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Bad news for anyone who feels comforted by the sight of a celebrity larger than a size 8: Adele got skinny as hell. After months of largely staying out of the public eye and years of not releasing any new music, Adele posted a photo on Instagram for her 32nd birthday; it was a post thanking folks for the birthday wishes and a shoutout to frontline workers, but it also showed off her noticeably thinner body.
Photos of a thinner Adele first surfaced last October, when she went to Drake’s birthday party and indeed looked like a completely different person. “I used to cry,” she wrote on Instagram then, “but now I sweat.” It was a supposed nod to just how much she’s been exercising. She also apparently told a fan in January that she had lost around 100 pounds.
The discourse around Adele’s weight loss — without her really saying a single public word about it — is already kind of unsavory. Some people are cheering for her, as if her Oscar and 15 Grammys and multiple world records aren’t enough for her to feel like a success. Her weight loss, any way you cut it, pales in comparison to the other things she’s done in the first three decades of her life, yet it’s being framed like the most incredible thing she’s done in recent memory.
Her weight loss, any way you cut it, pales in comparison to the other things she’s done in the first three decades of her life, yet it’s being framed like the most incredible thing she’s done in recent memory.
Conversely, there are plenty of people who feel a little mournful about her weight loss since Adele was a hero for fat (or otherwise non-thin) people. She proved you could be successful at a larger size without that weight defining your personal narrative. (It also helped, of course, that she’s white and conventionally attractive and, even at her largest, was not that fat.) Her success doesn’t get to be merely her own, because inadvertently she’s become a symbol of something more important to people longing for more fat role models: Being fat doesn’t stop you from anything. Just look at Adele.
“Would I show my body off if I was thinner? Probably not, because my body is mine,” she told Rolling Stone in 2015. “But sometimes I’m curious to know if I would have been as successful if I wasn’t plus-size. I think I remind everyone of themselves. Not saying everyone is my size, but it’s relatable because I’m not perfect, and I think a lot of people are portrayed as perfect, unreachable, and untouchable.”
For what it’s worth, Adele was never all that “relatable” if you actually call her what she is: a multi-award-winning musician who can sing better than you can do (I’m guessing here) literally anything. Even at her heaviest, she was still exceptionally beautiful, which is maybe all part of the myth of Adele, that her weight is what made her approachable (along with her attitude and pleasant accent and chain-smoking). In losing that, we’ve lost Adele to the celebrity machine that turns people into the kind of unattainable figure that feels cookie-cutter: rich, blonde, talented, and, now, thin.
The tricky part, though, is that Adele doesn’t owe us any explanation for her weight loss. Being a certain size for one phase of your life, however big or small, doesn’t mean you have to be like that forever, and certainly not just because the public expects a static version of you.
When a celebrity loses weight, the public seems unable to receive it with neutrality. Adele’s weight loss is somehow not just an aesthetic change, akin to cutting her hair or losing her trademark winged eyeliner; it’s a value add, as if who she was before somehow wasn’t good enough. And it’s clearly flared up some people’s disordered feelings about food and beauty, which isn’t really her fault. If we really do believe everyone is free to have their body look however they want, then Adele is also free to get smaller, as she is free to get bigger.
Without Adele even trying, her body is both the medium and the message.
Ultimately, Adele can’t win. No one knows if she lost weight for health reasons or aesthetic ones, but she’s allowed to make the choice, even if it bums some of us out. Her silence on her weight loss is perhaps the most important factor here. She hasn’t (yet?) done a cover of Women’s Health in a swimsuit; she so far hasn’t done a Harper’s Bazaar “What I Eat in a Day” video. Her comments on working out and weight loss thus far have mostly been pretty agnostic, saying that she does it merely to have the endurance to perform live. “I’m not, like, skipping to the fucking gym,” she told Rolling Stone in 2015.
But without Adele even trying, her body is both the medium and the message. We don’t know how much she has actually lost, why she lost it, or how she did it, but we have visual proof it was done. Even her Instagram post for her birthday was more about first responders and essential workers than it was about her.
Thus goes the double bind for a celebrity like Adele, made famous by their talents but rendered endearing because they look “relatable,” even when “relatable” still means exceptionally beautiful by any measure. She can’t come out and talk about the weight loss, because that suggests there was something wrong with how she looked before. She also can’t ignore it, because that allows strangers to ascribe value and meaning to her body. She might have lost the weight for her own quality of life, or she might have lost it because of the enormous pressure of being a person whom people stare at all day. Both are valid reasons, but only one feels fraught with the pressure of being a disappointment.
Like most things, our response to Adele’s weight loss says more about us than it does about her. If we’re cheering her on, it suggests a kind of misery we already have about our weight and our relationship with our own body. If we’re gloomy about it, it’s because she reminds us of our own struggle with conventional beauty and the ways we don’t fit in. Adele can’t win, and neither can we.
But, hey, at least we can still listen to 21. “Rolling in the Deep” slaps, no matter what version of Adele we get. ●