You have likely already watched the music video for “All About That Bass”, I know it has been popping up in my facebook feed for over a month now. The beat is catchy, there is a musical reference to JT’s Sexyback in the middle, and the dancing/aesthetic is perfectly adorable. The message of the song is body-positive, and there is a refreshing mix of body types represented in the music video. So, really, what’s not to love? See below:
So why am I writing about it now? While most of the dialogue I have seen surrounding this clip is positive, there is a concerning thread that I have marked from time to time. Somehow, in the movement against photo-shopping and “thinspo”, a charge has been taken up by certain communities that women who are on the smaller end of the body scale are not “real women”. You’ve all seen and heard the phrase “real women have curves”.
As a plus-sized woman (and don’t even get me started on the fact that the designation “plus-size” exists and is something humans have to shop and live by) I can understand and appreciate how this saying may have gained popularity. I spent years (and still spend long moments) agonizing over my body and all of the ways it is not what it ought to be according to the messages I see and hear. However, no matter how genuine and empowering the intention, any time a proclamation is made that “real _________ equals __________”, the truth is that whatever population does not equal that blank is being marginalized. For example, look at what else popped up when I searched for that phrase on Pinterest:
[And don't get me wrong, I love this model and have shared photos featuring her before. It's the callous message some user slapped on that I find problematic].
Can you see how this messaging is equally problematic?
I have felt dis-empowered too many times by comparison to want to intentionally perpetrate that dynamic with anyone else. Rather than comparing ourselves to others in order to see what is lacking, why cannot we as humans support each other and recognize the beauty that lies within each of us?
I am not being trite or disingenuous or naive when I ask that question. From personal experience, I have found that in the few moments when I am truly able to drop my judgment and tallying up of individual little bits I am surprised by how beautiful I find everyone to be. Truly. And I’m not talking inner beauty or personality either. I am talking the (purely physical) inherent majesty and artistry imbued in the human body. In all human bodies. Try it.
How ridiculous is it that we judge our body types and shapes according to some arbitrary standard, when we have no control whatsoever over our bone structure? I will add, as well, that body and physical beauty standards differ dramatically by culture, geography, time period…(not even going to touch the sub-cultural influences of so-called gender identity and sexual orientation within all of those other parameters).
Let’s take a look at that music video again. While the verse includes the lyrics I find to be the most important, “Cause every inch of you is perfect/from the bottom to the top”, there are some other lines that are not quite so universally empowering. For instance, the chorus:
“Because you know I’m all about that bass/’bout that bass/’bout that bass/no treble”.
A clever play on musical terms, the bass references plus-sized women, but through other lyrics such as “boys they like a little more booty to hold at night” as well as the booty-grabbing that occurs in the video, it is clear that the “bass” refers also to booty. I’ll admit that as much as I love the song, the first time I watched the video I felt a little sting because of these lyrics. You see, I’ve got the teensiest little bass. I mean, I happen to think that my booty is perfectly adorable, but I have certainly never qualified as having “junk in my trunk”.
Isn’t that horrible? In this body-positive video, featuring a singer that has similar physical attributes to myself, one of the few things I focused on was the fact that I do not feel that I possess enough booty for men to “hold at night”.
(Again–not going to touch on the message of women as sexual objects either, that’s another post).
What is that?!
If I had let it (and have certainly done at times in the past), that tiny little moment could have been enough for me to spiral down the body-shame rabbit hole that leads to the “this-is-why-no-one-will-ever-love-me” oblivion, which in turn is absorbed and trapped by the wet blanket of perpetual self-repugnance.
Luckily, I instead chose to acknowledge the moment as my peculiar little friend, acknowledge its existence, and continue with nodding my head and finger-tapping along. (Thank you therapy).
I have a feeling that this experience is not unique. Indeed, the lyrics that directly proceed the message about body perfection highlight the universality of insecurities, “Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches Hey/No, I’m just playing, I know you think you’re fat”. While not all “skinny” women may think of themselves as fat, there are just as many body expectations and judgments happening on the other side of the spectrum as well–just take another look at the images pasted above.
To be completely clear, I am not saying that we should not be good custodians of our bodies and our health. I have blogged copiously on the subject of my health, my weight, and my body image journey. I am currently working on this area again, and not only have I lost 12 pounds in the last few months but I intend to lose more. What I would posit, however, is that not only are we all beautiful, but our beauty is unique and not dependent on our size. In other words, comparing one person’s beauty to another’s is the surest way to negate everyone’s.
And yes, there are times when beautiful is the furthest thing from what I feel.
You want to know what’s funny though?
As a sort of body experiment I’ve been taking some wardrobe risks lately. I decided that I was tired of waiting to wear what I want until I feel that I have carved out a body “worthy” of being shown. So, as a result, I have adopted something I am internally calling “Slightly Skanky Saturdays and Sundays”. All this movement entails is showing more skin than usual, but in a classy Emilie way. Slightly sheer shirts with a hint of bra showing through, short skirts without tights or leggings, and gracefully plunging necklines have all been a part of this experiment. My “racy” looks are likely not even a blip on most people’s wardrobe radars, but for me they have had a profound effect. The most marked instance of success during this experiment happened a few weekends ago when I wore an actual bikini to the actual beach. I frolicked in the waves, ran on the sand, and even had some photos taken to document the occurrence.
What I have found to be the most helpful about these experiments is not what I expected. Yes, I feel beautiful much more of the time now no matter what I am wearing. Yes, I feel empowered when wearing my slightly skanky ensembles. But honestly, the most powerful realization I have had was that I actually think about my body much, much less when I’m not worried about covering it up. That’s right. Instead of the non-stop inner narration I’ve been accustomed to that tracks every inch of clothing, every roll of fat sitting or standing, every slipping strap or seam alignment–instead I am experiencing a new form of freedom.
Do you have any idea how much more enjoyable life is when one layer of background tracking and judgment is removed, even for a moment or two? This is truly heady stuff.
Of course those scripts do not just disappear. After seeing the photo of myself in the full body bikini shot I had an immediate “well, I should do some core work” reaction and chose not to post the photo online. But then I moved on. And that moving on? That is a hugely important and monumental success for me.
As the internet continues to grow as a platform for education and liberation, I want to encourage intentional thought and inclusion versus comparison in our discussions surrounding beauty and body-image. I focus on my experience as a woman because that is what I know and what I have to offer, but I know that body messages and insecurities are not constrained by so-called gender roles. Tragically, they are the demesne of all humans.
Rather than parrot “It’s All About That Bass” as an example of us versus them, I hope all-sized humans can enjoy it as a fun, and meaningful, jam.
And if anyone has a lead on that mint-green hot-pant body suit please send my way–my teensy bass and I would rock it.