We all know pop culture doesn’t always depict average people’s lives or inner thoughts realistically. Unless Pink or Alanis Morrisette have new music out, mainstream pop music doesn’t much reflect the realities of my life. No matter how catchy a song like “Problem” or “Fancy” might be, they are pure sonic sugar. So, when I first saw the music video for Meghan Trainor’s song “All About That Bass,” it was exciting: not only were her retro outfits totally cute, but her song was straight up body-positive. Trainor sings about accepting and loving her curves, not being a size two and realizing the images she sees in magazines have been Photoshopped and aren’t real. As a curvy lady — hips, boobs, butt, all of it — this was exciting to hear in one of summer’s top pop songs.
Sure, there are other mainstream, body-positive pop songs out there, like “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child, “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera, and Indie.Arie’s “Video.” And, of course, Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” is the gold standard. While it may be cheesier than “Pretty Hurts” or “Video,” but what I love about “All About That Bass” is that it’s direct while also being fizzy and fun. And I suppose the fact that Meghan Trainor is a white girl singing about loving her curves (all the other artists I’ve cited are women of color) helped the song and music video resonate with me. My body looks a hell of a lot more like hers than like Katy Perry’s or Britney Spears’.
Not everyone felt quite the same way I did, though. On my original post two months ago, several commenters were critical of the song and video (although several others felt the same way about it that I did). Yesterday on the blog Feministing, blogger Chloe Angyal wrote a critical analysis of “All About That Bass,” admitting it’s catchy as hell but ultimately “disappointing.” In response to the lyrics:
Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I’m supposed to do
Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
And all the right junk in all the right places
Angyal wrote sarcastically, “No need to worry about failing to meet the standard of beauty imposed by the fashion industry, she meets the one imposed by men. Phew, that’s a relief!”
And in response to these lyrics:
Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along
Angyal writes, “[A]gain, loving yourself because dudes like what you’ve got going on is a pretty flimsy form of self-acceptance. In fact, it’s not really self-acceptance at all if it depends on other people thinking you’re hot.”
She has a point, of course. It’s Body Acceptance 101: curvier and plus-size women (I’ll henchforth just use the phrase “curvy women” for brevity) don’t need the validation of men in order to feel good about themselves. First of all, not all women are in relationships with men. But more pertinently, the approval of someone else — especially someone in a more privileged position in society — is not where we should derive all our value from.
And yet … I’m frustrated with the idea that curvy women aren’t supposed to enjoy and derive some self-acceptance from that validation. Curvy women aren’t necessarily more “pure” when it comes to how great it feels to be considered attractive to men just because of the way we look. You could argue the opposite — we may be more desperate for it because society as a whole does not especially validate how we look. Skinnier and conventionally attractive women experience that validation every single day, often in ways they aren’t conscious of because they’re so used to receiving it. So, why shouldn’t those of us curvy women enjoy the validation for a little while?
Curvy women like me go through life ever-conscious of the flat bellies on every billboard, the cute dresses we’ll never be able to wear because the brand doesn’t make clothes bigger than size 10, and the nasty emails from strangers that say we looked too fat in our wedding dress (true story). I am a feminist but I’m still human: it’s totally superficial, but curvy girls like me want to know men out there are attracted to us just for how we look. I, at least, do feel some self-acceptance from that and it doesn’t bother me that Meghan Trainor is singing positively about it.
The Frisky runs a fair amount of feminist pop culture critique, so I understand the value of parsing apart lyrics. It just doesn’t seem fair that when “All About That Bass” is referencing curvy women being in a position where some men are validating how we look, there is finger-wagging: Well, what men think shouldn’t matter! The reality is that curvy women enjoy validation from men, too. “All About That Bass” may not be perfect, but it speaks to me and I’ll take it.
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.