Is it or isn’t it all about that bass?

There’s a song doing the rounds on T’Interweb at the moment – Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About That Bass’. It’s cute, it’s catchy, and it’s being held up as an anthem to body acceptance. But, while Trainor is all about accepting curvier bodies, she does it at the expense of the less-curvaceously blessed.

The wonderful Jenny Trout writes over at her blog Trout Nation about why the song and the accompanying video still leave a lot to be desired: ‘I’m not all about that bass: Deconstructing the summer’s feel good body-positive hit’. She also links to the vid, so you can check it out there.

A fellow activist shared Jenny’s post on his own timeline and got a bit of kickback about it. And it’s that I want to write about today. Two of the dissenters have given me permission to use their comments (thanks both).

“Is there anything nowadays that isn’t deconstructed and mined for reasons to be offended? Sheesh. It doesn’t matter what something might possibly come across as. It matters what it means to you… If something’s so offensive to your sensibilities, do the intelligent thing and turn it off.”

“I’m glad that we want to have a bright shiny future for body positivity and racism and all other things wrong in the world, but I’m getting tired of everyone that is trying to create a path towards it getting dumped on for not doing it well enough or just right. We have to start somewhere, and if things like this video at least make a few more people accepting of “fat” or their own body, then good! Yes, it sucks that there are still problems to be found, but we can’t expect perfection…well…ever. There will always be something to complain about…can’t we just be positive that it will eventually get to that place? Poo pooing on the people making attempts is just discouraging, not encouraging (and positively informing) as we should be. Intelligent conversations should happen…not attacks and degradation.”

As someone who is moderately politically active in the size acceptance movement, believe me when I say there is always someone saying you aren’t doing it right or well enough, and sometimes you want to give up and say ‘what’s the  point’? I’m never going to solve all of these world problems so why even bother when every little attempt I make gets torn apart by people who are more radical than myself.’

I have recently been in exactly this situation (not for the first time, but this was a bit brutal because it was about something that I was very proud of). Several of my activist friends were quick to jump to my defence and tell me how wonderful I was. But a year of being on the wrong end of these kinds of things, and a modicum of reflexivity, has led me to see that more often than not, the radicals are actually right. That doesn’t make it any easier and I don’t like the way that some of them go about beating you over the head with their righteous anger. But that doesn’t make them wrong. As one commenter said to me, in effect: ‘What I hear you saying is that intersectionality (taking account of other marginalised groups and those situations where these stigmatised identities overlap) is too hard.’ And she was right. I was sitting there in my privileged middle-class white straight femalehood thinking, ‘Damn, it’s just too hard to do all that stuff. I tried, and ok, it wasn’t perfect, but where’s my goddamn pat on the head?’

I doubt I will ever get it perfect, but after a week or so of ‘Why do I even bother?’, I got over it, picked myself up, and carried on doing what little I can.

When I was new to size acceptance, I shared that Nicole Richie/Marilyn Monroe post on my Never Diet Again UK facebook page. You know the one? ‘When did THIS (very thin Richie) become more attractive than THIS (curvy Monroe)? That was in the early stages of accepting curvier bodies. I wouldn’t share that again now as I have come to realise how problematic it is. And when people new to my page share things about dogs and bones and so on, I gently educate them about why that isn’t appropriate. Most of them had never thought of it in those terms before, and, like me, are unlikely to use such comments again in future. Others probably thought I was being over-sensitive and “PC” – I do what I can. What others do with that is up to them.

As the owner of a fat body previously caught up in my own self-loathing, I understand that the first stages of fat acceptance generally include anger about how the status quo has beaten us down all these years. Yes, there is a tendency to want to lash out and reciprocate, and I understand why people, including myself, have done it. But at the end of the day, I see size acceptance as a human rights issue. And I don’t want to claim my rights not to be treated like crap because of my body at the expense of somebody else’s rights to the same – even if they have traditionally had that right handed to them on a plate. The bullied becomes the bully? I don’t want to be that person. And luckily, I don’t have to be. It isn’t either/or.

Now getting back to that video, yes, it’s cute, it’s catchy, and it puts a smile on your face. And yes, it may send some curvier women a body positive message, which makes a ruddy great change, and may do some good in that sense. Kudos to Trainor for achieving that. But at the same time, the lyrics are promoting another one-sided cultural beauty ideal, just turning the tables so that the ‘thinnies’ become the outcasts and undesirables. Which as an artist, Trainor is entirely entitled to do. The issue arises because this song is being held up as a poster-child for body-positive, self-acceptance, but by its very nature, it is only giving that message to some of the population, whilst sending the opposite message to others.

So sure, we can always do better, and we should celebrate every baby step along the way. Not that long ago I was on the other side of this divide, so I appreciate each and every one of those baby steps. But to hail this song as a paragon of body acceptance is so fundamentally wrong that it really does deserve mention. This is not a criticism of Trainor, but a commentary on how the song has been somewhat inappropriately corralled into the body acceptance movement. This commentary is not to tear it down, but to gently educate. That’s how revolutions start.

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3 Responses

  1. “As the owner of a fat body previously caught up in my own self-loathing, I understand that the first stages of fat acceptance generally include anger about how the status quo has beaten us down all these years. Yes, there is a tendency to want to lash out and reciprocate, and I understand why people, including myself, have done it.”

    Yes! I’m so glad you said this! So many people, especially thin people, don’t understand this concept at all. The first couple times you hear things like “real women have curves” it feels good because the tables are turned and you’re finally being praised instead of insulted. In the beginning it’s nice to give thin people a taste of their own medicine, so to speak, after being teased and bullied by them for so long but then you realize that putting them down to make yourself feel better is exactly what they did to you and can be just as hurtful.

    While I disagree with Meghan Trainor’s use of “skinny bitches”, I understand where she’s coming from and know that even though I consider her to be thin, a lot of people probably teased her and/or called her fat in order for her to think this way and write this song. Hopefully soon she will come to the conclusion that shaming any body type, no matter how big or small, always does more harm than good.

  2. Lindy West has some excellent insights about the asymmetry between skinny-shaming and fat-shaming. You can deplore all forms of body-based scorn while still noting that some are more culturally entrenched than others: http://jezebel.com/thin-women-ive-got-your-back-could-you-get-mine-1173888442

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