Billie Eilish has changed.
While her first two major projects are entirely free from profanity, her latest album features four explicit songs, one of which, “Happier Than Ever,” she recently performed at the Grammys, despite having to censor some of the key lines. Additionally, while the artist used to be known for exclusively wearing baggy clothes, last year she shocked fans as she graced the front cover of British Vogue in a figure-hugging pink corset.
Although the internet has taken to criticizing this behavior as out of line with her values, what they are witnessing is merely a young woman growing into an adult. Too often, young women in the spotlight become famous as minors and are expected to adhere to the same PG persona as they grow older, in order to be an adequate role model for young girls. This is a monumental mistake.
Making lifestyle changes and becoming more comfortable with one’s sexuality is not a marker of hypocrisy or sin but inevitable growth. We must move away from the idea that women can only be role models if they maintain an “innocent,” utterly “inoffensive” public image, disingenuous as it may be.
Perhaps Eilish herself put it best in theinterviewfor her infamous British Vogue shoot: “Don’t make me not a role model because you’re turned on by me.” Here, Eilish points out the misogynistic paradigm of female sexuality — that women can either be attractive and sexual, or wise and respectable, but not both simulteneously. Therefore, when the singer departed from the exclusively modest silhouettes of her early career, some people on the internet concluded she no longer fit their suffocatingly narrow mold of a female role model.
In light of this, I suggest a new criterion for what makes a female role-model: honesty and good intentions. In reality, young girls won’t be inspired by a sanitized facade of a personality, but someone who they can actually relate to. Throughout her career, Eilish toldVanity Fairthat she “made it a rule in my own mind of kind of trying to be honest as much as I can.”
Eilish has made good on this promise. Her song lyrics, real and raw, tackle topics ranging from suicidal ideation to abusive relationships. Outside the scope of her music too, she approaches interviews with an unfiltered, personable flair, not shying away from being vulnerable in the process.
Just recently, she appeared onThe Howard Stern Showand spoke of her relationship with pornography. In the interview, she states, “I think it really destroyed my brain and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn.” She added how watching pornographic videos normalized abusive behavior to the point where she was “not saying no to things that were not good.” While speaking so openly about pornography is not PG persay, many woman may relate to this experience and benefit from Eilish’s advice and candor.
Transparency aside, Eilish uses her platform to make positive change. Although she continues to champion a slew of pressing societal issues, as a self-proclaimed climate activist, she has thrown eco-friendly-plastic free shows, marched with Geta Thunberg, promoted veganism, and made posts and videos about the current climate emergency.
Overall, the public's unfortunate treatment of Eilish should give us pause. We must reevaluate the harsh judgements we place on famous young women and in doing so, unpack our own misconceptions about femininity.