Every Time A Celebrity Loses Weight I’m Reminded Of How Messed Up My Body Image Is
“Adele got so skinny, she looks like a different person.”
That sentence came to me via a group text Wednesday morning as I’m sure it showed up in thousands of other group chats and Instagram DMs after the elusive singer shared a photo of herself for her birthday on Tuesday. It was her first Instagram post since December 2019.
In the caption accompanying the photo, Adele used the occasion of her 32nd birthday to thank front-line workers fighting the spread of the coronavirus. The masses used the occasion to comment on her apparent weight loss.
“I mean are you kidding me,” Chrissy Teigen commented, which, without explicitly saying the same thing as the message in my group text, basically said everything.
Teigen’s comment has been “liked” by over 100,000 people.
I’ve been trying to disassociate any feelings from the word “skinny” for many years. I tell myself it’s just a word, and words don’t have feelings, right? Kind of like I’ve told myself that foods don’t have feelings: They can’t be “bad” or “good.” Or that words like “skinny” and “fat” are just words and not identities. Or that fat is just something you have on your body. Or like I’ve told myself that I don’t want ― or need ― to hear that I “look skinny.”
Except for the fact that I really, really do.
When I look at that photo of Adele, I feel something like jealousy or maybe just straight-up jealousy. Well, first I feel hope that a sighting of the notoriously private singer means there is new music coming. But also jealousy. I feel bad about it, but it’s true. I’m also jealous of people who don’t feel the same way as I do ― who have somehow managed to truly feel at peace with their own bodies instead of just claiming that they do on the internet.
Even more frustrating is that I still feel this despite years of therapy to chase away a toxic relationship with food and my body, and an extensive effort (with some success) to find acceptance and even happiness with what I look like.
The reality is we know nothing about the circumstances of Adele’s weight loss, just like we knew nothing about the circumstances of Lena Dunham’s highly publicized weight loss in 2017 ― at least, not when it happened. It wasn’t until a year later that we began to learn exactly what had been going on in Dunham’s life, and none of it seemed very good.
“On the left: 138 pounds, complimented all day and propositioned by men and on the cover of a tabloid about diets that work,” the “Girls” creator wrote on a split-screen image of herself in 2018. “Also, sick in the tissue and in the head and subsisting only on small amounts of sugar, tons of caffeine and a purse pharmacy. On the right: 162 pounds, happy joyous & free, complimented only by people that matter for reasons that matter, subsisting on a steady flow of fun/healthy snacks and apps and entrees, strong from lifting dogs and spirits. Even this OG body positivity warrior sometimes looks at the left picture longingly, until I remember the impossible pain that brought me there and onto my proverbial knees. As I type I can feel my back fat rolling up under my shoulder blades. I lean in.”
How lucky we are to have someone like Dunham in the public eye to speak honestly about her experience. I thought of her, too, when my co-worker pointed out the psychological impact that drastic weight loss can have on a person. “People who wouldn’t give you the time of day before can suddenly become obsessed with you,” the co-worker noted. “And make you think if you gain the weight back you won’t be loved, which leads to dangerous eating/exercise habits.”
Logically, all of this makes sense. But when I look at the photo of Adele, it isn’t logic that’s driving my thoughts or emotions. Making the situation even more complicated is that because of her talent, I often place Adele on a pedestal and view her as light-years wiser and more evolved than I am. But then I remind myself that we’re nearly the same age and that she, too, is a human being. We don’t know what’s going on in her mind or her life and ― as we all are constantly reminded but have to work hard to believe ― social media never tells the full story. And yet here we are, communally congratulating her for being thinner than she was before.
Being in self-isolation for the past eight weeks has drummed up many thoughts and emotions, including the notion that life is short. Have you heard that? Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true! And I’ve been feeling it more than ever lately. Really, when will I just stop feeling bad about the foods that I eat or wondering what impact they’ll have on the able and healthy body that I am so lucky to have? Maybe not today, looking at this photo of a celebrity, but maybe, hopefully, someday soon.