Why Billie Eilish ISN’T Body Positive

Ahead of her new album era Happier Than Ever, Billie Eilish stunned on the June cover of British Vogue this week with a new look.

While she debuted platinum blonde hair featured on the cover on Instagram several weeks ago (in the third-most liked photo on the platform), the real reveal of the cover shoot lies in Eilish’s wardrobe: vintage-inspired corseting, which noticeably shows off her often-unseen figure.

Billie Eilish on the June 2021 cover of British Vogue. CRAIG MCDEAN

In fact, much of Eilish’s interview for British Vogue focuses on her body. It seems the British Vogue cover is integral to this next chapter for the singer, who may be intentionally stepping away from her now-famed baggy Gucci sweat sets.

A teenage pop star baring all to telegraph her maturity is nothing new. But Eilish has a point to make.

Laura Snapes, British Vogue

Her intentionally concealing wardrobe became a “flashpoint” in her meteoric rise to fame, writer Laura Snapes described, creating inappropriate speculation and analysis unwarranted by Eilish herself.

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.

Laura Snapes, British Vogue

While “icon of body positivity” is certainly a complimentary title, I believe Billie’s message as a star transcends body positivity.

According to the recent British Vogue interview, Eilish’s body was the initial reason for her struggle with depression in her youth– a situation that worsened at age 13 when she quit dancing due to injury. The interview also revealed without detail that Eilish is an abuse survivor. It could be safe to assume her experiences, much like those of anyone else, shaped her relationship to her physical body.

Compounded with millions of eyes turning to the rising teen superstar, it’s understandable why Eilish would want to turn to baggy clothing to leave her body out of public perception. However in doing so, public conversation about her physical being proved to be two unfair sides of a misogynistic coin: both shame and praise for covering up.

In a 2020 short film utilized as a tour visual, Eilish made clear that opinions about her style and choices are not her responsibility. Her agency over her physical self is staunch in this regard; she is aware that her famous body exists within the parameters of social discussion and bucks others’ unwanted conclusions completely.

The body positivity movement of the last decade has come to lack this type of defiance in its mainstream commodification. The narrative of the co-opted movement often falls to the unflinching assurance that your body is beautiful, rather than worthy or capable or as we may often want, a non-subject in daily life. As therapist Erin Grumley puts it, “toxic positivity can be negating and invalidating of feelings and experiences that may not be all ‘positive vibes only.'”

Alongside her many lyrics expressing deep sadness, Eilish has been open about her negative thoughts, calling her body her “deepest insecurity” in the British Vogue interview. She “hates” her stomach, she admits, and thinks that belief about herself is “shallow.”

“Because of the way that I feel that the world sees me, I haven’t felt really desired,” [Eilish] says, then sighs. “But that’s really my whole life, though, so I don’t know if it’s anything to do with fame.”

Laura Snapes, British Vogue

In the face of her insecurities, the Happier Than Ever album rollout seems to welcome an era of reclamation for Eilish. While exploring a new, mature look on the cover of British Vogue, she calls out the abusers and abusive rhetoric that claim her (and other young people’s) body freedom.

Showing your body and showing your skin – or not – should not take any respect away from you.

Billie Eilish, British Vogue

Her new acoustic single “Your Power” scathes an abuser of an underage girl, who takes advantage of his power role. “I don’t know one girl or woman who hasn’t had a weird experience, or a really bad experience,” Eilish told British Vogue. “And men, too – young boys are taken advantage of constantly.”

Billie Eilish on YouTube

In the context of Eilish’s story, involving injury, abuse and worldwide media attention as a developing young woman, her message is one of nuance, self-preservation and bravery. Calling her body positive doesn’t acknowledge the unique challenges of her media identity. True body acceptance isn’t about commodity or commercial ownership; rather it’s about survival. And choosing to exist with one’s physical self– and the range of feelings it inspires– in the face of trauma is power.