Celebrity weight loss is so often lauded for the wrong reasons. Here are 5 of the right ones.
Adele has a huge fan base, has sold more than 120 million records, has won 15 Grammy Awards, and has a new album coming out. But none of these achievements has garnered the singer quite as much attention as her recent weight loss — and she wants people to know she’s not okay with that.
In May 2020, the “Rolling in the Deep” singer posted a photo to her Instagram account that revealed a much slimmer physique, and unleashed an onslaught of headlines celebrating her visible weight loss — something she had never spoken about publicly. It wasn’t until her November 2021 interview with British Vogue that Adele opened up about her weight loss, and the public’s reaction to it, for the first time.
It turns out that Adele’s silence on the subject of her weight was entirely intentional.
“My body’s been objectified my entire career,” she said in the British Vogue article. “The most brutal conversations were being had by other women about my body. I was very f***ing disappointed with that.”
Now that she is finally breaking her silence about her weight loss journey, Adele is taking a nontraditional approach by challenging the public reaction to her changing body rather than celebrating her newfound slimness. “I did it for myself and not anyone else,” Adele told British Vogue. “So why would I ever share it? I don’t find it fascinating. It’s my body.”
Frankly, that’s a healthy choice for her, and pretty refreshing for the rest of us, too, says Paula Atkinson, LICSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders. So often, Atkinson says, celebrity weight loss stories are meticulously documented, and this can be extremely triggering and send the unrealistic message that, “If I can do it, you can, too!”
Here are some real lessons Atkinson says we can glean from — ones that have nothing to do with
1. Fitness Is About So Much More Than Weight Loss
Adele told British Vogue that she didn’t start exercising as a way to lose weight, but rather as a way to manage her mental health. “It was because of my anxiety,” the singer said. “Working out, I would just feel better.”
There is evidence that exercise can help decrease anxiety, Atkinson says. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2018 in BMC Health Services Research analyzed data from 15 previous studies and found that both high-intensity and low-intensity exercise reduced anxiety among participants (although high-intensity exercise had a greater effect).
It’s also important to note that you don’t need to lose weight to reap these benefits. In fact, a review published in September 2021 in iScience found that increased physical activity and fitness significantly improved the health and longevity of adults classified as obese, even when they didn’t lose weight (which many people do not). On the other hand, weight loss alone isn’t consistently associated with these benefits.
2. It’s More Effective to Focus on What You Want to Gain, Rather Than What You Want to Lose
Although the rest of the world is talking about Adele’s weight loss, she herself is focused on other changes. “It was never about losing weight, it was always about becoming strong and giving myself as much time every day without my phone,” she told British Vogue. She explained later in the interview that she didn’t follow a diet, and that the weight loss happened over the course of two years through exercise.
“I appreciate that Adele wanted to move her body more — that’s so rad,” Atkinson says. In addition to helping with anxiety, carving out time to exercise can be a great way to feel connected to your body without distraction. Exercising to feel good can help bolster this sense of connection with your body, whereas exercising for the sole purpose of losing weight might undermine it. Since so much of the messaging about fitness focuses on weight loss, Atkinson says that it can be hard to separate the two. But finding other motivations for moving your body — to gain strength and flexibility, to de-stress, or to keep up with your kids, for example — is hugely beneficial.
3. Obsession With Weight Sends the Wrong Message
Atkinson warns that praising someone’s weight loss, even if you mean well, can be harmful. “To say that weight loss is positively reinforced is the understatement of the century,” she says. “Our culture is obsessed with the idea that people in small bodies are superior to people in large bodies.” Celebrating Adele’s weight, rather than any other aspect of her fitness journey, such as her increased strength or stamina or mental health gains, sends the message that the only attribute that matters is how much a person weighs.
The truth is that most people who lose weight will gain it back. Past research has found that although most people who diet slim down in the short-term, the average amount of weight lost after two years was just two pounds. A review published in the BMJ in February 2020 looked at data from 121 trials, with a total of 21,942 participants, and found that although most dieters lost weight in the first six months, that weight loss, and any health benefits that accompanied it, had disappeared by the one-year mark.
When someone regains weight, which is inevitable for most people, they’ll remember all the praise they got when they were thinner. And this, Atkinson says, will just make them feel worse about their larger body.
4. Weight Is More Than a Matter of Willpower
Celebrities, it turns out, are not just like us. In her interview with British Vogue, Adele readily admits that she had a lot of help in her fitness journey. “’I was basically unemployed when I was doing it,’” she told the magazine. “‘And I do it with trainers.’ She very much gets that it’s a rich person’s game. ‘It’s not doable for a lot of people,’ she says, a bit embarrassed,” the article states.
Because of her wealth, Adele was able to spend much of her time and energy on improving her health. Most people aren’t able to hire a team of people to help them that way, nor are they able to carve huge chunks of time out of their day to devote to exercise. “Most people who are able to keep weight off, it’s because their lives are devoted to that. They typically have to exercise for at least an hour a day, every day, and keep [eating very few calories],” Atkinson says. “Their number-one priority has to be keeping their body small.”
5. Your Body Is Your Business
“People are shocked because I didn’t share my ‘journey.’ They’re used to people documenting everything on Instagram, and most people in my position would get a big deal with a diet brand,” Adele told British Vogue, adding that people have been talking about her body since the start of her career, long before she lost weight.
“I’m not shocked or even fazed by it, because my body has been objectified my entire career,” she said in a subsequent interview with Oprah on CBS in November.
Many people are, understandably, upset that Adele has lost this weight. “It’s just like when Lizzo was on her juice cleanse and people got upset,” Atkinson says. “It feels like a betrayal, because we have so few celebrities who are not participating in the body hierarchy that we have.”
Ultimately, Adele (or Lizzo, or any other celebrity) doesn’t owe her body to us. “Fundamentally I believe in body autonomy,” Atkinson says. “If Adele wants to make lifestyle changes to improve her health, that’s great. And if she wants to make her body smaller, that’s also just fine. She doesn’t need to explain her motivations to anyone.”
Adele has said the same. “It’s not my job to validate how people feel about their bodies,” she said in the interview with Oprah. “I’m trying to sort my own life out.”
Atkinson hopes that celebrities in larger bodies who lose weight will use their platform to speak out against “the oppression and the marginalization” that they experienced before weight loss. “But whether or not they want to do that is completely up to them,” she says.