Students should learn a lesson from the reaction to Adele’s ‘glow-up’

How can it be a glow-up when she was glowing before?


Adele has recently re-entered the spotlight of the media due to one reason, and one reason alone. No, she hasn’t released a date for a banging new album, and obviously she hasn’t gone on a magnificent starry tour. Adele lost weight, and everyone is flooding her feed with compliments on her “glow-up.”

I’m going to add a disclaimer immediately here, and you might think that it’s stating the seemingly obvious but perhaps more understated fact surrounding the subject of weight loss/gain and body image: The idea of wanting to either achieve or maintain both a healthy body and mind shouldn’t be villainised. On the same vein, the idea that, especially in a time of financial and emotional uncertainty, sustaining a well-balanced diet and exercise regime is not (and often cannot be) at the top of everyone’s priorities, is equally justifiable. Why can’t both of these things be true? They don’t seem to contradict each other in any major way.

At uni, the idea of a glow-up is very much romanticised. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to the fragile freshers we were in first year, buying gym memberships as to show an improvement from the constant takeaway gains we saw after first year nights out. We’re encouraged to aim for a glow-up, whether it be physically or academically, and we all fall into the trap of overworking to do so.

So how does this link to the weight loss of acclaimed singer-songwriter Adele?  My criticism does not lie with the actions of Adele herself, her personal trainer, or even with her supposed diet recommendations from celebrity pals Lady Gaga and Cameron Diaz. Instead, My point is that there is a bigger problem in the context of a global pandemic. The ability of a ‘glow up’ to eclipse achievements that are harder to sum up with a before and after picture. How can it be a glow-up when she was glowing before?

Instagram is making us all incredibly vain

You know the drill, you go on one night out at Sugar after a week of intense gym seshes, and the next morning you find the perfect photo for your feed. You’re looking slightly abbed up and care free, you’re glowing! Instagram is undoubtedly the perfect tool for validation, and all Lancs students know that.

The difference with Adele here though if that her original Instagram caption which displayed no mention of weight loss at all. Instead, the caption thanked first responders and essential workers for keeping everyone safe. However, of the 232,ooo+ comments underneath the post it is hard to find a single one that doesn’t at least allude to her dramatic change in appearance. Those that believe Adele’s weight loss undermines the body positivity movement in some way often use this as a springboard to point out that Adele has mountains of other achievements that are unquestionably worthy of equal (and arguably greater) merit.

While the overshadowing of Adele’s achievements outside of her own physical health is important, focusing on the singer alone paints her media portrayal as one entirely exclusive to her. Arguably, the ability of a social media post to become politically charged in a matter of hours says far more about the Insta platform than Adele herself. One of the more notable differences between Adele’s weight loss and her other achievements is that the idea that one can be easily valued based on appearance alone.

It is not secret that social media platforms such as Instagram survive by placing high praise on things with high aesthetic value. In Adele’s case there is a drastic difference in likes between the instagram post in question and any other post on her instagram, many of which don’t surpass 1 million, or even 500,000 likes.

View this post on Instagram

Melbourne, VIC / Mar 18

A post shared by Adele (@adele) on Mar 18, 2017 at 10:37pm PDT

Yes, the pandemic definitely does make a difference

Although it appears that Adele herself is central to this debate. Why should she be? Why not any old post on Instagram? The reason for such a strong reaction to this instagram picture in particular is because of the political climate which it has emerged in. There is strong evidence that obesity puts a person at a greater risk of both contracting and dying from the COVID-19 virus. This has changed the environment around weight loss from one where it was highly preferable to have a healthy BMI to one which necessitates it.

We also must not forget both the UK’s pre-existing economic environment, namely, the increasing levels of food poverty, and secondly, the new economic situation in which many have been furloughed or are self-employed and have become reliant on the government for support. Obviously obesity will always be a problem but crowning Adele as a queen for losing weight is damaging for people who don’t have the resources to do so. With less money it can be much harder to achieve a colourful dinner plate and if key workers have taken on more hours there is less time to cook a healthy meal and get exercise.

 By the way, we absolutely shouldn’t just ‘meme it’

One way of staying in touch with your beloved lancs mates are through the ease of memes. Find meme, tag meme, send meme seems to be the slogan for staying connected with your Lancs pals. But, with the economy looming on a health crisis there has been a strange decision to hold ourselves to the same social norms as we did pre-pandemic. Why should this be the case if we can’t say the same about the economy or the political climate? Or even our own mental states? We often consider socially acceptable choices to be those which exercise considerable self control. Someone has hurt me but I will remain calm. I will get up early so I can study. I won’t have that burger because I want to be bikini body ready. In an attempt to keep with this rhythm the UK has seen the popularisation of at home work-outs, diet plans and a general empathises on the importance of achieving a “glow-up” post social distancing.

While this may seem like a new phenomenon hidden encouragement to constantly cosmetically improve is attached to an older ideology which paints fatness as a form of moral weakness. Even in a time when resources are stretched thin fat can’t escape its association with greed and gluttony.

Examples of fat as something morally indefensible are still being churned as I type this. These can clearly be seen in the form of lockdown weight loss memes and the popularisation of the ‘Lockdown-15’. The underlying message; even in a time of high anxiety weight gain is to be both feared and shamed.

Why this is important for students

Eating disorder behaviours feed into the cycle of feelings of hopelessness and self isolation which are only are only further perpetrated by the climate of anxiety which the virus accommodates. According to the US department of health and human services, 90% of all eating disorders occur during or before young adulthood. In other words, students are the most vulnerable.

The media knows exactly what it’s doing and so should we. The media has a tendency to transformation an artist into a body image spokesperson without their consent. Other female artists such as Lizzo and Billie Eilish have been placed in a similar box. Physical appearance is closer to the surface but the memorability of a celebrity – or any person – is always as a result of their talents.

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