November 8, 2014
(Cross-posted from I was a high school feminist)
Okay. So by now you’ve obviously seen the video for “All About That Bass” or at least heard the song on the radio.
In her video, Meghan Trainor sings that she’s “all about that bass” – a metaphor that I thought was pretty clever, as it points out that the “heavier” part of music is also the part that’s important in order for the music to have a good beat or be danceable. I’m not sure if that’s a common comparison, but I’d never heard it before. Yay for metaphors!
As she sings about the fact that boys like heavier girls and about feeling good about herself, she and her non-skinny backup dancers dance happily in pastel-colored clothing.
Like many viral sensations that also carry a message, responses to the video followed a pretty familiar pattern from “OMG best thing ever!” to “Stop acting like the video is so great – it’s really problematic!”
I didn’t really have any strong opinions on the topic until I saw a response video titled “All about that bass (body positive version)”. By changing some of the lyrics, the artist attempted to “correct” the parts of the original song that many people had seen as less-than-positive.
And while a lot of the criticisms of the original video are valid, I’m just not sure if they all need correcting.
To be clear, I am NOT writing a defense of the original video, which does have some pretty significant problems: namely, its use of AAVE and use of black women as props.
For a really thorough takedown of the race issues inherent in the video, including Trainor’s appropriation of the word “booty” and her objectification of black women, check out Jenny Trout’s article “I am not all about that bass”.
Further, it would have been more in line with the song’s purported message to include women with body types that could actually be called fat, and not just “not skinny”.
But, as Meghan Trainor herself has said, she is not a feminist. And at the end of the day, the purpose of the song and video are to make money.
What I do want to talk about here is some of the criticisms of the video that I’ve seen, specifically the “body positive” version that I linked to above.
For instance, the original song specifically celebrates heavier girls, saying that their bodies are “better” than thin girls’ bodies, so in the “body positive” version, the singer changes the lyrics to reflect that all bodies are beautiful.
Now, I do agree that putting down any body type is not terribly feminist. As this article points out, songs like Trainor’s aren’t about loving yourself unconditionally as much as they are about “shifting the ideal” from skinny to heavier, while retaining the exclusivity of such an ideal.
“Skinny bitch”: problematic or not?
However, when the majority of media messages that we receive every day celebrate thin women and deride heavier ones, is it really that harmful to have one song that turns the tables on the assumption that thinner is better?
I mean, think about the media messages we see every day, where the fat girl in the TV show is a weirdo, loser, or funny sidekick who’s the good-natured butt of jokes. Diet ads promote the idea that women are happier after they’ve lost weight, more attractive, and more successful in life and love. Hell, studies even show that thin women earn more money than their heavier counterparts.
In the midst of a cultural environment that can treat heavier women this badly, is it really worth criticizing one song for celebrating their bodies?
The same thing goes for one of the other complaints about the original lyrics, which sing about how men prefer girls who are a little heavier. A lot of people argued that a truly body-positive song would not perpetuate the message that you are only beautiful or valuable if a man desires you.
And yes, of COURSE I agree with that! There are SO many things wrong with the idea that a woman’s self-worth should be based on her attractiveness to men. It’s patriarchal, heteronormative, and a whole slew of other words that are too long for me to think of before a second cup of coffee.
But again, in a world where girls have already internalized the message that being found attractive by men is something to be proud of, but that fat girls don’t get to be attractive, one song claiming the opposite might not be the worst thing ever.
I guess my main problem with the response video, where a thin girl sings about how all bodies are equally pretty, was that it felt like it was totally dismissing the point of the original video.
It’s like in elementary school when you’d have field day or something; the kids who won events would get blue ribbons, but everyone would get a green “participation” ribbon. I freaking hated those green ribbons. Because they felt like a patronizing pat on the head when there were still kids getting blue ribbons. They felt like a reminder that you weren’t ACTUALLY any good at running.
And to me, replying to “Fat women are gorgeous!” with “You mean ALL women are gorgeous” sometimes feels like you’re taking away someone’s attempt to feel like they finally got a blue ribbon.
What’s your take?