Society has had an obsession with celebrities’ weight and body image for as long as the limelight has existed. And while this affliction affects every individual in the public space, it’s no question that women have always faced the brunt of the criticism. Previously, speaking out about this issue was deemed “un-ladylike” or “over-dramatic.” Now, however, women in the spotlight are officially calling for this behaviour and discourse to stop.
On 11 April 2023, Ariana Grande took to TikTok with a clear message for those who’d been spending time online discussing her physical appearance. In the video, the Positions singer stated: “I just wanted to address your concerns about my body and talk a little bit about what it means to be a person with a body and to be seen and to be paid such close attention to.”
Grande continued: “There are many different ways to look healthy and beautiful. I know personally, for me, the body you’ve been comparing my current body to was the unhealthiest version of my body. I was on a lot of antidepressants and drinking on them and eating poorly and at the lowest point of my life when I looked the way you consider my healthy but that in fact wasn’t my healthy.”
“I know I shouldn’t have to explain that but I thought that maybe having an openness and some kind of vulnerability here would be—that something good might come from it, I don’t know. But that’s the first thing: healthy can look different,” the artist concluded.
Grande has recently been in the process of filming the feature film adaptation of Wicked, alongside theatre icon Cynthia Erivo. Playing the role of Glinda, fans had been swarming social media with comments about Grande’s appearance and opinions on the singer’s health and well-being.
We’ve all been witness to the ways in which netizens have ripped women apart online. While we’ve become slightly more accepting of the fact that ordinary people experience fluctuations in weight, this acceptance has definitely not extended to the lives of celebrities.
There’s nothing more disappointing than a fanbase who only celebrate an artist when they’re at their thinnest. Lana Del Rey is a powerhouse in the music industry, both as a lyricist and as a performer. However, over the past few years, it seems as though stans are much more interested in her body than they are her songs.
On TikTok, the first result that appears when you type Lana Del Rey into the search box is “Lana Del Rey weight gain.” Once there, your feed is littered with video compilations comparing the singer’s body from a decade ago to present day. What’s worse is users almost always pair a meme-ish or viral audio to the clip, further emboldening the fact that they’re okay with trivialising and poking fun at Del Rey.
The same can be said for artist Selena Gomez who is not only having to bat away ridiculous falsified rumours involving a supposed feud with Justin and Hailey Bieber, but is also having to repeatedly deal with trolls making comments on her physical appearance and the changes her body has gone through.
In February, Gomez also took to the video-sharing platform to rebut the negative comments she’d been receiving. The singer stated: “I tend to hold a lot of water weight and that happens very normally, and then when I’m off it I tend to kind of lose weight. I just wanted to say and encourage anyone out there who feels any sort of shame for exactly what [you’re] going through, [when] nobody knows the real story… You’re beautiful and you’re wonderful.”
It’s incredibly harrowing to contemplate the fact that these women are having to publicly address their bodies and physical appearances, as if they owe it to society to justify anything. Moreover, this conversation becomes that bit more sad when you consider the fact that Gomez has been battling Lupus disease for some time now, a condition that’s seriously impacted her day-to-day life.
Oh, and just for good measure, the trolls also tried (and failed) to take a hit at the queen of body acceptance: Lizzo.
On 10 April, a Twitter user called @CassyWearsHeeels posted a split image of herself in an evening dress and a picture of Lizzo where the singer is undressed. She then captioned the post: “Me or Lizzo?” Presumably, the woman was trying to body shame Lizzo and insinuate that she looks unattractive in the picture.
Unfortunately for Cassy, she seriously underestimated the power and allegiance of Lizzo fans on the internet. Almost immediately, users began commenting below the tweet, supporting Lizzo and calling out Cassy for participating in the evidently widespread issue of fatphobia. It seems as though we are seriously taking ten steps backwards.
It’s truly no surprise that these women are facing such vitriol at the moment in regard to their appearances—whether it be them being deemed too skinny or too fat. Heroin chic is in full effect and weight loss drugs have never been more popular. We as a society are chronically obsessed with our appearances, and if this toxic mindset continues, we should all expect to see many more celebrity public statements such as Grande’s this year.
Over the weekend we saw a revival of the internet’s favourite boxing match (and no, I’m not referring to the highly awkward and cringeworthy Jake Paul versus Tommy Fury event). I’m talking about the epic battle between Hailey Bieber and Selena Gomez. These two women have been pitted against each other for years and the combination of all of the online scrutiny, conspiracy theories and gossip has now become a well-rounded case study in online misogyny.
Let’s first consider the origin story behind these highly juvenile online rumours. In 2010, when planking was still a thing and everyone owned a colourful pair of skinny jeans, Gomez began dating Canadian casanova Justin Bieber. They had a very tumultuous relationship—one that included a seriously uncomfortable on-stage serenade and a number of confusing paparazzi pictures. The pair broke up several times and then officially parted ways in 2018.
Only months later, Bieber dated, proposed to and ultimately married the aforementioned Hailey. The pair have now been wed for over four years, however, netizens have found a way to keep this highly toxic—and misleading—love triangle alive.
Considering how incredibly far-fetched the most recent drama involving Gomez and Bieber has been, I’ll try and run through it as quickly as possible. So, in January 2023, Gomez faced some highly sexist and intense body-shaming online after images were shared online of her in a bikini on holiday in Mexico.
Shortly after, Bieber shared a video of herself, and fellow model Kendall Jenner, lip-syncing to an audio that said: “I’m not saying she deserves it, but I’m saying God’s timing is always right.” While the video has since been deleted, the footage was re-uploaded and fans were convinced that the two events were intrinsically linked.
Moreover, on 23 February, the ‘Who Says’ singer shared a video on her Instagram joking with fans that she had “accidentally laminated [my] eyebrows too much.” Only hours later, Kylie Jenner posted a selfie with a caption that read, “This was an accident?????” written in text placed over her brows. Then, the Kylie Cosmetics CEO shared a screenshot of a FaceTime call with Bieber in which the pair zoom in on their eyebrows.
All this to be said, fans were certain that Jenner and Bieber were directly poking fun at Gomez and the online sleuths became so intense that the 30-year-old singer momentarily deleted all of her social media accounts, stating “I’m too old for this.”
According to Insider, some individuals became so enamoured with feeling as though they needed to defend Gomez from this apparent bullying that they flooded Bieber’s TikTok video comment sections with tags to Gomez’s Rare Beauty cosmetic line.
While it would be easy to immediately assume that fans have fuelled rumours of hatred and judgement between these two women solely out of a lust for celebrity gossip, it would be inaccurate.
Of course, there is an element of this involved, however, when you look a bit closer, it’s plain to see that the internet’s obsession with this so-called ‘beef’ has a lot more to do with societal misogyny, than the power of TMZ.
Women have always been pitted against one and other, whether it be in the public eye, or in private settings. Female rivalry is an incredibly powerful tool for those who wish to keep the patriarchy thriving and manufacturing alleged catfights—particularly when the point of contention is presumed to be a man’s affections—perpetuates the stereotype that women are overly emotional, immature and dramatic.
Gomez and Bieber have gone out of their way to try and silence these rumours, even posing for a photo together in October 2022 in an attempt to squash the unnecessary drama. However, it seems as though they’re valued far more when they’re feuding than when they’re not.
What’s also important to note is that this glorification of female rivalry occurs in every facet of modern life. There’s no playful #TeamEdward or #TeamJacob when it comes to women—it’s cutthroat and it’s devastatingly harsh. And when the internet decides that a certain alleged feud amuses or interests them, they’ll find it increasingly difficult to ever let it go.