Debuting in the music industry at 13, Billie Eilish is all too familiar with the mental toll of body image issues. She’s been very open about how she developed a penchant for baggy clothes, in part, to hide her body and avoid getting body-shamed.
Still, this didn’t spare her from public scrutiny and speculation over what she chose to present and keep to herself. Heck, her song “Not My Responsibility” was made specifically to challenge these unwarranted opinions.
And so we didn’t expect to see Eilish being criticized over being dismissive of toxic beauty standards—specifically those faced by men. The outspoken singer faced backlash over an out of context quote pulled from her Variety cover story that dropped on Nov. 14.
The story started off with Eilish saying, “Being a woman is just such a war, forever. Especially being a young woman in the public eye. It’s really unfair.”
She then delves into how she “didn’t want people to have access to my body, even visually” during her adolescence because she “wasn’t strong enough” and “would have been completely devastated if people had said anything.”
“I have big boobs. I’ve had big boobs since I was nine years old, and that’s just the way I am. That’s how I look,” Eilish says as she recalled the frenzy that came after photos of her wearing a camisole in public at age 16 circulated. “You wear something that’s at all revealing, and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, but you didn’t want people to sexualize you?’ You can suck my ass! I’m literally a being that is sexual sometimes. F*ck you!”
But the excerpt that has gotten the most attention is Eilish saying, “Nobody ever says a thing about men’s bodies. If you’re muscular, cool. If you’re not, cool. If you’re rail thin, cool. If you have a dad bod, cool. If you’re pudgy, love it! Everybody’s happy with it. You know why? Because girls are nice. They don’t give a f*ck because we see people for who they are!”
The hyperbolic generalization prompted a now-removed community note under Variety’s tweet about how there’s “roughly 10 million men in the United States alone experiencing body dysmorphia.”
A number of netizens also quoted the post with personal experiences of men struggling with body image issues and pointed out how women also uphold toxic beauty standards. This cannot be discounted. Especially since terms like “muscle dysmorphia,” also known as “reverse anorexia” or “bigorexia,” have surfaced over the years to describe male body image disorders focused on the obsessive desire to have a bigger, more muscular body.
However, as other netizens raised, Eilish’s statement didn’t come without precedent and doesn’t necessarily deny the existence of body dysmorphia among men. The effects of toxic beauty standards on men and women have been historically disproportional and research has backed this.
“Even in childhood, girls are already more conscious about how their body weight affects their appearance compared to boys. A longitudinal study showed that in adolescence, body dissatisfaction increases with time in both sexes, but the highest levels of boys’ body dissatisfaction were only as high as the lowest levels of girls’ body dissatisfaction,” according to research published on Frontiers in Psychology.
“This pattern of more pronounced body dissatisfaction in women than in men, and the greater influence of body weight on body image in women than in men, persists in adulthood.”
“Moreover, the standards for the female body ideal depicted in society seem to be clearer, while the male body ideal comprises more divergent body types, represented by more heterogeneous, also average-weight, media images of men,” the study adds.
We don’t even need to look that far to see how society has and continues to disproportionately reduce women to their bodies from their birth until death. Why else is sexual violence still largely seen as a women’s issue despite cases pointing otherwise?
Eilish isn’t the arbiter of who is or isn’t affected by toxic body standards. We don’t think she claimed to be either. All of this discourse buried how Eilish seemingly came out as queer when she said in the interview, “I love [girls] so much. I love them as people. I’m attracted to them as people. I’m attracted to them for real.”