Eighteen-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish is both renowned and criticized for her iconic style of bold, oversized streetwear. She has always donned her baggy fashion, since her fame as a young teenager began continuing with her recent decision to show her body online. The internet’s response? Obsessed. And it’s creepy, predictable and a bit disgusting.
Eilish has been in the spotlight since her song “Ocean Eyes” went viral in 2016. Her fame erupted after the release of the 2017 EP “Don’t Smile at Me.” Eilish, who has been a star since she was about 13, has always been cognizant of her audience’s eyes. Subsequently, her calculated style has developed alongside her musical evolution.
In a collaboration with Calvin Klein, Eilish remained dressed in her signature oversized outfit, unlike the typical commercials of unclothed models showing off undergarments. In a voiceover, she explained the rationale for her style, “I never want the world to know everything about me. 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 not slim thick. She’s got a flat a–. She’s got a fat a–.’ No one can say any of that because they don’t know.”
Eilish’s style is more than just big pants and baggy sweatshirts — it’s a weapon. She subverts the public’s expectations of what a female pop singer looks like and she takes a stand against objectification by hiding her body. Eilish was able to protect herself from scrutiny via her clothing, but the fact that she had to do so, particularly because she was a minor until quite recently, is revolting.
And unfortunately, her age did not stop creeps on the internet from sexualizing her. Photos of her in a tank top as a 17-year-old leaked and trended on Twitter in June; even as a minor, talks about her body began, and a countdown to her 18th birthday was started. When she turned 18, memes like “Billie is 18! Y’all know what that means…” became popular.
Anyone waiting around for a young girl to turn 18 so it’s “OK” to comment on her body is desperate to objectify a minor — and that’s disturbing and gross. There’s no justification for objectification, age or otherwise, and a hyper-sexualized culture where a teenager stresses about keeping on a sweatshirt in the heat to avoid the public’s judgment is a problem.
The sad reality is that women are no strangers to being policed for their appearance. They quickly learn how their looks impact the way the public perceives and treats them.
Simply put, because misogyny has become so habitual, people feel entitled to comment on others’ bodies. And society’s condemnations are double-edged and contradictory. She is supposed to dress “femininely” but not “slutty.” She should be “modest” but not “prudish” because then is she even “woman” enough?
Eilish has noticed the discrepancy, as her style has been weaponized against other women in a way that she did not intend and does not appreciate. People will react positively to Eilish’s fashion, complimenting how she challenges what is traditionally deemed “feminine,” but they simultaneously put down other girls and women who dress the same way.
In an interview with Elle Magazine a few months before her 18th birthday, Eilish said, “You’re missing the point!” The point is not: Hey, let’s go slut-shame all these girls for not dressing like Billie Eilish. It makes me mad.”
In the same interview, Eilish explained, “I’m gonna be a woman. I wanna show my body. What if I wanna make a video where I wanna look desirable?” She continued, “I know people will say, ‘I’ve lost all respect for her.’”
On May 26, Eilish revealed her body both publicly and intentionally in a short film on YouTube titled “NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY.”
The video includes a provocative monologue voiceover: “Would you like me to be smaller, weaker, softer, taller? Would you like me to be quiet? Do my shoulders provoke you? Does my chest? Am I my stomach, my hips, the body I was born with, is it not what you wanted? If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed layers, I’m a slut. Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it and judge me for it.”
The monologue ends with Eilish asking whether her value is based on the listener’s perception or if their opinion of her is not her responsibility. The video has amassed more than 29 million views and thousands of comments. “She wears layers, people have issues, she wears less, people have issues. People are never happy. Ignore them. Theres always someone who’s got an issue,” said one fan.
Eilish decided to take back what the internet tried to steal from her by spreading those photos of her back in June. She even alludes to the incident by wearing a similar outfit in the video. She takes ownership of revealing her body and with her accompanying spoken poetry, she assures the audience that she is aware of their gaze and she challenges the judgment she knows will follow.
Eilish worried that people would lose all respect for her after she showed her body publicly. Of course, there will still be people who feel entitled to comment on her body, people who will sexualize her against her will and people who will look down on her for changing her style because of their ideas of promiscuity.
However, her prior statement remains consistent. Her assertion about objectification was achieved by hiding her body, and she makes the same powerful claim by exposing herself.
The internet’s invasive obsession should not dictate what a woman wears, and it certainly shouldn’t make her choice of clothing, or lack thereof, an act of rebellion. The case of Billie Eilish reflects a pandemic in our current culture of objectification, fetishization and misogyny. Eilish herself put it best when she said, “While I feel your stares or disapproval or your sigh of relief, if I lived by them, I’d never be able to move.”