The Internet exploded earlier this week after Adele posted an Instagram photo thanking everyone for the birthday love, while extending wishes for folks to stay safe and gratitude for first responders and essential workers. It was the first photo Adele had posted in months, and it revealed some pretty significant weight loss.
The Instagram post was met with comments ranging from “looks gorgeous” to “I liked her way the way she was before, chubbier, prettier.” Articles discussing her weight loss flooded the Internet with takeaways and opinions as vibrant and explosive as the democratic debates. Does she look beautiful? Yes. Was she beautiful before? Absolutely.
So why do we care so much?
On one end, folks are calling the celebration associated with Adele’s weight loss as fatphobic, citing such congratulations as toxic and a slam to the body positivity movement. Adele’s personal trainer also responded with frustration that folks were speculating she lost the weight for something, or someone, other than herself (the singer divorced earlier this year). Joe Rogan discussed the controversy on his podcast, where he expressed his annoyance with the fatphobic allegations and declared Adele “looks better now.” Rogan went on to imply there are certain beauty standards (i.e being fit and thin) that dictate our attraction toward certain bodies, and that trying to change said beauty standards was a fruitless endeavor (insert eye roll).
I’m not here to debate over whether or not Adele’s weight loss is a good thing—that’s her business. Personally, I think having an opinion on someone’s decision to lose weight is like having an opinion over their religion, or whether or not they choose to have children. While her trainer has offered reasons for her weight loss, Adele hasn’t weighed in and so I’m not going to even attempt to guess her motivation. (Also, reminder: It’s none of our business.)
What I would like to do is challenge the notion that being thin equates to being healthy—and congratulating someone for their weight loss, or gain, can be equally as dangerous. To say that someone “looks better” after having lost weight implies their weight was burdensome, inconvenient, ugly even. And while Adele’s personal trainer said the weight loss was done healthily, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, complimenting someone’s weight loss fuels disordered eating, exercise addiction, or mental illness—not just for the person who lost weight, but for others in earshot who struggle with body issues.
When I was 18, I went from 117 lbs to 97 lbs in three months. Losing 20 pounds was dramatic for my 5’2” frame, and so it’s not surprising that the majority of my peers noticed. I was congratulated, asked out, invited to parties, and overwhelmingly complimented. But what people didn’t see was the journey to how I got there: exercising every free second I had. I also restricted food with such extremity that even toothpaste and bouillon cubes weren’t spared from my calorie calculator. My period disappeared. My hair fell out. I was the unhealthiest and thinnest I’ve ever been.
My entire experience was simultaneously thrilling and devastating. On one hand, I loved the control that accompanied my eating disorder, and relished in the sudden wave of validation and adoration. But the applause I received with my sudden and dangerous weight loss stayed with me over the course of my young adult life. I associated being thin with being loved, and became terrified to gain weight. To do so symbolized a loss of control, a loss of love, and a loss of worth.
I’ve struggled to write on this issue, namely because I find my feelings surrounding the topic so complicated. Because weight loss is complicated—it can be done healthily or dangerously, intentionally or accidentally. And since we rarely witness the motivations or methods behind a person’s weight loss journey, our opinions on such are entirely assumptions. The choices we make surrounding our bodies are deeply personal—they belong to us—and yet it’s up to anyone but us to dictate what makes a “good body.”
It’s why it’s imperative we keep in mind that when tempted to voice our opinions regarding someone’s weight loss, or body composition in general, we should keep our mouths shut. Besides, there are so many other things we can choose to focus on, like one’s confidence or kindness—or in reference to Adele, her gratitude, the joy expressed on her face, or the fact that it was her birthday! Making weight the primary topic of conservation implies that it’s in direct correlation with her worth. It’s what we care most about. And I refuse to buy into that.
Adele always was, is, and will be beautiful. Her songs are the heart-wrenching anthems we all crave when in need of a good cry or belt-out session. It’s not her body that’s worthy of celebration—it’s her.