Look at J. Lo's butt! (Credit: YouTube)
If you're like me and roughly a billion other people currently inhabiting planet Earth, you haven't been able to get "Because I'm all about that bass, bout that bass, no treble"—the impossibly catchy hook from the new Meghan Trainor song—out of your head. (And if you have gotten it out of your head, it's probably now back in there. #Sorrynotsorry.)
The booty-loving jam comes on the heels of J. Lo's "Booty" (with its Iggy Azalea remix) and Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda." Naturally, all three videos feature plenty of gratuitous shots of juicy, jiggling butts.
Might as well face it: It's a big booty world, and we're just living in it.
On one level, this renewed vigor for some meat on the bones is good—great even. It defies the ever-enduring, ever-damaging skinny-girl ideal, celebrating the curves that are natural for so many women. Shake that tail feather! You are sexy too! I get why Trainor et. al. are being called empowering for celebrating a different body type.
But—and I say this as a proud size-12 big-bootied girl myself—I don't think these big butt songs are ultimately as empowering as they seem.
Skinny vs. Meaty
The problem with our pop cultural fixation on female body parts isn't which body part is being focused on—it's the fixation itself. These songs, which aim to celebrate the female form, still reduce women to the sum of their physical parts—and in doing so, propagate that damning social more of female competition.
"All About The Bass," for its part, has already faced backlash from skinny girls who feel the tune disses them. Are they to feel inferior because they do wear a size two and don't have the "boom boom that all the boys chase"? The video features a stereotypically thin, model-esque woman literally getting knocked around, in what I suppose is meant to make us "big" girls pump our fists and scream "Yeah, get her! GET THAT SKINNY BITCH!" before laughing maniacally and diving in for another handful of Doritos.
J. Lo's "Booty" is similarly focused on highlighting not just how her butt is great, but how it's better. As guest "artist" Pitbull raps in the original version of the song:
"Baby your booty is a movie star
Oscar award winner of them all"
Because as we all know, women are constantly competing for the "best butt" Oscar award.
Nicki Minaj, naturally, is the most explicit of the bunch. In "Anaconda," she amps up the competitive angle by proselytizing:
"Fuck those skinny bitches,
Fuck those skinny bitches in the club
I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the motherfucking club, fuck you if you skinny bitches. What? Yeah!"
One could argue that it's OK for bigger-bootied sistren to assert dominance over the—what was that again, Nicki?—"skinny bitches" of the world. Thin women are in a position of privilege because they've been the chosen beauties for so long, and all that. But must we really celebrate big butts by deriding small ones? Does there always have to be at least one body type that's not as "good" as the others, leaving some subset of women clamoring to try to feel better about their loathsome, not-as-sexy selves?
What The Boys Want
A competitive element isn't the only thing hindering these faux-empowering songs from truly emboldening women. All of them are also explicit in preaching not self-love, but love for what the boys want.
To quote the "All About That Bass" refrain:
"Yeah, my mama she told me don't worry about your size
She says, 'Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.'"
Well, if the boys like it!
J. Lo's "Booty" makes this dynamic even more explicit by bringing in Pitbull to serve as the crucial male judge, assuring J. Lo that indeed, her butt is really, really sexy. Moreover, he claims said booty as his possession, undermining any notion that the tune is about J. Lo celebrating how her butt makes her feel.
"So much booty, she could supply the demand
I wanna take that big 'ol booty shopping at the mall
I wanna pick it up and put that booty in my car"
(Sidebar: Pitbull, you do realize a butt is not detachable, right?)
The "Booty" remix, while replacing Pitbull with Iggy Azalea, is really no better; it just gives Azalea the role of playing up what the boys want:
"They begging me to drop down on it but right now Iggy on the top . . .
See everybody wanna get a taste
You know that we've got enough to share"
As for Minaj, her entire song heavily samples from Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back"—so it's essentially built on the foundation of a man celebrating the female ass.
A really empowering body image song wouldn't focus on pleasing men, or put down one group of women to celebrate another. It would espouse the virtues of skinny women, meaty women, flat women, busty women, women with no asses and women with Kim Kardashian-esque asses, with nary a mention of man-pleasing in sight. Better yet—here's a thought—it wouldn't be about the female body at all.
Sorry Meghan Trainor, but I think most women would agree they're not, in fact, "all about that bass."