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Billie Eilish’s Vogue cover controversy: A reclaiming of autonomy or pressured hypersexuality?

Louise Oliphant discusses Billie Eilish's recent Vogue cover - and the assortment of responses that followed.

If you’re somewhat up to date with either pop-culture controversies, celebrity social media or current chart trends, you’ll have heard (or rather seen) Billie Eilish’s recent Vogue cover photoshoot and the sensationalised responses that followed.

Succeeding the release of her of new single ‘Your Power’, the Grammy award winner was revealed as the face of British Vogue’s June 2021 issue. Despite mirroring the look and aesthetic of her recently dropped song’s cover art, and her intermittent Instagram posting of her newly platinum hair, this Vogue shoot was a stark unveiling of Eilish’s glamorous new appearance.

As confirmed by British Vogue editor in chief Edward Enninful, this was Billie “as we’ve never seen her before”. Once signatured in neon green and black colour-themes, baggy tees and equally loose-fit sweatpants, Billie Eilish has remade her image. An Old Hollywood hairstyle, pin-up inspired lingerie and a feminine colour palette of blush pinks and rose gold juxtaposed an old, funky, classic hip-hop styled Eilish with the new, daring, sensually chic Billie.

Therefore, this striking contrast was not expected without reaction. In fact, as many have argued, Billie Eilish’s new look ‘broke the internet’: or Instagram, perhaps. The response came in an abundance of Instagram likes, surpassing a million ‘red hearts’ in just six minutes, even outstanding a record previously set by the singer herself. The cover also became the most liked post in Vogue history, as noted on the magazine’s Instagram feed.

Whilst Eilish and Vogue may have garnered the likes of many, the gallant trade-off of oversized Gucci T-shirts for a custom-made Gucci corset was similarly met with scandalous comments and body-shaming press headlines. Namely, The Daily Mail accused Eilish of ‘selling out' and ‘changing her values’ upon new-found money and fame, whilst pessimistic articles remain conflicted over societies push towards a pressured ‘hypersexuality’.

Nonetheless, Billie Eilish defends her position, decisions and ultimate transformation as ‘doing whatever [she] wants’. In the Vogue interview itself, she states: “It’s all about what makes you feel good… if you feel like you look good, you look good...Let’s turn it around and be empowered in that. Showing your body and showing your skin – or not – should not take away any respect from you”. She also directly responded to The Daily Mail’s headline with an edited version that swapped degrading body shaming comments for empowering truth statements, such as the shift from the original headline ‘Proof that money can make you change your values and sell out’, to ‘Proof that women can change their minds and reclaim autonomy over their own bodies’.

Still, most noticeable is that these quick-to-judge characters had simply forgotten the personal, individual journey of a young, just-turned 19-year-old. Covering her body with hoodies and fashions that specifically did not show skin may not relate to a self-pervaded style choice but rather a tactful way to deal with societal pressures of what a woman’s body should - or should not - be, or a perceptive barrier between the perverted eyes of the media and sexualised expectations.

The meme-like backlash to the Daily Mail’s headline established this, replacing: ‘Despite years of vowing to “hide her body”’ to ‘Despite years of being an actual child’. Where Eilish previously told the public that there were parts of her body they would ‘never see’, many disregard this choice as having ethical and moral standing. As a young woman, underage only a few years ago, why should Eilish entertain the sexualised industry standard we have previously seen within the Britney Spears era? Her decision to change up her spunky, playful look may merely be her coming into age, a comfortability within her own womanly body, where showing a little skin speaks to her maturity.

That’s not to say, for her handling of stratospheric fame during her teenage years that Eilish was not incredibly mature. Considering intense global success, she has remained refreshingly grounded, with an attitude that within itself is entirely permitting.

Rather, this is about Billie Eilish’s venture into a new chapter. This isn’t just about being sexual; it’s about stepping into adulthood. So, despite incessant judgement and a relentless body-shaming media, Billie Eilish’s quote still stands strong: her best thing is that she ‘can do whatever I [she] wants’.


Words by Louise Oliphant

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