Billie Eilish debuted a new look on the cover of the June issue of British Vogue. She’s traded in her signature black and neon green hair for blonde, and her oversized clothes for corsets and stockings. As she enters a new era of her music, she’s experimenting with a new look too. Now that she’s 19, it seems she’s wanting to embrace a new, more overtly sexual side of herself. The most impressive part? This is all her doing, and she’s not here for anyone who has anything negative to say. And it’s really refreshing and inspiring to see a 19-year-old young woman taking control of her own narrative in this way.
“Don’t make me not a role model because you’re turned on by me,” she says. She’s making a valid point, something we should all hear. Society has a tendency to invalidate the accomplishments of women who choose to embrace their sex appeal. It’s as if women can’t contain multitudes. We’ve seen this time and time again. As soon as a woman decides to embrace her sexual side, she’s branded a bad role model. Because patriarchal society believes that you can’t be admirable if you want to wear a crop top. She’s not telling her fans to run out and dress like her. Being a role model isn’t about what you’re wearing; Billie Eilish embracing another side of herself is something that should be looked upon as role model worthy. She is showing the world that she knows who she is, and not only that, but is comfortable with it.
“Suddenly you’re a hypocrite if you want to show your skin, and you’re easy and you’re a slut and you’re a whore. If I am, then I’m proud,” she said. “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,” she tells Vogue. Fuck yeah, Billie.
Much of the article focuses on Billie Eilish’s feelings around her body image and how they’ve begun to change. Eilish has been pretty open about her clothing choices in the past. Her dramatically oversized clothing was intentional — she had been plagued by body image issues and she wanted to limit commentary about her body. During that time, covering her body made her feel more secure, so that’s what she chose to do. Many of us can relate, especially during our teen years. She admitted in the article that her body “was the initial reason for my depression when I was younger” and obscuring it gave her power over it. But as things do, her style (a throwback to ’90s hip-hop and rap culture) became synonymous with her name.
And whether she liked it or not, her style turned her into a body image icon of sorts. By covering herself up, not only was she taking charge of her happiness in her own skin, but over the narrative about who she was. Billie Eilish hitting a red carpet looking like Left-Eye circa 1995 made people not only take notice of her, but her music. And not only did she know that, she used it to her advantage. But now, that image is no longer serving her. She’s growing up, and this period in her life (late teens), especially in a global pandemic, brought out the space for her to explore what her next style, and self-expression, could be.
Billie Eilish is hardly the first female pop star to adopt a more sexualized style after turning 18. I lived through the early ‘00s, when Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera went from girl-next-door sweethearts to embracing their sexual sides. Christina’s “X-tina” phase was a formative part of my own adolescence. As a teen girl, it was empowering to see young women taking control of their sexuality and being unashamed about it. Just because a young woman, or even an older woman, chooses to embrace their sexual side, doesn’t mean it’s about wanting to appeal to the male gaze. For many women, embracing their sexual side means that they’re acknowledging a new part of themselves. Wanting to honor that is valid, and we shouldn’t judge.
Before people had a chance to voice any opinions, Eilish predicted what some people would say: “‘If you’re about body positivity, why would you wear a corset? Why wouldn’t you show your actual body?’” First of all, people who truly believe in body positivity wouldn’t (shouldn’t) be criticizing her choice to wear a corset. But yes, there are going to be people who have issues with her wearing a body shaper. Of course, that’s their problem and not hers. In the interview, she admits being drawn to the corset because she’s not a fan of the way her stomach looks. She’s human, and willing to be honest about her body image struggles, and I think that’s important.
That being said, there are certainly parts of the interview with Billie Eilish that gave me pause. “I feel more like a woman, somehow,” she says, speaking about her new blonde tresses. Look, I’m not saying she has to walk around looking like Beetlejuice for the rest of her life. It’s understandable to leave that look behind as she grows and evolves. But her statement here doesn’t sit quite right with me. By branding her hair change “womanly,” she’s making a really disconcerting statement, intentional or otherwise. Blonde hair has a large connection to not only femininity and sexual appeal, but also to beauty standards that are steeped in whiteness. We have to remember, or be called to remember, that words carry weight, and making such a statement, even if it’s only in regard to herself, has certain implications, even if the intentions were not malicious.
Her comment is probably something she didn’t even consider when she made it. But in an interview that spends so much time taking down societal concepts of beauty, it feels icky to lead with that statement.
Obviously, Billie Eilish is allowed to dress and wear her hair however she wants. She’s incredibly aware of the fact, and I love her energy. It’s impressive to see a 19-year-old who is so okay with being like, “Fuck you, I’ll wear what I want.” That kind of confidence is hard to find even as a grown-ass woman, and not something I could have accomplished right out of high school. But there are parts of this, including all the imagery, that makes it clear that she is only 19, and holds some very age appropriate views over career autonomy.
Is her change shocking? Absolutely. That’s why it works so well. Is she a good role model? Without a doubt. Though she doesn’t owe me, you, or anyone else a “good role model” example. It will be interesting to see how this new look evolves.