Why Meghan Trainor’s body acceptance anthem “All About That Bass” is disappointing

So, I’m all about that bass. I cannot stop listening to this song. It’s a perfect song for bouncing down the street in a pair of great shoes and sunnies and feeling a little bit invincible. You can’t not dance to this song. But — and when you’re a feminist consuming popular culture, there’s always a but — the lyrics are a bit of a mess. Which is even more disappointing than it might usually be, since the song is being hailed as a body acceptance and self-esteem anthem. Let’s take a look:

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I’m supposed to do
Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
And all the right junk in all the right places

No need to worry about failing to meet the standard of beauty imposed by the fashion industry, she meets the one imposed by men. Phew, that’s a relief!

I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real
C’mon now, make it stop

Well, that is kind of awesome. The relentless Photoshopping of women’s bodies into hairless, poreless mannequins of physiologically impossible proportions is totally screwing with everyone’s expectations of what actual human bodies look like. And you don’t get to hear pushback against that phenomenon in pop songs all that often. Good for you, Meghan Trainor. You go, Meghan Trainor.

If you got beauty beauty, just raise ‘em up
Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top

OK, but are women who don’t have boom boom disqualified from having beauty? Is beauty the same thing as boom boom? I just feel like we need a clear taxonomy before we go into the bridge. But you we’re not going to get one, so here we go…

Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night
You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

Again, you shouldn’t worry about your size. But, again, loving yourself because dudes like what you’ve got going on is a pretty flimsy form of self-acceptance. In fact, it’s not really self-acceptance at all if it depends on other people thinking you’re hot. Most of us want to be attractive in the eyes of the people we find attractive — I sure as hell do — and I don’t want to downplay how great that can feel. But the point of loving yourself no matter what is that you love yourself no matter what boys, or anyone else, thinks about your booty. And there’s certainly something to be said for reiterating the idea that there are some men who prefer curvy women, especially when the vision of female beauty we see in popular media is almost uniformly slender, white, able-bodied, and so incredibly specific that a tiny percentage of the population can ever live up to it. But then, this happens…

I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
No I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat
But I’m here to tell ya
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

Ok, first of all, booty, like sexy, didn’t go anywhere. Just ask all the Black dancers you’re going to hire to dance around you and make you look good in the video. Jen Selter might have recently found internet fame embracing her booty and snapping selfies of it, but outside of mainstream — that is, white — beauty ideals, booty is nothing new. As Kara Brown spelled out in totally merited all caps a few months ago, “JENNIFER LOPEZ KICKED OFF THE POPULARIZATION AND ACCEPTANCE OF BIG ASSES IN THE MAINSTREAM–A TRAIT THAT HAS BEEN PRESENT AND CELEBRATED IN BLACK AND LATINO COMMUNITIES IN AMERICA SINCE BASICALLY FOREVER.”

Secondly, good lord, people, it’s like it’s scientifically impossible to write a song about how great it is to have curves that doesn’t insult people who don’t. Being thin doesn’t make you a bitch. Being thin doesn’t mean you’re dumb. Being thin doesn’t make you “slutty.” Being thin means you’re just that: thin, and adhering a little more closely to the impossible-to-fully-meet expectations of what our bodies should look like. You get more social capital, more social approval. You might also be a deeply unpleasant person, but chances are there’s no causation, or even significant correlation, between skinniness and bitchiness. Calling thin women bitches isn’t helpful, at all. Calling women with curves “real women” isn’t productive, at all. So stop it. If every inch of you is perfect, curvy women with boom boom and junk, then every inch of the skinny girls is too. They just have fewer inches. Trainor has said that the “skinny bitches” line is just a joke, and that she’s alluding to the fact that even a lot of “skinny bitches” think they’re fat, but that merely assumes that being fat is, in fact, bad… which pretty much contradicts the entire message of the rest of the song.

The video falls into the same trap: lots of happy, voluptuous and fat people dancing around and having a great time, and then one apparently dumb sad stupid skinny woman mugging for the camera and taking her clothes off. But remember, skinny bitch, every inch of you is perfect! Or something.

Trainor, who wrote the song herself, isn’t the only offender when it comes to songs that try to make people feel good about their bodies by making other people feel like shit. There are the dude offenders — One Direction with You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful and Bruno Mars with Just The Way You Are — and outside of pop music, there are even offenders in musical theatre, like Hairspray’s Big, Blonde, and Beautiful (“who wants a twig when you can climb the whole tree?”). Basically, it seems to be really hard to write a song about body acceptance that’s actually about accepting all bodies.

Then again, walking down the street like you own it is pretty good for the self-esteem. So just do what feminists have been doing since the dawn of time, or at least of pop music: Turn the music up, try to ignore the lyrics, and rock that pavement like it’s a runway.

Avatar ImageChloe Angyal just wants to rock out to a self-esteem anthem that is actually a self-esteem anthem.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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