies. This is especially evident in the articles which condemn Adele’s change in appearance. Both of the negatively phrased articles quoted above include personal pronouns and detail emotional responses to Adele’s figure. In doing so, these titles take possession of Adele’s body, linking its size and shape to the writers themselves and their feelings of being ‘bummed’ about losing the body they once ‘loved’.

Adele responds directly to this type of media commentary in her interview. She insists: “I couldn’t give a flying f**k. I did it for myself and not anyone else”, and denounces the media’s attempts to take ownership of and pass comment on her figure, stressing that it is “ridiculous” and asserting: “it’s my body”.

That media focuses on the body of a 15-times Grammy winner with the fastest selling album in the twenty-first century exemplifies the never-ending possession and scrutiny of female bodies by the media.

Female celebrities are prime targets for these attentions. Billie Eilish is the first and youngest female artist to sweep all four general categories at the Grammys. She has also been labelled in the media as an ‘icon of body positivity’, a teenager with a ‘mid-30s wine mom body’, and a ‘wh***’.

Responding similarly to Adele, Eilish deemed it ‘ridiculous that anybody even cares about bodies at all’. With such forceful condemnations in mind, the question of why women’s bodies continue to be an object of media attention and scrutiny remains.

It would seem that the question’s answer has two parts. Firstly, the idea that the shape and size of one’s body reflects their worth is pervasive in our culture. Secondly, gender inequality that underlies female objectification and scrutiny underpins much of our social structure. Until these two issues are appropriately addressed and resolved, the media’s policing of the female body will remain commonplace.

Image courtesy of Abhijith Venugopal via Unsplash