For so long, women have not only been pitted against other women, but they have also been pitted against how they used to be. It’s seen so often with artists in the bright glare of the media’s spotlight where everything is magnified. The slightest image change, the expression of an opinion, it’s all met with accusatory questioning and a comparison to one’s younger self. But we change, we grow, so why are we criticised?
Billie Eilish’s new look, debuted in her Vogue cover shoot, had the same response. Twitter is speckled with people questioning Billie’s autonomy, saying that she has fallen victim to the pressures of the industry, complaining that she’s playing into the male gaze. But if a man poses topless for a magazine shoot, no one bats an eyelid. I’m a huge advocate for fighting for women’s control in the music industry, and part of this is to do with all the promotional material that comes along with a new album. But such suspicion as to whether a woman was pressured into presenting a risqué image should only exist if there’s reason for it to. Constantly scrutinising a woman’s intentions - asking if it was her decision - feeds into the problem of women not being taken seriously in the music industry. I’ve heard people comment that Billie is using the male gaze to try and get ahead in the industry. Nothing could be more untrue. She has been obscenely successful dressed in her baggy clothing and sporting her neon green roots. She has no reason to dye her hair blonde and wear Gucci corsets, other than that she wants to. And we know from the accompanying Vogue interview with Laura Snapes that this was, in fact, all her decision.
She is a woman embracing adulthood; she’s a woman exploring her endlessly creative mind. We can’t expect her to be her same teenage self forever. Billie has always been brutally honest in her music and she’s fiercely open with things that other artists, especially of her age, don’t sing about: suicidal ideations, climate change etc. So, if she’s had such control over the raw integrity of her lyrics and the shapeless dress sense she became famous for, why should we question her autonomy over the Vogue cover shoot? We should be praising her. She broke the internet; she reached one million likes on her Instagram post in the fastest time ever and yet she is simultaneously putting herself in the firing line of bullies that have commented sickeningly on her body. It is true that there is an intense pressure in the music industry for women to look a certain way, and that should be tackled separately. Billie has proved that she doesn’t need to take her clothes off to be a world-dominating, highly decorated artist. But like we all do when we leave our teenage years, she’s stepping out of the oversized, goth t-shirts that defined her, and into something a bit more grown up. And let’s be honest, she looks great.