Music

“I Can’t Win”: Billie Eilish Speaks About Staying Desexualised As A 17-Year-Old Pop Star

“The point is not: Hey, let’s go slut-shame all these girls for not dressing like Billie Eilish. It makes me mad. I have to wear a big shirt for you not to feel uncomfortable about my boobs!"

Pop wunderkind Billie Eilish has landed on the cover of US Elle‘s October issue, dedicated to women in music. In the attached feature, Eilish reflects on the past few years of fame, how she’s “finally not miserable”, and how her trademark baggy clothes are a pointed choice to avoid being sexualised as a minor.

Eilish has had a massive year, releasing her debut album to stratospheric success and critical acclaim; the likes of The New Yorker called her the pop star of her generation. It’s a lot to take on, and in the feature, written by Eve Barlow, Eilish candidly discusses the downsides to her viral success, revealing only in the past few months has she been “finally not miserable”.

“Two years ago, I felt like nothing mattered; every single thing was pointless,” she says. “Not just in my life, but everything in the whole world. I was fully clinically depressed. It’s insane to look back and not be anymore.”

Eilish explains that it “hurt” to see critics accuse her of aestheticising depression, as she never thought she would make it to 17. Several factors have changed: Eilish says she is finally enjoying touring now that the scale has improved, allowing for her and family to feel safe, rather than swamped by passionate, occasionally overbearing, fans. Another major factor was deleting Twitter last year, where she would read every last comment about herself.

In the interview, Eilish also addresses the commentary on her style, saying she’s frustrated when parents of fans thank her for being an example of modesty. “You’re missing the point!” she says. “The point is not: Hey, let’s go slut-shame all these girls for not dressing like Billie Eilish. It makes me mad. I have to wear a big shirt for you not to feel uncomfortable about my boobs!”

“The point is not: Hey, let’s go slut-shame all these girls for not dressing like Billie Eilish. It makes me mad. I have to wear a big shirt for you not to feel uncomfortable about my boobs!”

She also talks about a story from June, when a photo of her wearing a tank top trended online. “My boobs were trending on Twitter!” Eilish says. “At number one! What is that?! Every outlet wrote about my boobs!” Last week, Eilish called out Nylon Germany for ‘sexualising’ her on their cover by photoshopping her likeness without approval to make her into a nude, bald robot for their ‘digital prodigies’ issue.

“You’re gonna make a picture of me shirtless?? That’s not real?? aAt 17? And make it the cover????,” she wrote online. “Even if the picture was supposed to look like some robot version of me…i did not consent in any way.” Nylon Germany subsequently retracted the cover, apologising.

Eilish says there’s a double-standard about her body, in which she’s either celebrated or slut-shamed for her body, saying “I was born with fucking boobs, bro. I was born with DNA that was gonna give me big-ass boobs….Someone with smaller boobs could wear a tank top, and I could put on that exact tank top and get slut-shamed because my boobs are big. That is stupid. It’s the same shirt!”

When she turns 18, Eilish imagines she will “wanna show [her] body”, and is already pre-empting the comments. “I know people will say, ‘I’ve lost all respect for her… I can’t win!”.

Read Elle‘s cover story on Eilish here. Most recently, Eilish released a (pretty terrible) remix of ‘Bad Guy’ with Justin Bieber.


Feature image by Mikki Gomez, from Billie Eilish’s May 2019 performance at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion.