From Jennifer Love Hewitt To Billie Eilish, The Objectification Of Young Stars Rages On

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Jennifer Love Hewitt and Billie Eilish

Jennifer Love Hewitt is opening up about her experience of sexual objectification in her younger years, but her story is not an anomaly — nor is one that has changed much in recent decades.

Hewitt is 42 years old and only now finding the courage to speak out against the “incredibly inappropriate, gross things” the media wrote about her during the early years of her career.

Relating to Britney Spears’s experience as outlined in the New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears, Hewitt spoke with Vulture about the sexualization she was subjected to during a press tour for her 2001 rom-com Heartbreakers.

She revealed that she was “disappointed” that much of the press for the film was “all about body stuff because I had really worked hard in that movie to do a good job as an actress.”

This is a consistent narrative expressed by female stars whose talent is often put in second place to their appearance.

Hewitt hopes, “that narrative is going to change for young girls who are coming up now, and they won’t have to have those conversations,” but if recent history is anything to go by, change is not happening quickly enough.

Billie Eilish and Jennifer Love Hewitt have one terrible experience in common — the sexualation of teen stars.

After the release of I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1997, Hewitt was subjected to endless disturbing questions about her breasts. The actress was barely 18 at the time yet the media preyed on the former child star in degrading, misogynistic ways.

Two decades and many child stars later, Billie Eilish became the victim of a similar unwanted sexualization.

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In 2019, when she was 17, a viral photo of the “Bad Guy” singer wearing a tank top elicited a social media onslaught of slut-shaming, sexual objectification, and degradation.

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"My boobs were trending on Twitter! At number one! What is that?! Every outlet wrote about my boobs,” she told Elle at the time, speaking out about how girls and women are viewed based on their bodies.

“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," she continued. "That is stupid.”

From traditional news media to social media, the narrative surrounding women's bodies remains the same.

Hewitt’s hope that the narrative has shifted is not entirely misguided.

Sure, there may be fewer incidences of interviewers explicitly asking women inappropriate questions (and that's only a maybe), but the rise of social media means they don’t have to.

Social media democratizes these kinds of comments in the worst way possible. The media doesn’t have to create these artificially sexualized narratives around young women because people online do it for them.

That much was clear when the internet weighed in on Eilish’s body shape. And that particular incident also revealed how these kinds of comments can disempower women from taking ownership of their own bodies.

Eilish said at the time that the viral photo had made her think twice about whether or not she would choose to wear revealing clothes in the future.

Her comments echoed Hewitt’s sentiments about how her body had become a diminishment of her talent.

“I know people will say, ‘I’ve lost all respect for her,’” Eilish expressed.

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Two years later, Eilish is still known for her baggy clothes that give away nothing about her silhouette.

And while there is nothing wrong with a woman not wanting to show off her figure, it's hard not to wonder if Eilish’s decision to cover up is less of a choice and more of a protective device born from fear of unwanted sexualization.

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There is no concealment that can truly protect women from against sexualization in this culture.

Eilish’s choice of clothing also reveals another disturbing reality about the culture of slut-shaming:

Even dressed in the baggiest of pants and the most oversized of t-shirts, women are not immune to the wrath of misogyny.

In her recent comments, Hewlitt spoke about how she had learned to discredit her own discomfort in interviews as she convinced herself that her choice of clothing had warranted objectification in some way.

“I was in barely any clothing the whole movie. For some reason, in my brain, I was able to just go, ‘Okay, well, I guess they wouldn’t be asking if it was inappropriate,’” she said.

Hewitt’s experience is one many women can relate to as we’ve all become victims of a culture that attaches inappropriate ideas to how we dress.

But for stars like Eilish, covering up brings on the additional problem of a double-bind, as people judge paparazzi photos of the star both for revealing too much when wearing a simple tank top and for not revealing enough when wearing baggy clothes.

Eilish also recalled a comment on a video of hers that had stuck with her.

It read: “Tomboys always end up being the biggest whores.”

Women can neither win nor mitigate the problem, because the problem actually has nothing to do with how women dress at all.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.