When Billie Eilish’s June cover ‘British Vogue’ hit the stands, revealing a drastic change in style that deviated from what Billie stans were used to, a massive fence was erected between fans who loved the direction she was taking and those who couldn’t believe Billie would stray from her oversized tees and signature look. Below, three college-aged women – Isabel Corp, a senior at The New School, Sidney Ropp, a freshman at lllinois State University, and Caroline McCarthy, a sophomore at Manhattan College – discuss Billie’s new era, and the way that audiences consume – and police – the bodies of young women.
Isabel Corp: I’m obsessed with [Billie’s British Vogue shoot]. It was like they put Bettie Paige and Marilyn Monroe into a blender.
Sidney Ropp: I was very surprised when I saw her new look, but my first thought was that she looks absolutely gorgeous! She also seems far more confident in this era of her career.
IC: I was also surprised, but cheering for her. Even her body language and the way that she’s posing in the shoot asserts her newfound confidence. She’s clearly in charge.
Caroline McCarthy: I totally agree. It was very Marilyn! At first, I thought it was strange because she’s always been an advocate for not having to show off your body to be successful, But I think she was making even more of a statement: you don’t have to, but you still can.
SR: The shoot was so different from anything else Billie has ever done, but I love that she’s showing girls everywhere that there’s no “inappropriate” way to dress.
IC: Exactly. She’s very smart and knows exactly what she’s doing, what kind of statement she wanted to make, and the response it would get. I think she wants to instill in young girls the lack of shame in deciding to love your body and express yourself in various ways. A lot of the backlash she received suggested that Billie was exchanging her “unique” style for a “mainstream” look, but that’s such a false dichotomy. Why does anyone have to be one or the other? Why not be both?
“She’s always been an advocate for not having to show off your body to be successful.”
IC: I think anyone who feels betrayed is taking Billie a lot more seriously than she’s taking herself.
SR: Those upset probably resonated with her modest way of dressing and her opposition of the media’s sexualization of her body. While I understand that many may have appreciated how unique that is from much of the industry, there’s no reason that she can’t have both.
CM: I don’t understand how they would feel betrayed by an artist growing, maturing, and taking ownership of her femininity. She’s 19, no longer a child, and allowed to experiment with what the next phase of her career will look like.
IC: People like to dump on the “not-like-other-girls” phenomenon, but I also really sympathize with the girls who did resonate with her modest way of dressing. Our culture has never allowed young girls to be multifaceted. Also, it’s just ONE photoshoot. Who knows how she’ll reinvent herself in her next album cycle? She’s not abandoning anything. She’s maintained that this was her choice and she wants to experiment with her image as she gets older. It’s a natural part of her development as she matures as an artist.
CM: Billie was 16 when she made the decision to wear baggy clothes. She wanted to avoid body criticism and being sexualized by the media.
IC: She’s an adult now and has always been very conscious of how she wants to be perceived. She clearly proceeded with caution and strategy and is entering this phase in a very healthy mindset. It’s a real testament to the times.
“She’s showing girls everywhere that there’s no ‘inappropriate’ way to dress.”
SR: I think it’s entirely inappropriate that some people feel it’s their place to comment on women’s bodies. There is a clear double standard, because male public figures are never subjected to the same scrutiny and judgement as women in the spotlight.
IC: Social media and all of the public discourse, especially post #MeToo, has led to a collective reckoning. People who continue to gatekeep women’s bodies in showbiz are grasping at straws. They want to go back to a time when they could exert their power and terrify young girls just because they could.
CM: And the male standard for style and beauty almost never changes.
SR: Whereas the female standard is a moving target! There are so many body types that are “in” or “out” at any given moment. The same women who are praised for having “the dream body” one year may face incessant body shaming the next year. It has to stop.
IC: Period. Rape culture definitely plays a part in the shaming as well.
CM: Ten years ago, fat women were never celebrated as they are today. And now, some celebrities are labeled as “flat,” “too skinny,” “must have an eating disorder…” It’s hard to keep up with as a normal person, but to be put under a constant microscope must feel impossible.
“Male public figures are never subjected to the same scrutiny and judgement as women in the spotlight.”
IC: I think Billie is dismantling the patriarchy – subverting the male gaze and turning it in on itself. The fact that we’re even having this conversation right now is a testament to thatThen again, there are still creeps and body shamers.
SR: While some may feel that she’s showing her body simply to gain attention, I feel as though her new look simply serves to demonstrate that she can be anything she wants to be.
CM: Billie is already at the peak of her career. She’s taking control of her narrative surrounding her style and how it impacts her career.
IC: She’s already won seven Grammys, and she broke records with the release of her most recent single. I see what she’s doing as an exercise in agency. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to experiment with image and try on new personas.
“I think Billie is dismantling the patriarchy — subverting the male gaze and turning it in on itself.”
IC: If a star is coerced and pressured into adopting a more overtly sexual image, that’s a violation that I don’t condone. If the star is consenting to it and not being pressured to do it, I’m all for it.
SR: It’s important that we allow young stars to express themselves and explore what makes them most comfortable in the same way we would allow teens who aren’t in the spotlight. But forcing young women into situations in which they aren’t comfortable solely to make a profit is unacceptable.
CM: I think the #MeToo movement has allowed young stars more autonomy with how or when they’re being represented to the public. Britney Spears [and other young stars] was told she had to sing, dress, and act a certain way, but stars like Billie are able to take control. Other young stars, like Olivia Rodrigo, are opting to explore their sexuality at a young age, but it’s still her choice and her vision.
“I see what she’s doing as an exercise in agency.”
SR: Growing up, I would have benefited immensely from having more modern female role models. As a preteen, I vividly remember reading lots of magazines and feeling the pressure to have a very thin body type and to dress in a certain way.
IC: Representation of all body types is important. And if we had seen that growing up, it would have saved me a ton of emotional distress.
SR: When people are insecure about their own appearance, they tend to project that insecurity onto others and expect them to dress in a similar way so that they don’t feel as insecure.
IC: A lot of people have been taught that entitlement. And when they see it challenged, it bothers them. A lot of men in power get off on their ability to exert control over young women and their bodies just because they can.
CM: The general public has developed an entitlement to shame and control how others present themselves. It’s definitely fueled by insecurity and resentment for the evolution of beauty standards. Overall, the public has been given too much power in “cancel culture” – they know they can say whatever judgmental thing they want, and it’ll have an impact on that person’s life.
IC: While I agree that cancel culture can often get out of hand (especially on Twitter), it’s also been weaponized by far-right trolls as a sort of “kids these days” moral panic. For example, when we call out judgemental people for shaming the choices of public figures like Billie, they’ll often respond by calling us “too politically correct” for “cancelling them.” But no audience should feel entitled to trying to take control of somebody else’s life.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.