Between performing at the Opening Ceremony of the UEFA Champions League final and continuing her Family tour, Cuban singer Camila Cabello, 25, enjoyed a vacation on the coast of Naples. It was during this break that the British tabloid The Daily Mail published paparazzi shots of the artist on a yacht near Positano. With the excuse of celebrating Cabello showing off “her sensational curves” in a “cheeky display in a skimpy orange bikini,” The Daily Mail published a total of 16 eye-catching photos. Soon comments from readers poured in, with many fiercely criticizing Cabello’s body, calling it “disgusting,” “obese,” “flabby” and “full of cellulite.” Some readers even went so far as to suggest that Camila Cabello, a woman capable of singing and dancing on stage for an hour and a half, should join a gym.
Immediately, other media sites published the pictures of Camila Cabello, taking a different stance – one supposedly meant to defend the singer – with varying degrees of success. Univision published a piece titled: Camila Cabello showed off her curves and cellulite in a bikini: she is no longer worried about the critics. Others took a similar line: Camila Cabello sends out a message of self-love: she dons a bikini and makes an impact with a real body; and Camila Cabello gives a lesson showing her natural body without work. The problem with this rhetoric is that Camila Cabello wasn’t out to send any message at all: she was simply spending a day on a yacht with her family. As one viral tweet put it: “Lessons in self-love, meaning: exist, go on vacation, have a body?”
“Deep down, these more positive messages say the same thing: they are a reminder of what does not fall within the accepted standard,” notes Raquel Carrera, activist and co-creator of the positive body platform SoyCurvy, and co-author with Lidia Juvanteny of the book The Self-Love Revolution. “A person is not brave for showing off a body that does not fall within a certain standard,” she says. “Making out that showing off a body outside this standard is brave or exemplary happens because, deep down, body diversity is still not accepted; it is not accepted that the vast majority of women have cellulite, or that women in swimsuits have lumps, flab and love handles. This means denying the reality of women’s bodies and forcing them to conform to the demand that they must always look perfect, even when relaxing on the beach. It sends out a message that is the opposite of empowering.”
“Lecciones de amor propio”. ¿Existir, irse de vacaciones, tener un cuerpo, dicen? pic.twitter.com/BLW41LLgdl— Irene Karenina (@IreneKarenina) June 6, 2022
It is not the first time that Camila Cabello’s body has been held up for inspection by the media and networks. In 2019, photographs were published in which Cabello enjoyed a day on the beach in Miami with her then partner, singer Shawn Mendes. On that occasion, her body attracted criticism on social networks. Cabello did not hesitate to respond to the comments on her Instagram account: “I’m writing this for girls like my little sister who are growing up on social media. They’re constantly seeing photoshopped, edited pictures and thinking that’s reality and everyone’s eyes get used to seeing airbrushed skin, and suddenly they think THAT’S the norm. It isn’t. It’s fake. AND FAKE IS BECOMING THE NEW REAL. We have a completely unrealistic view of a woman’s body. Girls, cellulite is normal. Fat is normal. It’s beautiful and natural.”
Recently, experts have pointed out that eating disorders shot up by 20% during the pandemic, due in part to the deluge of perfect bodies young people were exposed to on social networks. Ninety percent of those affected by this type of disorder are women. Camila Cabello addressed the audience that needed to hear that message.
Just nine weeks ago, the singer reflected on this issue again on social media when she had to pose in a swimsuit for a photographer and acknowledged that comments about her body had affected her deeply in the past: “I reminded myself when it impacted myself esteem [sic] that I was thinking the culture’s thoughts and not my own. A culture who has gotten so used to what a ‘healthy’ woman’s body looks like that is completely not real for a lot of women.”
According to Raquel Carrera, “We have turned the discourse around only to return to the same old message, which is that no woman is good enough. Camila Cabello is not good enough despite selling millions of albums, and always featuring in the most listened to Spotify rankings and starring in movies because she has cellulite? Where does that leave the rest of us?”
The activist points out how dangerous these new messages which appear to defend “real” bodies are as, under the pretense of celebrating body diversity, they promote the same prejudice, suggesting that bodies like Camila Cabello’s are the exception, and showing them off is an act of “bravery,” “acceptance” or “self-love.” The message that gets put out there is that if you have a body like Camila Cabello’s, you have to be daring to park the shame and show it off.
The photos of Cabello in her bikini are images over which the artist herself has no control; she has given no consent for their publication. The fact that Camila Cabello enjoyed a day at the beach should not trigger debate about health or beauty, nor should it be a matter of shame or appropriate behavior; a question of empowerment or giving examples. It should simply be what it is: a woman enjoying a day at the beach.