Billie Eilish, Feeling Good, and the Agency of the ‘Utopian’ Feminine Body
Author: Alisha Grech
The Britannica Encyclopedia defines utopia as “an ideal commonwealth whose inhabitants exist under seemingly perfect conditions. Hence utopian and utopianism are words used to denote visionary reform that tends to be impossibly idealistic.” When I read this definition, the first thing that I thought about were women’s bodies, especially when it comes to being perfect and impossibly idealistic. The relationship between perfectionism and the feminine body is a long and, ultimately, unhealthy one. Like many structures of abuse, this relationship traps female-identifying persons in a quasi-Bermuda triangle situation. Let me give you a few examples: We all remember the 2007 Britney Spears performance that led her to be fat shamed by Perez Hilton for being a size 10. Or Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction in the early 2000s at the Superbowl, which subsequently tarnished her entire career. In both these examples, Britney and Janet (unknowingly) stepped outside of their utopian boxes, leading to backlash, shaming, and exploitation. To society, because of these instances, they are no longer “perfect,” “ideal,” or utopian. They are no longer something to be desired. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from growing up in the early 2000s, it’s that the media cares more about the perfection of a woman and her body rather than the agency of a woman and her body. On May 2, Billie Eilish’s British Vogue cover and interview were released and the world (unsurprisingly) lost its mind. Objectively, it is a beautiful cover with a beautiful person on it. “It’s all about what makes you feel good… if you feel like you look good, you look good,” Eilish said in the British Vogue article written by Laura Snapes. “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… Showing your body and showing your skin — or not — should not take any respect away from you.” The strength that Billie Eilish exudes in this photoshoot and interview is undeniable. She reaches beyond the walls of the utopian, desire-based ideals of the feminine body to reclaim her own sense of self. Although, I can’t help but wonder if our (dare I say it) dystopian society misses the point entirely. In an article for MailOnline, writer Laura Fox documents how multiple fans accused Eilish of selling out, attempting to provoke the same downfall that Britney Spears and Janet Jackson experienced all those years ago. In this way, Billie Eilish becomes a focal point for the male gaze to scrutinize. After all, if she is not utopian, then what is she? (Eyeroll).
Emily Clarkson, @em_clarkson, Instagram. Tuesday May 4, 2021
In the above photo, writer Emily Clarkson rewrites the MailOnline headline to read “Proof that women can change their minds and reclaim autonomy over their own bodies: Billie Eilish shocks fans by swapping baggy clothes for lingerie in Vogue - despite years of being an actual child.” Now, as a young woman, the expectation that Eilish should have presented a sexy, feminine, or “appealing” persona as a child for consistency’s sake needs to be squashed. It is my hope that this departure or style transformation speaks more to autonomy and self-exploration than it does to sex appeal. After all, this whole photoshoot is to promote her new music, specifically her new single “Your Power” and its discussion of manipulation and exploitation of underage girls. Billie Eilish is as much herself now as she was last year or the year before that. That is the great thing about utopias. They are imagined. Perhaps, in the same way that gender rules, stereotypes, and binaries are imagined.