I recently became a fan of Billie Eilish. Full disclosure: I’m #old. So I didn’t know who she was until yesterday. From my brief online research, Eilish is a newly popular 17 year old singer who doesn’t like to smile. She came to my attention after I saw a headline about her wearing baggy clothes so that people won’t see her body and have an opinion about it. This concept sparked quite a bit of online buzz.
The quote was part of her new Calvin Klein ad which debuted this Friday, where she said, “I never want the world to know everything about me. I mean, that’s why I wear big, baggy clothes. Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath, you know? Nobody can be like, ‘Oh, she’s slim-thick, she’s not slim-thick, she’s got a flat (butt), she’s got a fat (butt). No one can say any of that, because they don’t know.”
I had to Google the term “slim-thick” because #old. (Apparently, it means you have to be both toned and also have curves. Fun challenge!) It is yet another impossible beauty standard that society has dictated to women. It is yet another way for women to feel less than if they fall short. But not Ms. Eilish. She has decided not to play that game. She wants to be judged not by the shape of her body but by the quality of her music. (Sorry, Ed Sheeran!)
This shouldn’t be such a groundbreaking idea. As we have noted before, due to the skin gap, men are rarely expected to put their bodies on display, thereby circumventing so much of the body comments and critiques that women are regularly subjected to. Why should women getting the same treatment as men be so shocking?
While many people supported Eilish’s sentiment, with Twitter users saying things like “the fact that @billieeilish wears big baggy clothes so no one can make assumptions, judge, or body shame her makes me love her as an artist and a person even more,” there are those who find her decision troubling.
“It’s really alarming how Billie Eilish dresses baggy clothes out of fear of being judged and sexualized. We can see how $%% up this society is,” states another Twitter user. I don’t think we have to be “alarmed” by Eilish’s wardrobe choices. We are not “alarmed” when men don’t run around half-naked. I think that we can both expect men to not be pigs and hypersexualize women while at the same time respect women who choose to keep certain parts of themselves private, so they are seen as people and not parts.
This dynamic is exactly the concept behind the Orthodox Jewish approach of women dressing modestly (tnzius) and men being careful with what they look at (shmiras anayim). These ideas are often thought of as old-fashion and outdated, but I believe they are far more pro-women and in line with equality than where the world currently is.
Furthermore, Eilish’s framing her desire to cover up because she “never want[s] the world to know everything about [her],” is an incredible pushback to societal norms and also very much in line with traditional Jewish thought. In an age of oversharing that started with reality TV shows and continues onto social media where you can watch literally any weird, disgusting (there is apparently a show about popping pimples!), and private moment that so many people share, what a coup for someone young and popular to say: ” I HAVE BOUNDARIES. I keep a space that the world doesn’t get access too.” This is the essence of tznius – bravo!
We can only hope that Ms. Eilish, non-smiles and all, can inspire a generation of women to feel empowered enough to create personal space and that her message goes as viral as a Calvin Klein ad campaign.