Billie Eilish, 18-year-old Grammy-winning pop legend, has opened the first night of her world tour Miami by acknowledging and interrogating the scrutiny of her body and its sexualisation.
A film played across the screens showing Eilish taking her shirt off (wearing a black bra underneath) and sinking slowly into black water while a voiceover addressed the constant probing of her choice in clothes and the unwanted sexualisation of her body: “Some people hate what I wear, some people praise it. Some people use it to shame others, some people use it to shame me.”
The voice-over continued: “If what I wear is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I am a slut. Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it and judge me for it. Why?” While her career has been characterised by the slightly unconventional—whether that’s Eilish’s style or genre-blending music—the media attention has been disappointingly but conventionally shit.
Already, various outlets have begun reporting the moment as her “stripping off” and “stripping down to her bra.” Because apparently clicks > common decency, and sometimes people will voraciously devour and dissect anything without a modicum of self-awareness or reflection.
Eilish has spoken before about the reasoning behind her signature over-sized and baggy clothing—sometimes called “ill-fitting” by sentient fedoras. In a project with Calvin Klein she explained: “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.”
This didn’t stop gross commentary and hyper-sexualisation of her when she wore a tank top, or earlier this year the internet furore when she, shockingly, wore a swimsuit. To go swimming. She is, arguably one of the most famous and influential teenagers in the world and she is afraid to dress a certain way: it speaks to a cultural problem that so many of us have probably faced.
Even when her style is praised, there’s often also a subtle thread of slut-shaming and body-shaming others. Her style is held up as a model of modesty and ~you don’t have to take your clothes to be successful~. To which we can only say, please fuck off.
As Laura Snapes wrote for The Guardian, “The music industry and the media like to pat themselves on the back for making stars of Eilish and Lizzo, who often joins her in headlines about body positivity, though if these women one day wish to change their physical presentation, they will be accused of betraying fans and squandering their authenticity.”
It’s probably naive to think that Eilish’s message will change anything about the treatment of women in the public eye to a significant degree. But, as she reflects at the end of the monologue, it’ll hopefully serve as a small respite in her own mind and self about the attention that will probably follow her forever: “is your opinion of me not my responsibility?”
In a world where the data says 9 out of 10 people have a bias against women, sometimes the self-protective actions where we write our own internal narratives for ourselves can be the most powerful. And maybe, it helps someone who is watching.
Read the full text of her speech below:
Do you really know me?
You have opinions about my opinions, about my music, about my clothes, about my body.
Some people hate what I wear, some people praise it. Some people use it to shame others, some people use it to shame me.
But I feel you watching … always. And nothing I do goes unseen.
So while I feel your stares, your disapproval or your sighs of relief, if I lived by them, I’d never be able to move.
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 what I wear is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I am a slut.
Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it and judge me for it. Why?
You make assumptions about people based on their size. We decide who they are. We decide what they’re worth.
If I wear more, if I wear less, who decides what that makes me? What that means?
Is my value based only on your perception?
Or is your opinion of me not my responsibility?
Lead image: Kevin Mazur via Getty Images for Live Nation.