This week, pictures emerged of a slimmer looking Adele, as the singer arrived at rap star Drake’s birthday party.
Instantly people were tweeting and sharing the photos, congratulating her on her “revenge body” – a reference to her ongoing divorce with Simon Konecki. Across my social media feeds, it seemed that everyone was sharing headlines that discussed her "sensational new look”, posting her “before and after” snaps. The resounding reaction was: “She looks so good now!”
For me, this was far from unexpected. It merely confirmed that we live in a society which idealises thinness and celebrates weight loss as inherently positive. The underlying premise behind the reaction to Adele’s photos was a) the assumption that her “old” body was “wrong” and b) that she made a deliberate and “healthy” choice.
In reality, this reaction is just a series of backhanded compliments. Saying that she looks good now, is just a more subtle form of body shaming that masquerades as a compliment. By glamourising this terrible concept of the “revenge-body”, we are saying that fitness and eating well are tools to be weaponised against a former relationship as opposed to a positive choice we should all be making. It centres our value in our physical appearance, and the idea that bigger bodies are not worthy of a fulfilling relationship.
At its worst, the fixation on Adele’s post separation “glow up” reveals our deep rooted societal fatphobia, in which skinniness is valued at any detrimental cost and equated with attractiveness.
We have reached a stage in which we are well versed in the health implications of obesity, which can be a positive thing. After all, it is important that we all make steps to eat well and exercise for our mental and physical wellbeing. However, why do we rarely acknowledge that weight loss, especially at a rapid rate, can be a cause for concern?
Quick weight loss can be the unintended result of a mental or physical condition. It is common knowledge that Adele is in the process of a divorce – a deeply traumatic and stressful experience for anyone, let alone someone in the public eye. Yet, when these photos were released, there was a distinct lack of concern for her welfare. Studies have shown that stress can cause a whole range of digestion problems, including loss of appetite. While many of us respond to mental health challenges by comfort eating, some people struggle with disordered eating as a response to depression or anxiety.
Adele’s mental and physical health is, of course, her own business. She could be happy, healthy and intentionally trying to lose weight. If this is the case then I truly wish her every success. But why do we continue to comment on people's bodies without knowing context? How can we be sure that a 'compliment' is not fuelling or validating a potential crisis?
It is an uncomfortable truth that, although packaged as support for the person’s health, in general these “compliments” speak to the fact that our celebration of weight loss is not always about welfare. Society just cares that you’re slim, no matter how objectively harmful the journey was to get there.
Adele always has been and always will be beautiful. She is more than a before and after picture, she is an immense talent and national treasure – this, not her body, should be the focus.