Two months ago, singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor released her song “All About That Bass” on YouTube, where it has been gaining attention for its poppy pastel message about body positivity. The song has gone viral, with Trainor performing the song on mainstream talk shows like Kelly and Michael.
Trainor, 21, started writing and performing songs 10 years ago and also has experience as a music producer. With lyrics like “Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size / She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” “All About That Bass” is light, fun and flirty, with a cute pastel doll-themed video to boot. It’s the latest in a series of Internet beauty revolutions that stress that there’s more to a beautiful person than the, in Trainor’s words, “size two…stick figure Barbie doll” that populates most mass media.
Trainor’s video surfaced just three months after another singer-songwriter, Meghan Tonjes, started Booty Revolution, a body positive movement of her own. Tonjes, who has a strong YouTube following for her music, reached out to the Internet after a picture of her underwear “butt selfie” was flagged and taken down from Instagram.
Instagram butt selfies are nothing new. However, Tonjes is plus-sized, so the picture was flagged as inappropriate and taken down Tonjes, who described her reaction as “confused and annoyed,” took her complaints to the Internet (after all, if we’re going to subject ourselves to butt selfies on Instagram, shouldn’t all butts be treated equally?), and the response started the “Booty Revolution” (#bootyrevolution, under which people post butt selfies—anonymous or not—and usually on Fridays). As Tonjes states in her Booty Revolution video, the movement isn’t just limited to butts—people are encouraged to post pictures about anything they take pride in that they’ve been made to feel ashamed of (emphasis on body parts, though).
I love body positive campaigns, and I’ve seen a greater variety of sizes in beauty ads as well as articles discussing “skinny privilege” like this one. However, it’s important to look at body positivity in context.
For example, one of the comments on the skinny privilege article called body size the “final discrimination frontier.” Set aside the concept of a “final discrimination frontier” for a minute (I don’t think we can have a final frontier when discrimination is still very much alive and well on all the other frontiers) and take into account that the default Barbie beauty ideal, the one that these and other beauty revolutions are attempting to combat, is a white one. Beauty standards stand alone from race as much as sexuality standards stand alone from gender: they don’t.
Also, let’s address the foolish idea that all other types of discrimination are of the past and we only need to focus on combatting the shaming of white women now. With the seemingly everyday accounts of racism, heterosexism, gender discrimination and trans-misogyny bombarding social media, it seems ludicrous that someone would suggest body shaming is the “final frontier of discrimination.”
Different races have different beauty standards. The fact that this isn’t acknowledged in mainstream media is evidence enough that the body positivity movement is still very much a white woman’s movement. Curvy women of color have experienced discrimination and shaming for these same features for centuries. Sarah Baartman, for example, was exploited as a freak show for her features, even after her death.
Trainor’s song sends a great message, but it’s important to recognize that its take on beauty standards is limited. Though the song doesn’t only sing about one type of beauty (Trainor sings “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”), the lyrics and the dancing in the video emphasize curvy butts.
Thing is, a curvy butt is appreciated if you look Black or Latina (perhaps the reason why the people of color in the video are Black—other minorities are noticeably absent). It’s also worthwhile to notice how cute and adorable Megan Trainor’s body positivity message is considered while artists Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj are very much frowned upon when they show off their rears or brag about their curves.
That said, Trainor’s song comes under the burden of representation. There aren’t a lot of catchy body positive songs out like Meghan Trainor’s that paint body types in a good light without falling into the trap of fetishization. “All About That Bass” celebrates curves, but the song isn’t just about lifting up curvy women. The song features men and women of different sizes. Arguably, Trainor doesn’t even put down people who decide to look like “stick figure Barbie dolls.” She just sings about that image not being her thing.
Campaigns like Meghan Trainor’s and Megan Tonjes’ are encouraging women to be proud of their curves which is fantastic. Though the face of these campaigns are curvy white women, which isn’t a huge departure from what society already considers beautiful, I can only hope this means we’re beginning to come to a place where are all women are hailed for their beauty regardless of their size or shape.