Jamie Kim / Gavel Media

The Fat-phobia Underlying the Fixation on Adele's Weight Loss

[TW: disordered eating, weight, dieting]

Stepping onstage in a tight-fitting, all-black outfit, Adele made her comedic debut on Oct. 24 when she hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time. In her first television appearance in months, the Grammy award-winning singer joked about her upcoming album, recent divorce, and weight loss before reminding the audience to head to the polls.

The artist had fallen out of the spotlight since the release of her last album, 25, in 2015 but was thrust to the forefront as fans noted her striking body transformation over the last year. Although her figure had already made news when she celebrated her 32nd birthday in May, her S.N.L. monologue contained her first public statement on the subject.

“I know I look really really different since you last saw me,” she said. “But actually, because of all the COVID restrictions and the travel bans, I had to travel light and only bring half of me. And this is the half I chose.”

Because of her atypical body—at least by the entertainment industry’s standards—Adele had long served as an antithesis to the countless picture-perfect (female) bodies that populated news feeds. However, she remains a topic of controversy: where fans and critics alike once commented on her ability to remain confident while defying cultural expectations, they are now offering mixed reactions to her supposed success story and wondering if she’s gone too far.

Numerous sources report that in order to achieve her weight loss goals, Adele adopted the Sirtfood Diet, which encourages people to consume foods that regulate the appetite by activating the fat-burning gene Sirtuin 1.

According to the Sirtfood Diet website, “The Sirtfood Diet is the new way to shift weight quickly without radical dieting by activating the same ‘skinny gene’ pathways usually just induced by exercise and fasting. A diet rich in these sirtfoods kick-starts weight loss without sacrificing muscle while maintaining optimal health.”

However, nutritionists are skeptical about the perceived benefits of the Sirtfood Diet. Although it promotes the consumption of healthy foods, the diet is also very restrictive—and thereby unsustainable and unrealistic. In an interview with Good Housekeeping, Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD mentioned that she has never recommended the diet to her clients. 

"I applaud the Sirtfood Diet for promoting the consumption of real ingredients,” Beckerman said to Good Housekeeping. “I denounce it for its promotion of calorie restriction and unhealthy eating rules."

Other sources have speculated that Adele’s transformation is a result of more dire circumstances, particularly her separation from ex-husband Simon Konecki, with whom she birthed a son. Adele had opened up in a 2018 interview with CNN about her postpartum depression, panic attacks, and anxiety disorder; these factors, along with other high-stress events, can contribute to decreased appetite and may have played a role in her weight loss.

While Adele’s mental and physical well-being is no one’s business but her own, it does reveal an important problem with commenting on others’ bodies. Without knowing that Adele’s weight loss is a result of a healthy, balanced lifestyle change, compliments on her slimmer body reiterate society’s fixation on being skinny, potentially at the cost of one’s health. Whether overt or discreet, fat-shaming messages can impact anyone watching, reading, or listening.

Culturally-induced eating disorders—caused by external messaging and influences—can persuade people to disregard their own mental and physical health or comfort in favor of social acceptance. Often, individuals’ bodies don’t necessarily reflect the drastic weight loss associated with eating disorders such as anorexia. Studies have shown that diets can lead to a rebound stage in which an individual regains weight after resuming their previous eating habits, resulting in a constant cycle of binging and restricting as the individual attempts to regain control of an eating disorder that leaves an irreversible impact on their long-term health. 

On the other hand, weight loss as a consequence of trauma or product of illness may be unintentional, in which case commentary can hold a victim responsible for unsolicited experiences. From heartbreak to bulimia, a variety of different or comorbid factors may prompt weight loss that can be life-threatening, regardless of the starting weight of the individual in question.

While Adele’s lively performance portrays an image of contentment, the fact of the matter is that no one can really know what’s going on beneath her persona. Given her continued silence aside from a superficial acknowledgment of her smaller body, public discourse has been more reflective of the deep-seated fat-phobia present in our society than anything about Adele herself.

Adele is one of the world’s highest paid-celebrities, one of the world’s best-selling music artists, and one of the world’s most influential people. And despite all her achievements, body-centric conversation continually deemphasizes the beauty of her music and the depth of her character, attributing her success to her physical appearance—or previously, her success despite her physical appearance.

If before she was admired for being a confident fat woman (as though confidence is exclusive to people with sub-25 BMIs), she is now being hailed for subscribing to normative beauty standards. If she is overdoing the weight loss, it must be by choice, and if she was promoting unhealthy behaviors by existing as a fat public figure, she is now teaching her audience that skinnier will always be better.

Wanting to be attractive is a valid concern, but if the focus were on objective health and body positivity over physical appearance, society could appreciate more valuable things. Perhaps we’d hear whispers about Adele’s newfound acting skills, or anticipation for her upcoming album, instead of the hundreds of pounds she left in London. Here’s to hoping the half she chose thrives.