Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Pop songs about body acceptance are less accepting than they seem

While artists from Freddie Mercury to Sir Mix-A-Lot have sung the praises of plus-size women in the past, the objects of their affection have largely remained voiceless –– until now. This year, two of the biggest songs of the summer have been penned by full-figured girls in celebration of their bodies and sexuality. Given that the entertainment industry often reduces bigger women to asexual, goofy sidekicks, it’s been refreshing to see Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” dominate the charts, especially since, according to a 2008 survey conducted by Mintel, the average American woman wears a size 14.

Although I myself am a skinny woman, I fully sympathize with any plus-size women who identify with Minaj’s and Trainor’s songs –– women who are sick of the rigid beauty standards imposed upon them, who want to feel desired and attractive, not in spite of but because of their size. When Trainor sings, “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top,” or when Minaj proudly proclaims that she’s “got a big, fat ass,” it must be an incredibly validating experience for listeners who are accustomed to dealing with a constant stream of body negativity and shaming.

I just wish the particular brand of body acceptance espoused in “Anaconda” and “All About That Bass” was more, well, accepting.

For instance, does body positivity for plus-size women have to include body-shaming for thin women? Let’s start with “Anaconda,” which is the more blatantly combative of the two songs. It’s hard to interpret the line “Fuck you if you skinny bitches” as anything other than straight-out antagonism towards thin women, but at least Minaj’s message is unambiguous, if harshly stated. In “All About That Bass,” Trainor’s message just seems confused. On the one hand, she nicely subverts expectations by following the line “Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches” with an immediate assertion that she’s “just playing.” On the other hand, she also protests that she “won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll,” thereby suggesting that thin women are vapid and fake. Trainor wants to have her cake and eat it: As long as she says that she’s not engaging in body shaming, she feels free to do so without guilt.

I also find it telling that much of Minaj’s and Trainor’s body acceptance stems almost exclusively from male validation. The titular, phallic anaconda of Minaj’s song “don’t want none unless you got buns, hun,” and her lover “don’t like ‘em boney, he want something he can grab.” Meanwhile, in Trainor’s song, being big is OK because “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night” and because she has “that boom boom that all the boys chase / And all the right junk in all the right places.” These lyrics have the unfortunate effect of implying that big is beautiful only because heterosexual males prefer plus-size women.

And one has to wonder: What if someone has all the right junk in all the wrong places? Should women feel bad about their bodies if their weight is distributed in a non-bootylicious manner that is displeasing to the male eye? The parameters for physical attractiveness laid out in these songs are nearly as restrictive as the conventional beauty standards which glorify thin women. And where on earth do plus-size gay women fit into this equation?

I make these observations not because I oppose songs celebrating bigger body types, but because I believe that “Anaconda” and “All About That Bass” have the potential to undermine the body acceptance movement despite Minaj’s and Trainor’s good intentions. Body positivity does not mean that individuals should be stereotyped based on their size, and it doesn’t mean that they should love their bodies because straight men find them more sexually appealing than the alternative. Body positivity does not mean shaming people who conform to conventional beauty standards. It does mean loving and accepting your body for what it is, even when society says you shouldn’t. While “Anaconda” and “All About That Bass” may help many plus-size women feel more confident about their attractiveness, they are far too problematic and exclusive to be touted as body-positive.

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