Is Billie Eilish Just The Latest Young Starlet To Be Sexualized?

By Emma Katherine··  10 min read
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Is Billie Eilish Just The Latest Young Starlet To Be Sexualized? Alamy

Is Billie Eilish exchanging her unique iconography to become another sexualized pop star under feminism’s claim of “empowerment,” or is she simply evolving as an artist? A big part of what Eilish’s fans admired about her was her non-conformity, and now Eilish has turned the tables.

Last month, singer Billie Eilish made headlines when she premiered a Vogue cover shoot — and an entirely new look. Instead of her usual baggy clothes, sneakers, neon green roots, and stand-outish persona, she posed in a tight corset and heels with platinum blonde hair, gazing seductively at the camera. Many immediately sang their praise for her beauty and her choice to embrace her body, but some raised their eyebrows. Is Bille Eilish just growing up, or is she selling out to cultural pressure, and what could this mean for her career going forward?

Billie Eilish first rose to fame with her viral song “Ocean Eyes” at 13 years old. As her career took off, Eilish was known not just for her incredible musical talents, but for her signature genderless oversized clothing look. She has stated in the past, “What I like about dressing like I’m 800 sizes bigger than I am is it kind of gives nobody the opportunity to judge what your body looks like,” and “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.” Eilish has long been open about her struggle with accepting her body (especially in a world with nonstop commentary and criticism over women’s bodies) and her desire to avoid scrutiny over it, which is what made her new photoshoot so groundbreaking. 

Hollywood’s Obsession with Sexualizing Young Girls

It’s unfortunately no secret that there’s a consistent problem with women in the entertainment industry being sexualized from inappropriate ages. In fact, the internet has been host to several “countdown to 18” clocks, keeping track of when celebrities officially become legal adults and it’s “okay” to sexualize them.

The worst recent incident that springs to my mind is that of Danielle Bregoli, a.k.a. Bhad Babie, who first garnered attention for her phrase “catch me outside how bout dat” on Dr. Phil, then launched a rap career at the ripe age of just 14. Mere days after turning 18, Bregoli tweeted a video of herself in various lingerie outfits promoting her new OnlyFans account, and within six hours had pulled in $6 million in new subscribers. This speaks volumes to society’s gross hyper-sexualization of women, underage girls not being exempt.

It seems that no matter what, every woman in the music industry thinks she has to become sexy to achieve or retain major success.

Billie Eilish has received her share of distasteful commentary while underage despite her active efforts to cover up — and now so shortly after turning 18, she's dressing like a pinup girl on the cover of Vogue, supposedly of her own volition. While she does look stunning in the photos, they evoke a disquieting feeling. Anyone familiar with Eilish would not recognize this new Billie with the sensual, revealing lingerie and provocative poses. Having watched so many famous women be manipulated and objectified, I can’t help my concern over this development.

It feels jarring to see Eilish go from her signature anti-feminine style with body-obscuring fashion, chunky sneakers, black eyes, and creepy gooey music videos to this sultry bottle blonde posing in alluring dominatrix-esque corsets and heels in what The New York Times called “a portrait of artfully crafted provocation.” This style just feels so out of character from the persona we’ve grown familiar with, and is such a fast development considering her young age. There was no slow evolution, and that’s part of what made it so noticeable.

Eilish made a point of not fitting the mold, and now it seems she’s conforming to it. What message may young girls looking to her impart from this change? It seems that no matter what, every woman in the music industry thinks she has to become sexy to achieve or retain major success. Billie Eilish was an example of a celebrity who made it big, swept awards ceremonies, and garnered a massively successful career without playing to regular expectations or selling out. Maybe this is just her growing up, but I’ve noticed a pattern of self-exploitation with young women, and its roots are traceable to modern-day feminism.

Feminism Is Selling Women on Self-Exploitation

Like many young women, Eilish was probably sold the familiar radical feminist lines of sexuality being empowering, and at an age where she may be a legal adult but not fully mature, she could be more easily manipulated by the people around her into believing she feels more powerful and happy showing off her body. As another Evie columnist wrote, “Putting one’s sexuality on display…is sexual exploitation that reduces a person to their physical body and limits their self-worth.” This objectification is criticized when coming from anybody but the young women themselves, and then it’s suddenly lauded as body positivity.

In the age of Instagram, Snapchat, and OnlyFans, sexual content from young women has become rampant, and it’s an uncomfortable trend. Supporters of third wave feminism seem to believe that to make up for past oppression, modern day women should embrace promiscuity and self-objectification as a means of taking power back. Sadly, this is a misleading concept and does far more damage to women and society, with many women and children being taken advantage of and preyed on.

Why do we complain about being objectified but then applaud young women objectifying themselves to promote their work?

Growing up in a world of celebrity glitz and glam where abuse is prevalent and exploitation the norm, the adults around children are supposed to protect them from that — yet money, fame, and power are easy temptations to fall prey to, and many young celebrities, especially women, find themselves pushed in the wrong direction by their management, and sometimes even families, who forget to have their client’s best interest in mind.

I remember when at only 15 years old, Miley Cyrus participated in a racy photoshoot with renowned photographer Annie Leibowitz, in which she posed topless with a sheet held over her chest. Even more shocking, Miley’s parents and management were apparently present on set. Nickelodeon’s Dan Schneider has been under fire for his inappropriate sexualization of teen actors on shows like Victorious and The Amanda Show, and many child stars have had incredibly troubled lives, among the worst being Britney Spears’ and her hyper-sexualized beginnings, which are appalling and heartbreaking to look back on. Why can’t Hollywood stop sexualizing children? And why do we complain about being objectified but then applaud young women objectifying themselves to sell views and promote their work?

Anticipating her critics, Billie Eilish told Vogue, “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. Me and all the girls are hoes, and f**k it, y’know? 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.” Hearing those words was really disappointing, especially considering how many very young fans Eilish has. I admired her for standing against the grain and biting back at people’s obsession with her body, but I feel that this is not a positive message to send either.

While your clothing —  or lack of — shouldn’t signify how much respect you should be treated with, I can’t help but be concerned by this pervasive concept among young women that we have been sold by modern feminism — that the more sexual we become, the more empowered we are. We complain of sexism if a man calls a woman a “whore”, “slut,” or other derogatory names, yet we turn around and proudly or jokingly use those same names to describe ourselves. With her massive influence, Billie Eilish is telling young girls that being a “hoe” is “empowering,” and promoting self-disrespect. This is a toxic message, to say the least. 

In its efforts to embrace liberation, feminism has turned to marketing some dark ideas to women, and we’re not allowed to critique them without being labeled as having “internalized misogyny.” Call me crazy, but I think that exploiting yourself is no better than being exploited by men. Love yourself, and find power in your body and sexuality, but you don’t need to share it with the whole world.

Billie Eilish Is Growing Up

The switch in style for Eilish also seems like a hackneyed move many young celebrities have taken to present a more sexual persona for their first major release as an adult. Vogue itself even wrote that “a teenage pop star baring all to telegraph her maturity is nothing new.” No musical artist stays the same throughout their lives, but can this big flip for someone notable for their unique style turn Eilish into yet another exploited Hollywood pop star? Her most recent music video for “Lost Cause” showcases twerking and other sexual innuendos, which accompanying the erotic Vogue cover, drives home the point that this mature photoshoot was not an exception but a pattern to be continued. 

In a sea of tantalizing celebrities trying to outdo each other in their competition for the spotlight, Billie Eilish’s differences were refreshing, her self-assurance in these differences a shakeup. While her talent continues to shine without a doubt and her eclectic creativity persists, will she continue to stand out? It was exciting to see someone like Billie Eilish not show skin to get views, especially in contrast to singers like Cardi B and her respective Grammy performance of “WAP.” Not only was Eilish’s baggy clothes look iconic in its own way, but she was recognized purely for her artistic talents, especially at such a young age. 

Exploiting yourself is no better than being exploited by men.

Hopefully, the decision to take her look in a more sultry direction was truly Eilish’s with no outside pressure, and she feels comfortable and beautiful in her own skin — as we all should. But as she drops her oversized skater clothes to don tight corsets and stockings, I worry about possible manipulation by Hollywood and the twisted message that some vulnerable young girls watching her may take away — that eventually, all women must get sexy and take their clothing off to keep the public’s interest, and that growing up and accepting yourself and your body implicitly means revealing it to the world.

Closing Thoughts

As women, we shouldn’t feel the need to sell our bodies to be empowered. Let’s focus more on celebrating talent, knowledge, hard work, and kindness. There are so many incredibly skilled women, not only in Hollywood, but everywhere throughout the world. Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus, and Britney Spears, and many other celebrities are talented, driven, and have an admirable work ethic, and their respective successes at such young ages is amazing. Our critique and concern should stem from a place of caring, and as women we should all make the effort to promote the message to other young women that empowerment doesn’t have to equate to sexiness. There’s so much more to us than our sexuality, and there are many other admirable things we can do to find success and self-acceptance. 

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