First things first: I know this song came out a long time ago. I’d love to tell you that the reason I have taken this long to address it is that I wanted to be very careful and deliberate about how I broke down exactly what is wrong with the song and its message. Unfortunately, the truth is that I am lazy. I mean, I just traded Wes Welker for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in my Connected Franchise in Madden ’15, so OBVIOUSLY I had to play like six more hours of Madden to see how that worked out. Really well, if you’re curious.
Regardless, the song is still on Spotify’s current Top 100, so it’s not all that irrelevant yet. Let’s dive right in.
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
All the right junk in all the right places
Already, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. There is no worse way to finish the sentence “I may be overweight, but that’s ok…” than with the disclaimer “…because guys still want me.” You are criticizing unrealistic standards of beauty and the over-sexualization of women by willfully sexualizing yourself even more. I’ll summarize, for the cheap seats:
Your sense of self-worth should not be dictated by whether other people want to fuck you.
I see the magazines working that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real Come on now, make it stop
This is a fair and valid point. I see what you’re saying. Let’s look at a recent example of a magazine cover that got a lot of attention.
This is Hannah Davis, and she is stunningly attractive. Toned belly, piercing eyes, defined cheekbones, etc. I know attractiveness is a somewhat subjective ideal — as evidenced by the fact that for every crude sexual comment on a photo like this, there will be at least as many saying something along the lines of “she’s too skinny for me, I prefer a little meat on my women” — but that’s an attractive woman.
Now, people like Meghan Trainor would have you believe that part of the reason this woman is so attractive is that she has been artificially altered in Photoshop. That body and face are literally unattainable standards because even she, the subject of the photo, doesn’t look like that. I have some experience with retouching portraits, and I can assure you that part of that is true.
I can tell just by looking that the shading on her cleavage has been (somewhat sloppily) enhanced — fit girls don’t usually have big boobs — and that her eyes have been brightened. I’d venture a guess that her skin has been smoothed a bit, especially in…ahem…the area immediately adjacent to the bikini, though it’s hard to tell at this distance. Maybe a freckle or two has been taken off. Maybe a few errant wisps of hair have been tamed. Plus lighting and color correction, and that’s about it.
Her waist almost certainly hasn’t been made smaller, as that would involve pinching the photo inward and that would fuck up her arms to the extent that you’d notice. It’s possible that the gap between her thighs has been widened a bit; that’d be easy, but it also wouldn’t be necessary because that effect is already achieved by the slight spread of her legs and the fact that she’s tilting her hips back. It’s way easier to accomplish this stuff with posing and lighting and stuff before you take the shot than to fix it in Photoshop.
But do you really think that even without all that, she wouldn’t still be more beautiful than basically anyone you’ve ever seen? Here’s a picture of her making a stupid face, taken on a cell phone, posted to Instagram.
If you look closely at that photo, you’ll notice that she is still REALLY REALLY RIDICULOUSLY GOOD-LOOKING. Sure, you say, but she’s a professional model. She’s in the elite, looks-wise. Well here’s another girl. She’s not a model, just a random person.
That’s an un-retouched photo, and she’s still prettier than almost anyone I’ve ever met in real life.
My point is not to show you photos of beautiful women to make you feel worse about the fact that you’re not as beautiful as they are. My point is that these women DO exist. I’ve met them. There are girls at my gym who are just shockingly beautiful. And their existence means that if you are taking some sort of vindictive solace in the idea that such gorgeous people are fictional, constructed by graphic artists and photographers and makeup artists, you are deluding yourself.
I personally am under no illusions that the bodies displayed by the likes of Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans and Chris Pratt (what is it with hot guys named Chris?) aren’t actually what they look like, but nor do I hold myself to that standard. That’s the key.
There will always be phenomenally beautiful people in the world. There will always be people with looks or intelligence or talent that is so vastly beyond your own that it is completely pointless for you to even dream about it, let alone to feel bad about yourself for not matching it. Do you fret, day-to-day, because you’re not as smart as Stephen Hawking or as fast as Usain Bolt? Of course not. This is the same thing.
Which brings me to the next part of the song.
If you got beauty beauty just raise ’em up
‘Cause every inch of you is perfect From the bottom to the top
NO IT IS NOT. YOU ARE NOT PERFECT, AND IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU REALIZE THAT AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. Anyone who has ever told you that you were perfect has been doing you more harm than good. Do you know why? Because if people tell you you’re good at everything, you’ll never know what you’re really good at. If people tell you you have no flaws, you’ll never bother fixing them. And if someone tells you that you’re perfect, you will never try to improve. You aren’t perfect. You’ll never be perfect. And that’s a wonderful thing. You know what people who think they’re perfect contribute to the world? Nothing.
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size
She says, boys they 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.
What a great lesson, MOM. Tell your daughter not to worry about her size, not because your size is an irrelevant characteristic of who a person is, but because BOYS WANT MORE BOOTY. This is qualitatively the same lesson as “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun,” which is widely reviled as one of the more shallow and misogynistic songs ever written. The last two lines are what is known as a false dichotomy. No one is saying that you need fake boobs or a face botoxed into oblivion to be beautiful. But there is a middle ground between “fat” and “Barbie,” and you are ignoring it.
I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
Let’s do a mental exercise. Imagine some different female singer — someone fit and thin. Like Shakira (super current reference, I know).
Imagine she wrote a song explaining how fat women aren’t pretty. Imagine it included the line “I’m bringing body back / go ahead and tell them chubby bitches that.” Imagine the apocalyptic shitstorm that would come from that. People would lose their fucking minds accusing her of denigrating the young girls who look up to her and don’t have the bodies she does. And they’d be justified in doing so. This is exactly the same thing.
Like I mentioned in my post about Aerie, fat women like Meghan do not have a monopoly on “real.” There are millions of fit, attractive women in the world who are nice people and deserve validation just as much as you do. You don’t get to make fun of them for not having “all the right junk in all the right places” any more than they should get to make fun of you for being fat.
Sure, she pretends to salvage it in the next line with “I’m just playin’ I know you think you’re fat,” but what kind of a save is that? That line implies that though the “skinny bitches” might think they’re fat, they’re actually not, which would be reassuring if you hadn’t been droning on this whole time about how being fat is better because boys like your booty. And you can’t pretend to skirt the issue with the “every inch of you is perfect” line because if you thought it were true, you wouldn’t have just DIRECTLY SAID THE OPPOSITE OF THAT. If we are to interpret the “bass” that you’re all about as the sort of hefty girl that Trainor herself is, then the repetition of “no treble,” not to mention all the shit about what boys like, is pretty clear. Fat > skinny. That’s the message of the song. Would you like to see the only good thing to come out of that song?
And that brings me to my final criticism of this song and the movement that accompanies it. I will concede without hesitation that to tell women that they have to look like Victoria’s Secret models is ridiculous and possibly dangerous. Most of those women are probably underweight. But there has been an overcompensation in the other direction, along the lines of “I’ll never look like that, so why bother.” Girls are told that they should be happy with their own bodies because they’re perfect just the way they are, and that’s horseshit. There is always room for improvement, and if you’re fat, that improvement is important for your continued longevity. There is no such thing, despite the protestations of many, as “healthy at every size.”
The excuses are legion. Genetics cause my weight gain. My knees are bad because I played soccer in high school. I actually work out all the time. Do you want me to starve myself? And there are obviously fat people who are healthier than other fat people. Fat offensive linemen in the NFL are healthier than their sedentary counterparts with the same height and weight watching them on TV and shoveling queso sauce into their mouths. But they are undeniably less healthy than the linebackers on the other side of the ball, who are just as tall and weigh 100 pounds less. They all work just as hard and eat just as well, but the fat guys are at substantially greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, and a multitude of other issues than their thinner counterparts. All else being equal, having more fat will kill you faster, and that’s a fact.
That’s why I don’t like it when girls are told to embrace their overweight bodies because it’s pointless to covet the stick figures they see in catalogs. There is a middle ground. “Skinny” shouldn’t be a compliment, it should be a deviation from healthy in the same way that “fat” is. It should be something to be improved upon. Here is an picture of a skinny girl next to a fit girl.
DO YOU SEE THE DIFFERENCE? You don’t have to starve yourself, just eat healthy stuff and exercise a reasonable amount. Fit girls don’t all have thigh gaps or bikini bridges or whatever the fuck else is going around the pages of teen magazines. They are healthy. And that is a different thing.
You don’t have to look like a model; they’re all ridiculously thin. You don’t have to be a “stick figure silicone Barbie doll.” Plastic surgery and makeup are not changing who you are as a person, they’re just appearances. You don’t have to shave your armpits. You have no obligation to resemble, in any way, the women on the covers of the magazines in the grocery store checkout aisle. If you want to, fine. It doesn’t matter. Your priorities are your own.
But you should feel bad about being overweight. Just as you should feel bad if you smoke or if you sniff glue or do coke or heroin or meth or whatever. You are putting yourself in a situation where your health is in jeopardy, as you have every right to do, but I sure as shit don’t have to respect that choice.
It’s a bad choice.