What is the first thing you notice when you see Adele on the front cover of the latest issue of The Rolling Stone? Perhaps it's that she is sans makeup -- almost as if she's about to settle down with coffee and the morning paper.
The very first thing that captivates me is that her look is direct and defiant, as if to say, "I will not be sexualized, as all of the women on this cover before me." It suggests (in no uncertain terms) that her body is not up for grabs, and that she's a woman most certainly upending norms in a male-driven industry. There is nothing lustful about the way she stares out of the image at us. In fact, her visage stands completely autonomous against its surrounding competitors -- objectified women on the covers of Cosmopolitan and Glamour and Self who vye for our attention with their airbrushed and hyper-sexualized bodies.
The image on the cover bears a single caption: "Adele -- A Private Life." When a woman puts herself in the public eye, there's an immediate sense of entitlement to her body and her life. She is pulled limb from limb by critics and the media until there is nothing left of her -- all just to satiate a hungry and perverse audience. There seems to be a general consensus that once a woman allows herself to be revealed, she is owned by those she reveals herself to.
There's a sense that the successful woman must rely on exposing herself in order to stay relevant or find success in the entertainment industry (I'm looking at you, Kim Kardashian & co.) It's like a modern Catch-22, and Adele refuses to play this. After hiding from the media for over three years she reemerges into the limelight with "Hello" -- her record-breaking single that had 1.11 million downloads within its first week. She obliterates the idea that women do not need to be "seen" in order to be desired. Her whole comeback rests squarely on the merits of her singing/songwriting abilities rather than her visibility.
Why is it so unexpected for us to see a woman defined first and foremost by her formidability and not her sexuality? We believe that women have reclaimed their bodies, and that by displaying them in small acts of empowerment in a male-empowered industry, there's little rivalry against the idea that female attractiveness equals success. But Adele is changing the way we see her power. It doesn't emanate from her body and how she can manipulate sexual emotion in the eyes of the spectator. Her power comes from an expression that tells us that she's here, that she's independently capable, and that she will not be moved by our expectations of how she should and should not be -- and I find that to be a most admirable quality.