“I’ve proven you don’t have to be some skinny girl to do well,” says Adele, an up-and-coming solo soul tinged pop artist. It’s not a statement heard commonly today in music.
Adele, a 21-year-old from England, is quickly becoming renowned for her impressive vocal range and soulful voice. The singer’s debut album released in early 2008 has topped the charts in the UK and North America. The 2008 BRIT Awards appointed her as the Critics’ Choice and in 2009, she captured two Grammy awards, Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. What’s even more is that in June of this year she co-headlines with her idol, the iconic Etta James.
Beth Ditto, originally from Arkansas, is the 28-year-old lead singer for the band Gossip. She’s captured headlines and wowed fans in the world of indie rock and punk for her incredible vocals, often likened to those of Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. At the 2008 Glamour Awards, she won International Artist of the Year. The openly gay singer gained even more exposure in the US and abroad for penning and performing the hit single “Standing in the Way of Control,” which rails against the American government’s decision to ban same-sex marriage.
Adele and Ditto each boast substantial fan bases that continue to grow, but not only due to their outstanding talent: Their admirers appreciate them for their authenticity. Neither is interested in projecting a cookie-cutter image to the public. Adele states that, “I’m not going to start changing and becoming something I’m not.” Ditto echoes the same sentiment by saying,
“I spent so much of childhood trying to change, and I just got sick of it … I don’t want to look like Britney Spears.”
The voluptuous stars don’t apologize for their size. In fact, both are outspoken about their refusal to diet. Adele’s bio on her US website asserts, “My aim in life is never to be skinny.” Ditto takes it one step further explaining how she no longer uses the word “overweight” to describe herself because it “sets a standard for people to be.” Rather, she prefers the term “fat,” not for “insult or degradation” but as an honest description of who she is: “the truth is that I am fat and that’s okay.”
Ditto is not alone in her views. Actually, some think that her size is a lot more than okay. In February 2009, she donned the cover of the UK fashion magazine Love wearing nothing but dramatic eye make-up and black lipstick. And the publication didn’t stop there. Should you want a closer look at the glamorous singer (or to see exactly what her tattoos say), check out Love‘s website where you can magnify Ditto and all her beauty by simply rolling your mouse over her photo. This isn’t the first time she’s demonstrated her boldness by posing nude. Britain’s New Musical Express (NME) celebrated the singer by capturing her confidence and bare body on its June 2007 cover, which incidentally was nominated for the award of UK’s Best Magazine Cover.
But not all of the media is nearly as supportive of plus-sized talent as are Love and NME. Although Adele isn’t interested in undressing for the camera, she’s been recently showcased in Vogue‘s annual Shape Issue under the heading of “Curvy.” Apparently though, the photo taken by Annie Leibovitz contained too many curves for Vogue‘s liking. The publication photoshopped out much of Adele, resulting in an image that vaguely resembles the singer’s full figure. This blatant distortion of her body reflects mainstream media’s general uneasiness with talented folk who also happen to be fat. Evidence of this fact continues to be illustrated in interviews with the singers, who must repeatedly field questions about their weight.
Whether we like it or not, music in the 21st century isn’t only about the sound. It’s also what we see, be it on television, in print, or live. The images that accompany today’s music, at least when it comes to female performers, fall within narrow parameters. But with singers like Adele and Ditto challenging these norms, with any luck we might be on the edge of a shift in the music industry–one that accepts talent in all shapes and sizes.