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not her responsibility: what Billie Eilish can teach us all about body shaming and sexualization

Brave and empowering

On 14th October 2020, a paparazzi photo of Billie Eilish emerged and started spreading all around the Internet, immediately becoming viral. The pic became extremely discussed because, for the first time, it was possible to see the 19-years-old singer’s body, and – in particular – people discovered that Billie is not a size 0 woman.

The reactions were various: on one hand people were calling her “brave” and “empowering” for showing her curves (even if she has a perfectly normal figure), but unfortunately she also received lots of undeserved bodyshaming and bullying.

Extreme sexualization of minors

Billie is well known for only wearing baggy clothes in public. In a collab with Calvin Klein, she stated:

“I never want the world to know everything about me. That’s why I wear baggy clothes: nobody can have an opinion because they haven't seen what’s underneath.”

Since the first day, she clearly set her boundaries: in order to protect herself from unwanted judgement, her only option was to fully hide her body and its changes from the world. Being primarily a musician, she was willing to be judged only for her music, while her physical appearance was not on the table.

Let’s not forget that Billie Eilish became worldwide famous when she was a minor, and that, on the day of her eighteen’s birthday, an explicit and vulgar song about her called “Happy Birthday Billie Eilish” started circulating on Youtube: this song is only one of many examples where she was victim of extreme sexualisation.

Keeping all of this in mind, we could call the paparazzi leak an unfortunate incident, but I see it as a severe violation of her privacy, and I cannot imagine the pain she must have gone through. Not only: it tears me to see that she is the one suffering, and yet she is the one who has to take responsibility to prevent that from happening.

"Therefore I Am"

She spoke about this unwanted burden in a short film written and directed by her, saying: “if I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I’m a slut. Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it and judge me for it. […] If I wear more, if I wear less, who decides what that makes me? what that means? is my value based only on your perception? or is your opinion of me not my responsibility.”

Anyway, less than one month after the paparazzi leak, a new song was released on her official Youtube channel, called “Therefore I Am”. In the chorus, she sings:

“I'm not your friend or anything, damn You think that you're the man I think, therefore, I am”

The song overall appears as a playful way of telling people how she couldn’t care less about what they think of her, but she also reminds her audience that behind the image we see on magazines and billboards there’s also a human, with feelings and fragilities.

In the music video, she remarks this concept by playing around carefree in an empty mall and by eating stolen junk food defiantly towards the viewer: maybe to mock those who called her “fat”?

Music as a response to attacks

In any case, Billie found a subtle but powerful way to reply to the attacks against her, which is by doing what she does better: music. After being heavily insulted over her physical appearance, she fought back and fell in line those who dared to step over her boundaries. She reminded the world to have some basic respect and she pointed out who is the winner, at the end of the day: Billie herself.

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