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Bringing Sexy Mac! The male gaze and ‘All About that Bass’

From Destiny’s Child questioning if we’re “ready for this jelly” to Florida Georgia Line’s drooling over “them long tanned legs,” from Kanye telling women to “eat their salad, no dessert” to John Legend loving all her “curves and edges,” modern pop music is saturated with different ideas about and expectations for women’s bodies.

Meghan Trainor’s hit song, “All About That Bass,” has struck a chord across the country with people who are sick of the harmful images and roles of both women and men being promoted in today’s media. However, I’d like to propose an alternative way of hearing it. I want to bring into question whether or not Trainor’s expression of body positivity is really what we want to be promoted in our media.

I won’t argue against the idea that “All About That Bass” is a step in the right direction. Promotion of female body positivity is a rare thing in today’s media. We’re bombarded with images and phrases that highlight female sexual objectification and a curve-free, large-chested and plastic-skinned altered reality. I’m sure I’m not alone in the Macalester community when I assert that this creates unrealistic and harmful images of beauty for people of all genders.

The problematic line where Trainor calls out the “skinny bitches” aside, the issue that I want to raise with Trainer’s message is not with the body positivity itself, but rather with the origin of this body positivity. With lines like “I got that boom boom that all the boys chase,” and “…don’t worry about your size, boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” it’s clear that the positivity being promoted for women is contingent upon a man’s approval. Rather than saying that women should be happy with how they look unconditionally, she suggests that self-objectification of their bodies for the sexual consumption of men is the way to achieve a positive body image. The message of the song becomes “you’re beautiful IF a man wants to hold you at night.” This ultimately gives the power over women’s body image and self-esteem to men, thus furthering the problematic patriarchal power dynamic.

This power dynamic presents issues for people of all genders. It creates a platform where it seems okay, and in certain social situations it becomes the expectation, for men to harshly judge women based on how they look as potential sex objects, thus buttressing rape culture. It pushes general feelings of insecurity about body image and of dehumanization for women as they are seen as objects to be appraised, used and disposed of by men. It also leaves out a whole community of genderqueer people who, because they don’t fit directly into this societally imposed gender binary, are judged, scoffed at and made fun of. So, I’ll ask the question again: Is Trainor’s image of body positivity what we want to promote in our media?

As I said before, I won’t argue that “All About That Bass” isn’t a step in the right direction, but I certainly hope that bigger steps are made soon.

October 3, 2014

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