Adele is skinny now.
She has been skinny for a while—first, in an Instagram post last year, and then, while hosting Saturday Night Live. This week, we got skinny Adele in a music video, ahead of the release of her album 30.
Many, many media outlets and random internet commenters have celebrated Adele for becoming skinny. This has been met with a very specific form of backlash, which goes something like “Adele is a megatalent whose music is worth blasting on repeat no matter the singer’s size. Please stop treating this as an accomplishment.” The backlash is correct.
And yet, even as I know that celebrating Adele’s weight loss is wrong, I am struggling with something different, which is feeling a little upset about it. Which is weird! After all, Adele is an adult human woman, and I am a feminist. “She can do whatever she wants!!” wrote Katie Sturino, influencer and author of Body Talk, on her Instagram in a post about Adele’s slim-down, adding the hashtag #WeightIsntNews. “The public seems unable to receive it with neutrality,” wrote Scaachi Koul, back when skinny Adele first surfaced.* To assign a value in any direction to Adele’s weight loss—excitement or disappointment—is to over-involve oneself in the dynamics of a stranger’s body. It certainly seems like Adele herself would like us all to stop commenting on her corporeal form. As she said in Vogue’s November cover story: “My body’s been objectified my entire career.”
But I have been thinking about this all week. The thing is that Adele had a body type that is not really frequently represented in the world of megacelebrity that she occupies. And partly for that reason, I think it is OK to be disappointed that Adele lost a ton of weight.
I certainly am. I don’t need to explain to you that the world is very, very fatphobic, to the extent that going up a size or two in jeans, as I have in the time since Adele’s 21 rocketed her to fame, is a reasonably nerve-racking experience. If you manage to gain weight and/or exist in a fat body only with the side effect of a little anxiety, you’re doing pretty well. I am using the word fat here, by the way, on purpose: Activists and writers have made the point again and again that though it can be slung around as an insult, it is not a bad word—it is “a neutral, even term,” as Aubrey Gordon, co-host of the popular podcast Maintenance Phase, has noted. Taking the teeth out of the word fat, displaying fat as just a normal and even beautiful way to exist is important. We live in a world where eating disorders run rampant, affecting normal people and monied celebrities alike. In the 2020 documentary Miss Americana, Taylor Swift talks about her own struggle going from being very, very skinny to just very skinny. (The latter meant fielding rumors that she was pregnant.) If the pressure to look thin has always borne down on us, it’s in some ways getting worse—today, apps like Instagram and FaceTune allow all of us to manage, and slim down, our images with the furor of a celebrity’s publicity team trying to land their client the lead in a Pepsi commercial.
I have many personal mantras to bulwark against all of this. One of them is from Sturino, the influence and body inclusivity activist: Whenever the bad body thoughts start rolling, I shout to myself, “Nope!” Another is “Wow, Adele is very talented, very beautiful, and also fat.” Or it used to be. Was it the healthiest thing in the world to pin one’s self-esteem to the shape of another person? Clearly not, because people change. This is the entire issue with external validation; it cannot be counted on. It also is kind of weird to care about the body size of this one lady I don’t know.
But here is the problem: Most people who have excelled in the entertainment business are not fat. They tend to be very, very skinny to very skinny. (I wonder a lot where we’d be if the greatest poet of our time had been a size 10 in high school as she was trying for her big break—her early days included modeling for Abercrombie.) That’s why it tends to feel joyous when a talented nonskinny person makes it through the filter. (Adele is also very, very conventionally beautiful.) The images of such a person make the world a slightly less bad place—that’s what Adele’s major magazine photo shoots prior to the skinny Vogue shoot did a little bit for me. Now, I have a new thought popping up when looking at Adele: I would like to be skinnier, too. As Adele also said in the Vogue interview: “I understand why some women especially were hurt. Visually I represented a lot of women.”
Ideally I would have no thoughts about someone else’s weight. After all, I am—duh!—firmly in the camp that Adele is a human person and gets to do whatever she wants. But this is the one thing that I think is worth remembering: She is also a highly produced image, and, given the water we swim in, it makes sense if you or I feel a little sad that the image has changed. I’m not sending any “blame” in her direction—that blame ought to be reserved for the faceless mass of people making the choices about whom to give record deals and Vogue covers. It’s a lot harder to feel mad at them—I don’t know who they are, really—but I am trying my best. Until we live in a world where we can comfortably exist at any size, we’re going to inevitably feel things when one of the relatively few fat women celebrities changes. It’s OK to feel a little disappointment.
Correction, Oct. 15, 2021: This piece originally misspelled Scaachi Koul’s first name.