“I’m bringing booty back / Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that.” I cringe every time I hear the line — which is often, considering I’ve had Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” on repeat since mid-June. The song, which originally was praised as body-positive and revolutionary in an industry that rarely celebrates women who aren’t the size of a malnourished 12-year-old, is now undergoing an onslaught of not unjustified backlash from outlets as varied as Jezebel and The Guardian. The lyrics, meant to empower women who rarely see reflections of themselves in the media, just as equally shame those who are classically thin. (Though Trainor does quickly slide in the phrase “No, I’m just playing,” a weak attempt to justify her slight.)
Perhaps even more menacing is the song’s consistent referral to patriarchal and heteronormative ideals. You are beautiful no matter what size you are because boys wanna hold your booty at night. It’s an inherently problematic message we are teaching to girls; you are all worthwhile, but only in relation to what boys think of you. You all are beautiful (because being beautiful is very very very important), but this beauty can only be seen through male eyes.
It’s insidious, negative and downright concerning. But I don’t care. I’ll repeat it: I still fucking love this song.
I’m known to be a pretty vigilant feminist. My friends often feel the need to temper their language and stories around me so as not to risk pissing me off. (In other news, I am the worst to watch Superbowl commercials with.) Because of my reputation, multiple people asked me what I thought about this song, if I agreed it was problematic. It’s hard to honestly answer in the affirmative when my rallying cry at every pregame is “Play ‘All About That Bass’ again, please!” (Usually without the ‘please’). Should I feel guilty for loving this song? It’s a question that often troubles activists — if one part of something is problematic, do we need to disregard all of it?
When I find cheese with a bit of mold on it, I throw the whole damn thing away — no need to take an unnecessary risk. But my grandma just slices that mold right off and acts like the cheese is as good as new. Can we just as easily slice off the sexism and negative stereotyping in “All About That Bass” and still appreciate the song?
Last year Dove released a video called “Real Beauty Sketches,” as part of its ongoing self esteem campaign. The video had a sketch artist first draw women based on how they describe themselves — strong jaw, round face, too many freckles. The same artist then drew these women based on how other people described them. Unsurprisingly, the women were much harsher when describing themselves — these images were consistently “uglier” than those described by other people. The campaign was praised for shedding a light on the crushing self-consciousness so many women feel about the way they look. It was also decried for promoting the beauty ideal — being beautiful means you are thin, symmetrical, with prominent cheekbones and clear skin.
The campaign was distinctly imperfect — accidentally upholding some of the norms it meant to deconstruct. But at the end of the day the intent was wholesome — reminding women that they are all beautiful. And for every scholarly article I read about how the Real Beauty campaign was problematic, there was another girl posting on Facebook about how that video had, at least for a little while, made her reconsider how she viewed herself. The question at stake becomes, what is more important to furthering social change? Political correctness, or widespread individual impact?
Back to “All About That Bass.” What I know about this song: It’s surprisingly sexist and disappointingly one-dimensional in what it defines as a real woman. It also is openly celebratory of women who aren’t size twos, as the first verse so proudly proclaims, and the resonance of this statement can’t be overlooked. In fifth grade I worshiped Carmen from the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” not only for her candor, but because I looked more like her than most teens I had seen on TV or in the movies. Even in this, the ‘Year of the Booty,’ what other songs (or TV shows, or movies) openly celebrate bigger or even just regular-sized women? Even if they exist, how many have enchanted as broad an audience — and had quantifiable industry success — as much as “Bass”? Even if other people are talking about body-positivity, finally everyone is listening.
Throughout the summer my 15-year-old cousin Kelly would send me texts each time “Bass” would move up in the charts. Together we screamed the lyrics and learned the dance moves from the video and tried to teach our dolthead brothers why the song was important. Beyond actual blood ties and general anatomy, Kelly and I are quite different — she’s outgoing where I’m awkward, pretty and primped while I wear Chacos and pajama pants to buy boxed wine, the Homecoming Princess to my Vice President of the Harry Potter Club. But we both were drawn to and powerfully buoyed by “All About That Bass.” If a three-minute pop song has the power to make two such different girls, at completely different stages in our lives, feel good about ourselves, then it contributes immeasurable value. Not to say that we should stop talking about why it’s problematic. But Kelly and I aren’t going to stop dancing. And I don’t think anyone else should either.
Natalie Gadbois can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter at @natgadbois