My friend Haley posted something on Facebook yesterday about how she can't really dig Meghan Trainor's super catchy summer hit, All About That Bass, because it diminishes one body type while glorifying another. Basically, the song posits that if you don't have that boom boom, you're not as worthy as girls who do.
The song is problematic in many ways, from its insistence on basing one's self-esteem on what boys like, to how it uses people of color in the video to validate its hipness, and sexualizes black women's bodies in a way that marginalizes them even further. But let's focus on the skinny shaming for a moment.
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
Chloe from Feministing breaks it down:
… 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 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… 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.
I was on board to agree, because I think skinny shaming is bullshit. All bodies are good bodies, fo' real. And even though I have a big booty, I think it's beyond acceptable to have a flat one, or a small one, or a hirsute one, whatever.
At the same time I was nodding my head in agreement, one of Haley's friends posted an interesting article from Everyday Feminism by Melissa A. Fabello about skinny shaming and why it's not reverse discrimination.
The article isn't long, so I suggest you read it in full. It deals with intersectionality and context of particular types of body shaming. The crux of it is that while all body shaming should be done away with, that skinny shaming doesn't have the same sting as fat shaming, because of the place that thin privilege occupies in our society.
Fat folk? They don’t have the same experiences that I do – because fatphobia (which dictates the fear, disgust, and hatred that the public feels toward fat bodies) exists.
This reminds me of the thousands of conversations I’ve had to have in my life with people who swear that “reverse racism” is a thing – that stereotyping, prejudice, or discrimination of white people is “racist.”
It’s not okay, but it isn’t oppressive. You can’t oppress the people who have social power. That’s not how it works.
Similarly, the reason why skinny-shaming doesn’t exist as equally oppressive as fat-shaming is because there is no additional power behind it.
It’s important to understand that even if individuals shame you, love and appreciation for you is still woven into the fabric of our society.
Denouncing fat women is just reinforcing the same intersection of oppressive structures that people of size deal with day in and day out – and there is no escape from that.
Yep. It's not the same. It still sucks, and I don't love that Meghan Trainor did it, however, it's just not the same. Larger people have to deal with the clout of a whole system that oppresses them. That system is designed to make all of us feel like shit about our bodies in order to sell us more products, it's true; but, I think we can all agree that it's harder for fat people.
Unfortunately, righting the wrongs perpetrated by that system doesn't happen overnight, just because we're aware of it. It's not like every body positive pioneer is going to find the perfect balance of pedagogy that includes everyone's body right off. And that's where Trainor's song may have some merit - because it's a start in the right direction, and because, as Fabello puts it:
Because disenfranchised groups – in this case, I’m talking about groups who have systematically been left out of consideration in the definition of “beauty” – need to be empowered and lifted up to even get to the level that privileged people are.
That’s like if someone uses the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and someone responds with “All lives matter!”
Of course all lives matter. Of course all bodies are deserving of love and praise.
But only some lives – and only some bodies – are given that privilege as a birthright. Everyone else has to be louder in order to get even close to that status.
If we were all equal – if all bodies experienced body-shaming (and even body appreciation!) in the same way – then the argument would hold water. But we’re not, so we don’t, so it doesn’t.
Something can be body-positive and at the same time, leave thin bodies out of the conversation. Because eradicating oppression sometimes means decentering the conversation from around the oppressor.
It's a start. It's not perfect, but it's something.
I still think the song is problematic. Jenny Trout does a brilliant job of debunking Trainor's status as spokeswoman for larger people, since she isn't actually a fat lady. But on the topic of skinny shaming, I'm going to leave it here.
If we are going to start doing the work of dismantling the negative body culture we live in, intersectionality and context are important. I don't think Trainor's song is necessarily anti-feminist; I just think it's flawed. And that's okay, because at least we're having a conversation about it. It's a step forward, even if it's a small, very pastel one.