Why the language used to discuss Adele’s weight loss is a health risk to us all

Why the language used to discuss Adele’s weight loss is a health risk to us all

Rachael Martin examines why now is the time for the ‘frenzied’ commentary around Adele’s weight loss to change. Dramatically. 

To mark her birthday on May 6th 2020, superstar singer Adele shared a photo and sweet message for her fans on social media. The reaction to the photo and media coverage of the star in the days that followed can only be described as a frenzy.

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Unfortunately her weight has always been a hot topic

Adele’s figure has been a catalyst for many unsolicited conversations since she first began to make a name for herself in the public eye back in 2007. First she was ‘too big’, then her dress size and refusal to change to fit a Hollywood stereotype was ‘empowering’.

The star herself addressed this in an interview with Vogue in 2009 saying: “Fans are encouraged that I’m not a size 0 – that you don’t have to look a certain way to do well.”

Then again in 2012 the then 23-year-old reiterated in an interview with People magazine: “I’ve never wanted to look like models on the cover of magazines. I represent the majority of women and I’m very proud of that.”

Despite her stratospheric success, the conversations and observations about her weight have lingered.

When Adele started to lose weight a few years ago, in a way that appeared to be healthy, the star discussed getting fitter for the sake of her voice, her performances, her demanding tour schedule – her career.

People were interested in the diet she was following and wanted to copy it. I even copied it. I wrote about my experience following her rumoured diet for body+soul.

But what has become troubling to me lately is the intensity of the focus on Adele’s physical appearance – and the language used to discuss her weight in the last few weeks.

People are so fixated on women’s weight, despite bigger issues

More so now than ever in a time – when coronavirus is ravaging parts of the world with devastating results, people are fighting for their lives in hospitals and the rest of us are just trying to do what we can to keep our heads above the water in a sea of uncertainty – I wonder if it’s healthy – or dare I say it – even relevant to be so fixated on how much weight one woman in the public eye may, or may not, have lost.

Sure, Adele herself has alluded to her mission to get fit in recent months, posting pictures from the gym to her Instagram and captioning glam photos with statements like ‘I used to cry but now I sweat’, suggesting that she’s been working out. But never has the 15-time-Grammy-award-winning singer confirmed or even commented on the suggestion that her aim has been to lose weight. And she certainly has never once uttered a number from a scale.

But the international headlines tell a different tale. ‘Adele’s jaw dropping 7 stone weight loss’, ‘Adele’s amazing 100 pound weight loss secret’, ‘Adele’s incredible body transformation’, ‘Adele gets trolled for her stunning weight loss’.

Language like ‘stunning’, ‘incredible’, ‘amazing’, used to talk about Adele’s most recent pictures only serve to reinforce the dated stereotype that women are more beautiful, more important and more worthy when they are smaller in size.

This in turn solidifies the stigmatisation of those who do not fit that weight, or body expectation. This stigma has damaging effects that go beyond the psychological for those who are exposed to it.

What is the “allostatic load”?

A 2017 study by researchers Maya Vadiveloo and Josiemer Mattei explored the link between those that have experienced some form of weight discrimination and the effect that the experience of that stigma has had on their allostatic load.

Allostatic load is, put quite simply, the ‘wear and tear’ experienced by the body when we are stressed for long or sustained periods of time. The lower your allostatic load, the better.

The 2017 study found that those who have experienced weight discrimination are twice as likely to be at risk of having a high allostatic load.

Vadiveloo and Mattei concluded in their findings: “Eliminating weight stigma may reduce physiological dysregulation, improving obesity-related morbidity and mortality.”

While it’s easy to assume that talking about Adele’s weight, and not about the weight or diets of the people you are conversing with, wouldn’t have a negative affect on those around you. However, this assumption would be wrong.

What you see online and the conversations we have face-to-face with friends, family or colleagues about weight loss in the public eye, affects what types of bodies are seen as worthy or desirable – whether you’re aware of it or not.

Weight stigma is reinforced by any and all conversations regarding someone’s size, if the association with weight loss is positive and weight gain is negative.

How should we discuss weight loss?

As discussed in the podcast Food Psych, hosted by Christy Harrison (who is an anti-diet registered dietician and certified intuitive eating counsellor), talking about your diet or someone else’s diet can be just as harmful as if you’re talking directly to someone about their weight, who has struggled with disordered eating.

Discussing weight stigma with Dawn Serra, a fat-positive sex and relationship coach, in a recent episode, Christy describes discussing weight loss or diets around someone who has previously or presently suffers from disordered eating as a ‘microaggression’.

A micro-aggression is an instance of subtle, indirect discrimination against a marginalised group – and in this context that is anyone who does not have a ‘normative body’ by society’s idealised standards as fit, healthy, active, slim or skinny. In her podcast Christy explains, saying “People don’t even know when they’ve committed a micro-aggression”.

“It’s important to name that these are systems of oppression that are conditioned into all of us… They might not understand that them talking about their diet is just as harmful as them talking directly to you about their diet. Or them talking about a mutual friend who is doing some sort of weight-related exercise plan is also a micro aggression.”

Dawn Serra also observes: “We are exposed over and over again from a very young age to very specific messages about who is worthy and whose not, who is desirable and who is not. Who gets to take up space and gets believed and who doesn’t. Who turns heads and who doesn’t.”

“We are existing inside of very dynamic systems that constantly bombard us with messages that everyone around us is also soaking up and that has influence on us.”

So, while it’s obvious that Adele has changed physically from when she was a 19-year-old rising star, to the 32-year-old multiple award-winning superstar and mother-of-one that she is today, the recent fixation on her weight loss is feeding this deeply ingrained messaging around weight stigma in our society – and potentially harming those around us.

While we’ve been sheltering at home, exercising has become as much about mental health as physical health. Which is a good thing. There’s also been many a mantra circulating on social media about loving our bodies as they are, and being easier on ourselves during this uncertain and uneasy time.

Perhaps it’s time to practice what we preach (or at least, what we like and share on social media)?

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to be kinder to ourselves and to one another, more appreciative of life and to focus on the things that really matter.

Not only is it worth pausing to think about what our words about Adele’s most recent pictures might mean to those around us listening – but Adele probably deserves better, too.

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