Glow up? Grow up: Adele’s transformation and the toxic nature of ‘glow up’ culture

A Work My Femininity and Semi-Detached collaboration 

Glow up? Grow up.

As much as I support personal transformations- I find the promotion of them to be pretty toxic when mishandled. Acknowledging our own transitional periods is natural, it can even be amusing. I’m the first to laugh at my photos from my teenage years and I’m sure we all do it. My pubescence was marked by a string of dodgy haircuts, awful Specsavers glasses and wonky teeth! Though we might cringe now when we’re younger I feel we’re less likely to internalise appearance although the growth of social media and in particular Instagram has undoubtedly affected mental health, self-esteem, and our desire to change ourselves. I don’t think there’s a topic I can relate to more than the documentation of weight-related transformations. Societal expectations surrounding beauty standards and ideals feels at their peak. On one hand, there are influencers posing as ‘nutritionists’ using their network to promote the use of diet pills that do fuck all to help aid healthy weight loss other than making you feel shit and shit (literally). On the other hand, we have never been so exposed to so many body types- all different and all beautiful. Fat shaming is being called out more and more and our tolerance towards the unhealthy prescribed Western beauty standard at times seems to be faltering against the widespread self-love hashtags celebrating cellulite and feeling fab about flab. 

Adele was an artist I grew up with and her albums carried me throughout much of my younger years. She felt like an older sister and I fondly remember listening to her on my iPod Nano (if you can even remember them) on my journeys to school. The music industry is known for its brutal beauty standards when it comes to the way artists look and this pressure is even more evident with female artists. Perhaps that’s what fuelled my love for Adele- she didn’t necessarily fit into the restrictive cookie-cutter mold that so many are forced into. Her talent was stand-alone and didn’t need to fit a certain ‘look’.

Before I even get properly started I want to say that I am all for female empowerment, all for women taking ownership of their lives and all for women feeling good as hell (to use words from Lizzo) but what I struggle with is the relationship between body size and worthiness. Specifically, when being fat is equated with ugliness and success and beauty with being thin. This is a complex debate and one that I have personally wrestled with over the years since gaining weight at university and feeling like I never fitted Western beauty standards. The more we promote ‘glow-ups’, the more we pressure ourselves to constantly see ourselves as objects of the media’s affection and objects of societal affection when really the only affection we should need and desire is our own. 

I had been scrolling through my Instagram explore page when I saw a post that frankly pissed me off. Firstly, I hate how Instagram generates what goes on this part of the app- for me, I’m constantly fed diet posts and nose job transformations (I looked through one plastic surgery page half-seriously once and now I can’t avoid seeing straight narrow noses). On this particular evening, I had found a post from a gym page featuring Adele before and now. In essence, you could argue that there’s nothing wrong with these posts but I feel they promote toxic diet culture that sees surface-level beauty and smaller body sizes as being more worthy of media and worldly attention. Consider how much more overly sexualised Adele is now compared to when she was heavier? Thank god for the people that fought back against the post’s message stating that Adele is as worthy at her heaviest as she is at her slimmest. I don’t care how big or small someone is (obviously I want people to be healthy) but what I mean to say is that someone’s worth should never be dictated by body size. It was this impassioned self-love/ anti-beauty standards rant that inspired fellow blogger Daisy Farrow (https://workmyfemininity.blogspot.com/)  to respond to my Instagram story. I’m so excited to share this collaboration between Semi-Detached and Work My Femininity.  

Adele’s drastic weight loss has been such a huge topic of admiration and respect. Lest we forget that her recent unveiling came amidst her turning 32, the pandemic, and most notably the divorce from her now ex-husband. Debuting her transformation on SNL- the internet went into a total frenzy.  The transformation prompted mixed responses which were felt by so many women including myself and Daisy who admitted she was slightly disappointed with Adele’s big Instagram reveal. Does this make us bad people? Shall we hand in our feminist membership cards? Some would probably chunter jealous fat bitch under their breath to those that admitted to having similar reactions. Talking about weight is hard enough as it is but especially when it comes to celebrity weight loss transformations. It was something that neither of us felt that confident to discuss until we were prompted by posts either positive or negative that compelled us to speak up.  

We’re very proud of Adele for her weight loss even more so if it is something she set out to do with intention. It’s super important to not make assumptions as some have that her weight loss was too quick or drastic and therefore must be linked to her mental health. So long as she did it healthily we’re happy- we have to be and ultimately Adele’s body doesn’t belong to anyone, not the world and not her fans. As Daisy emphasised whilst she always has spoken openly about her weight and championed plus-size women, she was under no obligation to remain the same size and under no obligation to be a life-long plus-sized role model. If we’re being frank though it would be a lie if we said that a part of us didn’t mourn the loss of having Plus-Sized representation. 

Adele has been such a phenomenal source of inspiration for plus-sized women and women that might have struggled with weight and feeling beautiful in a world that promotes very unattainable standards. Admittedly, we have both found ourselves identifying more with larger women and bodies that reflected our own. Therefore, it’s only natural that seeing someone like Adele sparked a greater sense of comfort and familiarity and it seemed that her weight wasn’t something that she needed to hide nor feel shame for. Most people would say they felt the same way but many threw hate at her including the likes of Karl Lagerfeld who had said she was “a little too fat”. These words that came from the now-deceased Chanel designer sparked a mix of agreement and utter contempt at the then seventy-eight-year-old who is known for his outspoken opinions. 

It’s a bit depressing that as a society we have reached a point where it is generally an expectation for all artists over a certain size to either adapt or remain in typecast roles. Think of Rebel Wilson or Melissa McCarthy- two incredible actresses and two very funny women but do we not find that despite comedy perhaps being their niche they have never really had the opportunity to branch out. Rebel Wilson was ‘Fat Amy’ in the Pitch Perfect trilogy for god’s sake and upon losing weight has jokingly told fans to refer to her now as ‘Fit Amy’. To reiterate the issue is not with women making these choices for their health and personal happiness but with the parameters that the media and entertainment industries have established. Boundaries like this limit bigger actresses and entertainers to narrow roles that normally feature them being fat, funny, often single and sometimes quite weird. It’s exhausting and sends out the wrong message to women especially young women that are trying to figure their identity out in a world that tells them their body types are unacceptable or undesirable. 

The language we use is important- how many weight loss articles have you read in the Sun or the Daily Mail where the woman was described as “bursting at the seams”, or “teetering the scales at a WHOPPING [insert whatever amount]”? It’s incredibly harmful. Using such exaggerative language to describe being plus-sized induces shame instead of love and in doing so equates it to being monstrous or colossal. On top of this, the language used in the aftermath of a weight-loss transformation can also be really damaging to people’s self-esteem and body issues. Coded language linked to the idea of having a “lifestyle improvement” creates a kind of good vs. bad narrative.  If you’re overweight and not doing something about it – you’re bad. If you were overweight and lost it – you’re good. In the eyes of the media, it’s that cut and dry.

It’s tiring, hurtful, and just generally shit when the representation of your body type is limited to the “before” part of a “before and after” picture or article. Neither of us are saying that Adele shouldn’t lose her weight or that women, in general, shouldn’t lose weight- we’re not policing women’s bodies. It is hard though to constantly feel like you’re fighting a lose-lose battle against your body that isn’t made easier when the media encourages this sort of scrutiny. Whilst on the topic of language- it’s necessary to talk about the language used to talk about larger women even when it is positive. Daisy commented in particular on a David Letterman interview with Lizzo, she had said that even when people would compliment her stance on weight she’d be described as “unapologetically” large. Her iconic zero fucks response being “what the hell do I have to be apologetic about?!” And she’s right! 

You may think that it’s a compliment to larger women when you call them “unapologetically” or “unashamedly” fat but you’re actually just calling them brave for not apologising over their body type- implying that there is something worth being sorry about. If a part of you mourned losing another plus-sized champion when you saw Adele’s weight-loss then you’re not alone. Feeling like this doesn’t make you a bad person, it actually highlights the length at which society will go to make you feel bad for not conforming. More importantly, we need to be careful about the language we use when discussing weight. Adele’s weight loss is an accomplishment, but not as much of an accomplishment as her several Grammys and number 1 songs. We need to stop trying to tell ourselves that this is the most important thing about her and stop trying to tell ourselves that we should all be looking to do the same. 

 

 

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