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In Defence of All About That Bass

The current stereotype of an 'ideal woman's body' needs to be aggressively counteracted if we're ever going to reach a happy medium. By Courtney Sanders.
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Last week Elfy Scott slammed the message in Meghan Trainor's (truly terrible) song All About That Bass as hypocritical; that by celebrating a very specific kind of body–voluptuous girls with particularly voluptuous butts– it's as discriminatory as the media that celebrates thin women's bodies. A lot of you agreed with her, while a lot of you believe the ideal that thinness is perfect is so pervasive that opposition to it needs to be aggressive and controversial in order for us to reach a happy medium. And I agree.

All About That Bass is a scourge upon music, and the only thing that maintains my faith in society after realising that 135 million people have watched the video clip is that hopefully most of them watched it so they could take part in the arguments, like these, that it creates. There's little melody–which seems to be the whole point of the song as confirmed by its title–and in the video clip a morbidly obese man dances around the place (which I guess is a good thing because: exercise, but it's irresponsible to promote this kind of body image too) and, as Elfy said in her piece last week, one skinny girl is wrapped in plastic so she can't really move, and is then 'butt-bullied' by the girls deemed to be more desirable by Trainor. As Elfy pointed out, all of this doesn't sit particularly well with lyrics like “my mamma told me don't worry about my size". It really does seem like her size, particularly the size of her booty (“I'm bringing booty back") is actually the only thing she's concerned about.

There's another lyric in All About That Bass though: “I see them magazines, working that Photoshop, we know that shit ain't real, come on now make it stop". Which is to say that, in the vast majority of popular media, be it in fashion magazines, celebrity magazines (particularly the likes of NW, and their constant shaming of the size of female actors), film, television, and particularly advertising, thinness is presented as ideal, and this has been a thing for several decades. Therefore, while Meghan Trainor's song and video may not be perfect (they're definitely not), at least they're creating a more representative spectrum of acceptable female bodies than what existed before them.

My biggest, and most useful, takeaway from university was learning that the ideal for a women's figure at any given time, is an extreme version what it is to be “healthy" at said time, which makes complete sense. During the renaissance people died from starvation, and therefore voluptuous women, who could afford to eat, and afford to live, were considered beautiful. Today, because obesity is the world's single biggest killer, thin women, that is women who are not going to die from overeating, are considered beautiful. It's the extreme nature of this ideal that makes it problematic, especially today.

Before advertising and before the Internet, I doubt these representations were a very big deal at all; there simply wasn't as many of them around. However, in the 1950s advertising begins to use women's insecurities about their bodies to sell them things they don't need, and it's at this point that these images become a problem. As Naomi Woolf said in The Beauty Myth: “Health makes good propaganda". The advent of the Internet means we consume more media, and therefore more advertising, than we ever have before, which makes this message even more pervasive. While millennial women are arguably more liberated than any generation of women before us, we're also more susceptible to advertising than ever before, because it's simply everywhere–thanks Google Ads. The power of the Internet on female body behavour is pretty clear all over the place. For example, in her book How to Be a Women, Caitlin Moran argues that the widespread availability of online porn in which women don't have any pubic hair, is singularly responsible for a culture in which women remove their pubic hair in order to be considered “normal" by men, and probably by themselves too. All of this is to say that A) the ideal women's body today is thin, that B) this ideal can penetrate and affect women in more ways than ever before, and that C) this makes today's ideal much more dangerous than historical ideals and so D) we need to fight back. The fact that Meghan Trainor's video All About That Base has received 135 million views is a testament to the fact that you can also use the Internet to fight against the paradigms of the status quo, which it often simply perpetuates.

When Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass calls some women “skinny bitches", and denigrates one such woman in her video clip (that plastic dress is fucking ridiculous), she is being hypocritical, and controversial. But doesn't she have to be? And shouldn't she be allowed to be? To cut through the bullshit white noise–read advertising, read mainstream media–that exists today and get her message across, Meghan Trainor has to be controversial. If there's no controversy, there's no pull-quote, and there's no media attention, and she should be commended for the fact that, even though her song suuuuuuuuucks, she has created lively, widespread and serious debate about this issue. Furthermore, by not being inclusive in her song or video, the issue her song and video have raised is exactly one of inclusiveness. Finally, She's actually not doing anything that every media outlet everywhere, doesn't do against women who don't fit today's thin body image: the message "fat bitches" is EVERYWHERE. The covers of NW in which female actors are shamed for their imperfect “beach bods", anyone? This may not make Meghan Trainor's discrimination right, but a couple of things. Firstly, at least it does something to tip the balance toward voluptuous women, who are constantly demeaned in this society. And, secondly, why is she the only one getting shamed for being discriminatory: why aren't we calling out every single media outlet that shame 'fat' women?

All in all, the controversial nature of Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass has fought through the advertising and media white noise that celebrates thin women, and started an important discussion about inclusive acceptance of women's bodies. It had to be controversial, and it had to be discriminatory to do so, and it should be celebrated because of all of this (and absolutely not because of the music itself).

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In Defence of All About That Bass
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