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No, really, let’s talk about them—and why we shouldn’t be talking about them. Contradictory, I know, but stay with me while we unpack this. Just yesterday, Billie Eilish revealed her British Vogue cover sporting a fresh look that implied a brand-new era for not only her style, but her career. And yet, for some reason, all the Internet could talk about was Billie Eilish’s boobs. Not the interview. Not the new album on the way. Not even the fashion! Just her boobs.
All good pop icons know that with reinvention comes relevance. Madonna was the OG queen of changing up her look and everyone from Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga has followed suit in an attempt to stay on top as years pass and new, fresh faces hit the scene. After the success of Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? era—accented by black strands, lime green roots and oversized designer duds—the artist is giving us a whole new look for Happier Than Ever, her second studio album.
When she debuted platinum blonde strands back in March, fans thought the transformation was complete. Little did they know how Marilyn-inspired Eilish’s new look would be. On the album art, she gave fans the cold shoulder in a slouchy white knit, a single tear streaming down her face. It felt lightyears away from her previous aesthetic, but she was still (scapula aside) covered up.
Cue the cover that changed it all, British Vogue’s June 2021 issue. In a look curated by the magazine’s Style Director, Dena Neustadter Giannini, Eilish graced the cover in a custom latex skirt and pink corset by Gucci, accessorized with Agent Provacateur skivvies and Atsuko Kudo latex gloves.
It was, in a word, show-stopping. In another word, breathtaking. In a final phrase, worthy of breaking the Internet—and so it did. Unfortunately, for as many fans as were focused on the fashion, there were twice as many others more interested in the body beneath the glamorous attire.
Billie Eilish, mind you, is 19 years old. Yes, her British Vogue spread serves bombshell, pin-up realness, but she didn’t get all dolled up just for people to objectify her. In fact, she’s spent almost her entire career explaining that she simply won’t allow it.
When “Bad Guy” became the only song any of us wanted to listen to in 2019, fans were mixed on their new favorite singer’s wardrobe. It was more common for a pop star of the time to sport embellished bodysuits or custom designer gowns; maybe a Fashion Nova ‘fit or two if they were still finishing up some smaller pre-fame brand deals. For a young woman to be so covered up confused a society used to connecting an artist’s look with their sound. Billie had the voice of an angel and the wardrobe of a very rich teenage boy. It didn’t make sense.
What we soon learned was that Eilish wasn’t shopping in big brother Finneas’ closet, nor was she too busy to find a stylist to hook her up with those custom gowns. She made the active choice to take her appearance off the table. She knew that covering her curves completely was the only way to remove them from the conversation, giving the world nothing to focus on but her sound.
She proactively refused to let the media discuss her figure. In a move just as powerful and body-positive as stripping down, Eilish layered up.
Which isn’t to say that she abandoned the world of fashion. Designers like Gucci and Louis Vuitton jumped at the chance to be a part of her luxurious wardrobe of baggy tees, long shorts, big jackets and bucket hats. Completely covered up, she was just as stylish as any other celeb on the red carpet, often better-dressed by far.
Of course, the public was curious about this mysterious body they could not see. In fact, they felt entitled to see it; a reality that irked Eilish to no end. She touched on this in her short film, Not My Responsibility, which debuted during her world tour and made its way to her YouTube page.
The moving piece shows Eilish undressing while sinking into tar, set to a voiceover in which she addresses body shamers, critics and objectifiers. “Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it and judge me for it,” she says. “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?”
Prior to the film, her decision to hide her body entirely stemmed from far more than just insecurity, a struggle she details in her interview with British Vogue. Regardless of how she personally felt about her own body, she was determined to eliminate the option for others to criticize, praise or objectify it. She kept the power all to herself.
She was determined to eliminate the option for others to criticize, praise or objectify it. She kept the power all to herself.
This new era—in which Eilish wows in Alexander McQueen corsets and Mugler catsuits—is in no way her suddenly wanting to be praised for her appearance. It’s not about a desire to feel grown, or to become the sex icon so many Internet weirdos desperately want her to be. It’s about reconciling her right to privacy with her right to wear whatever the fuck she wants.
“It’s about taking that power back, showing it off and not taking advantage with it,” Eilish tells British Vogue. “I’m not letting myself be owned anymore.” Just because the public can see her figure does not change the bottom line here: Eilish has the power. No one can make her feel a certain way about her own appearance. And more importantly, the way others feel (as the title of her short film implies) is not her responsibility.
Her cover look also clarifies a point that many have gotten wrong in their analysis of her baggy tees and oversized jackets: Eilish’s decision to cover up is in no way a criticism of so many other pop stars’ desire to show some skin. They are not meant to contrast one another, as both choices represent woman having the power to wear what they want, be it a borrowed-from-the-boys look or a borrowed-from-Victoria’s-Secret set.
Still, Eilish tells British Vogue that criticism of her new look is inevitable—not that she plans on taking any of it to heart. In fact, she knows it says more about her critics than herself. “Don’t make me not a role model because you’re turned on by me,” she tells the magazine. “Let’s turn it around and be empowered in that. Showing your body and showing your skin–or not–should not take any respect away from you.”
Regardless of how others view her, Eilish remains steadfast in the confidence that she is the one in control of her own narrative. And in her British Vogue interview, she makes this clear: “‘You’re going to complain about being taken advantage of as a minor, but then you’re going to show your boobs?’” She tilts her head and widens her eyes in a slow charade of contemplation. Then she swivels back, points straight at me and laughs. “Yes I am, motherf**ker! I’m going to because there’s no excuse.”
No excuse, she means, for others to decide that her body is theirs for criticism, praise or objectification. No matter what she wears. Because believe it or not (and shockingly enough, many will find this hard to believe) Eilish’s body really is none of your damn business. Here I am, writing an entire article about it, and I’m still standing by the fact that it’s none of your business. Like, after this, we can all agree to never talk about it again.
We can certainly ooh and ahh over the parade of fashion moments sure to come during the Happier Than Ever era—my fingers are crossed for more Mugler catsuits—but for once, let’s leave the body beneath the couture out of the conversation.