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All About That Bass: Mean Girl or Girl Power?


Art Credit: via Epic Records

Meghan Trainor’s surprise chart topper “All About That Bass” catapulted the twenty-one-year-old from an unknown songwriter to a celebrity overnight. With Trainor’s smoky and personable voice, the lyrics’ impish confidence, and the song’s doo-wop charm, the hit makes sense. Yet much of the news about the song’s recent peak on the charts is negative.

A brief survey of the commentary: Forbes complains that the song’s body-positive message is actually a disingenuous marketing exploitation. Vox’s claim is that the song and accompanying video is not inclusive enough for skinny or plus-sized women. Then we have Jezebel complaining that because Trainor assures girls that “guys like a little more booty to hold at night,” the song is basing a woman’s self-worth on men’s objectification, along with a vicious condemnation of Trainor for stating that she does not identify as a feminist. The internet flurry is dizzying.

The line that seemed to set the match to the fuse was: “I’m bringing booty back / Go ‘head and tell them skinny bitches that / (No, I’m just playin’).”

There is good reason for cultural sensitivity toward "skinny-shaming." A quick Internet search reveals many supposedly body-positive quips like “real women have curves,” “skinny is out,” and catty mutterings that thin girls should “just eat a sandwich” as though being slender equals an eating disorder. These may seem like witticisms, but it's really just one more form of body-shaming. A great many commentaries have pointed out the obvious: Thin girls have self-esteem issues like other women, and going on cruelty campaigns announcing that skinny is ugly is missing the point.

We should not let our frustration with our culture’s rigid and Photoshopped beauty standards be misdirected toward other women who suffer from unrealistic expectations as well.

In high school and college, I had a couple of close friends who were not just beautiful, they had the "It" factor. Envy told me that "It Girls" seem to breathe a different atmosphere than the rest of us, because while everyone else is red-faced and suitably disheveled after, say, a miserably hot day of moving, It Girls manage to look beautiful and fresh even as they gracefully flick the sweat from their brows.

In the wonderfully self-aware "Why I Hate Skinny Girls" piece on Thought Catalog, the author discusses that skinny girls make great villains for the rest of us; we are often tempted to make our imagined perceptions of It Girls the effigies upon which to release our bruised egos and wavering self-esteem. The problem is that even if our envy remains completely internal, we are still damaging ourselves.

I remember the few moments that passed between when I first saw the girl who would become my best friend in high school and when I spoke with her. She was so stunning that one day while walking through the mall, passing hundreds of girls waiting in line to audition for a modeling agency, the agent jumped from her seat and chased down my friend to ask her if she was interested in a modeling career. (She was not, to the intense annoyance of the girls in line.)

When I first saw her, I immediately judged her. It Girls are, of course, mean, self-absorbed, a little dumb, and probably not funny. Within two minutes of conversation though, my petty assumptions evaporated, and I recognized a person in front of me, not just a scapegoat for my insecurities. She was self-effacing with an infectious snorting laugh, intelligent, well-read, and intensely compassionate. Months later, with her gentle prodding, I joined her for volunteer work at an art therapy class for adults with intellectual disabilities which was my first experience with teaching; it opened my heart in a way few singular events have. If I had listened to the voice of envy whispering from the darker recesses of my heart when I first met her, I would have missed a great friendship as well as a defining moment during my high school years. I also would not have learned the foolishness of judging people based on my own insecurities.

Is Trainor’s lyric about “skinny bitches” coming from the same place of ignorant envy? It’s hard to say. For one, the phrase wasn’t Trainor’s invention—Skinny Bitch is the name of an aggressive vegan diet book written by a model and a modeling agent, the name of a wine brand, and a commonly shared joke by women. I’m inclined to think her lyric is coming from a more tongue-in-cheek place than one of malice. The thin model in Trainor's music video begins by peacocking around as the cartoonish villain then ends the video playfully dancing with the rest of the cast in a "hey, she’s just like the rest of us!" moment.

There’s a larger lesson to learn here. Trainor is a young woman working in an industry with rigorous and unreasonable demands for physical perfection from its female celebrities. Her first hit, after a mere two years in the business, is a sassy criticism of the industrial marketing machine: “I see the magazine working’ that Photoshop / We know that shit ain’t real / C’mon now, make it stop”—with the added assurance to self-conscious girls: “Don’t worry about your size.”

After all, the best music comes when bass and treble work in harmony.