Are you all about that bass?

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!

bassscreencap

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.

bassbodypos

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?

This was the slogan of a Special K cereal campaign. Ads in the campaign featured answers like "joy," "optimism," and "grace." The fact that we're surrounded by assumptions like this in our everyday lives makes me wonder if the "heavy girls are better" message of Trainor's video is really all that problematic.

This was the slogan of a Special K cereal campaign. Ads in the campaign featured answers like “joy,” “optimism,” and “grace.” The fact that we’re surrounded by assumptions like this in our everyday lives makes me wonder if the “heavy girls are better” message of Trainor’s video is really all that problematic.

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.

You can use all the quotation marks you want, but the message here is still crystal clear.

You can use all the quotation marks you want, but the message here is still crystal clear.

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?

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8 responses to “Are you all about that bass?

  1. I dunno, personally I felt hints of skinny-shaming from miss Meghan Trainor, and that’s hurtful. But on the flip side of that, thin privilege is real. I just feel like women should stop hating on other women based on their appearances, because all that does is contribute to our own oppression. Great post, and I love your blog!(: Care to check out mine? Downwiththenorm.com

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    • Yeah – in the original version of this post I had more about skinny-shaming, but I took it out because I think I may make it its own post. I think it’s counterproductive for any body positive movement to rely on exclusion as a way of working towards greater acceptance, but at the same time I have a hard time getting too upset with it because I totally understand the impulse, based on the way that heavier people are treated in our world, both by the media and in everyday life.

      I could have done without the part in the video where the skinny model is made to look silly – but I was frustrated by the fact that so much of the criticism of the video was upset about the skinny-shaming without acknowledging how it fit into the representations we see every day of heavier women.

      Looove your blog title – will check it out!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel like throwing a copy of the Beauty Myth at people on a daily basis. I agree with your post. If there’s finally a song that represents a group of people who are commonly ostracized in traditional media, why is everyone getting all upset and bringing it back to slim people talking about body acceptance?

    Some companies like Addition Elle are finally marketing themselves just as a clothing company and dropping the “plus size” label (thank goodness). This plus the song should be a good indicator that we’re moving in the right direction. Very very slowly in the right direction.

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    • Exactly! Yes, we should always be pushing for more in the way of representation and acceptance, but that doesn’t mean that we should dismiss every effort towards it that isn’t 100%. It frustrates me when the reaction to something like this isn’t “Cool! Next, let’s see ___” but is “This doesn’t do enough so it’s bad”.

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  3. I felt like it was very patronizing and of course I was also not a fan of the lyrics about men liking curvy women or whatever… But then us feminists will always have SOME problem with things like this. I guess we should just let this one slide since the primary message is body-positive, even if it is misguided and distorted for mass pop culture consumption.

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    • I know, sometimes I get frustrated with myself – like, can I NOT find EVERYTHING problematic??? I still have TONS of issues with the original, don’t get me wrong – but I think that the reply to it was misguided (if totally well-intentioned).

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