Can we just let Billie Eilish make her own decisions about how she dresses, please

OPINION: In a stunning example of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t, pop star Billie Eilish, who has previously been criticised for wearing baggy clothing that conceals her body, is now being criticised for appearing on the cover of British Vogue in lingerie.

It was a surprise to see Eilish stockinged and corseted, I’ll admit. It took me a second to realise who I was even looking at.

The look, one that Eilish styled herself, is a far cry from that for which the 19-year-old No Time to Die singer is known. It also represents something of a philosophical shift for Eilish, who has previously explained that her unusual (for her industry, at least) choice of dress was because she wanted to dress outside of her comfort zone, be different to other people - and because she wanted to avoid body shaming.

Billie Eilish's Vogue cover was a far cry from her usual look, and lots of people had opinions about it.
Supplied
Billie Eilish's Vogue cover was a far cry from her usual look, and lots of people had opinions about it.

This last one is important to note, because when Eilish rose to fame, she was an actual child, just in her early teens.`She made a sensible decision, one founded at least in part in self-care.

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Eilish’s covered-up became, somewhat ironically, a massive talking point, discussed everywhere from Buzzfeed to Seventeen to the Guardian. Whether approached as clickbait (“Billy Eilish Said She Wears Baggy Clothes For This Reason”: Seventeen) or a thinkpiece (“Body of Work” Why Billy Eilish is Right to Stand Her Ground Against Shaming”: Guardian), her choice in dress was something that a lot of people had an opinion about.

And now, she’s made another decision, to appear in Vogue as a stylised fifties pinup. And people have a lot of opinions about that, too.

Eilish’s typical look until now has involved clothes that conceal most of her body.
Getty/Charley Gallay
Eilish’s typical look until now has involved clothes that conceal most of her body.

As an example, let’s look at the comments on the British Vogue Instagram post that debuted the cover.

Many of them express surprise at seeing Eilish out of her signature look – to be expected.

But then there’s:

"I wish you had unveiled your beauty before now!” or

“I always looked at her deeper. I knew she was beautiful under all those baggy clothes.”

Because a woman can only be beautiful in traditionally feminine or sexualised clothes.

And you have:

”I preferred her as a tomboy.” or

”How sad that she feels the need to ‘sexify’ herself.”

Because a woman should always be defined by the way she dresses.

And others – many, many others – reproached the publication, or Eilish herself, for presenting her in a different way. Like:

”Here's where most young people and Hollywood stars get it wrong. It's not all about what makes you feel good. It's about what you contribute to other's happiness and the collective good. That's where the real stuff comes from.” or

Just a grown woman who chose what to wear.
British Vogue/Instagram
Just a grown woman who chose what to wear.

”Not herself. Too bad.” or simply

”What have you done?!?!”

What all the above have in common (and they are only a few drops in a bucket of critical comments, all over the internet) is that they purport to have the right to an opinion about how a grown woman dresses.

The accompanying Vogue article makes clear that Eilish had ultimate creative control over the shoot. She was under no kind of duress. She just chose what she wanted to wear.

Eilish performing aged 17. She said her baggy clothes were partly to avoid body-shaming.
Jack Plunkett/AP
Eilish performing aged 17. She said her baggy clothes were partly to avoid body-shaming.

Now, in a perfect world, no grown woman should have to dress for anyone else. She should be able to choose her clothes and put them on without fear that this simple choice would lead to bullying, or catcalling, or assumptions being made about her taste or her intellect or her sexual proclivities.

Alas, the world is not perfect, and all women dress with a critical audience in mind, but none more so than celebrities.

Of course when Eilish chose her look for the Vogue shoot she knew it would cause a massive stir. She knew it would be a conversation starter.

Ultimately her choice of attire says nothing about her, really, except that she is very adept at keeping herself relevant (Eilish, it’s worth noting, has an album coming out at the end of July).

Imagine if it didn’t, though. Imagine if a woman could just choose what to wear and nobody else said anything about it, because they realised she didn’t dress for them, her clothes were none of their business, and they had no place telling her what they thought about them.

Golly. Just imagine.

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