Is All About that Bass a net positive message?

This isn’t the first time I mention this song on here. But I’ve been thinking about the lyrics a lot recently as it continues to play on the radio at the gym. A conversation on twitter yesterday with @AprilTara spurred me to put my thoughts on the blog. At first blush, the lyrics seem to be a positive antidote to the rampant Photoshopping and fat-shaming we’ve been railing about in vain for at least two decades:

I see the magazines working that Photoshop
We know that shit ain’t real, come on now, make it stop
If you got beauty beauty just raise ’em up
Cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top


You know I won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll
So, if that’s what’s you’re into then go ahead and move along

So we have, what The Industry considers a plus-sized person on TV. She’s famous and in a music video. This continues a trend that started as a mere trickle with female artists like Missy Elliott. It seems to be picking up some steam although there may be a combination of hesitation and a lack of pipeline (people not getting into music in the first place because they don’t see people like them represented). But, yeah, both those lyrics posted above are exactly the type of message I’d like my daughter to hear. I know women who dealt with body issues and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

But then there are the more troubling lyrics:

Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase


Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size
She says, boys like a little more booty to hold at night

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the lyrics are hetero-normative. After all, it’s still the default assumption in America. What troubles me about the lyrics is that they are still basing the woman’s self-worth in the hands of others. It goes from other women to men. That’s not really all that healthy. Your self-worth always needs to come from within or else you’re putting others in charge of whether you feel good or not. I think that’s a state of mind that makes someone more vulnerable to verbal and emotional abuse because if the other doesn’t think you look good, what do you do?

There’s a second troubling aspect and that’s that her self-worth is not just in the hands of others, but rooted in sexuality. This one is harder for me to articulate well because, frankly, I think that most of the time the only reason any of us care about what we look like (outside of work) is to look attractive to others (whether or not we’re looking for a mate, sexual encounter, etc). I guess it’s also a natural consequence of the self-worth being held by others. Why does anyone care what you look like except if they want sex?

Of course there’s also the hetero nature of the song. I think by itself it doesn’t matter – you write what you know. Even if Ms Trainor didn’t write the songs, they should still be consistent with the image she wants to portray. I think it is really only worth being brought up in the context of the other two points. If this is an aspirational song about caring about what you look like being defined by others – “Don’t worry about the Photoshop girls because the boys like big butts.” Then what if you like girls? Do girls like big butts? If they DON’T, then DO you worry about looking like a Photoshop girl?

Why waste time and electrons writing about a stupid pop song? Well, I think a pop song is like a sports star. On their own it’s idiotic to consider them role models to kids. They’re just people who are good at doing things with balls of different sizes (no double entendre). But if a sports star goes out of his way to be a role model – having a kid’s foundation or something – THEN he or she has a responsibility to try and act in a way to be a good role model to children. I think the same goes for this song – the message is an important one that affects lots of girls and women. We’ve been trying to get traction on this issue for years. So if you’re going to wade into this issue, you need to be ready for criticism when you are perceived as falling short.

So, two steps forward and one step back. But also a catchy pop song; an earworm.

2 responses to “Is All About that Bass a net positive message?”

  1. I heard a lot of talk about this song when it blew up and how instead of fat-shaming, it’s skinny-shaming. Which is kind of a thing. It’s such a weird line to walk.

    How you look impacts how people treat you which impacts your self-esteem. It’s almost impossible to not tie your looks to your self worth in some way. But this song feels like it’s still telling me to look a certain way. It’s like toned down version of Anaconda or that Booty song by J-Lo.

    Maybe it’s just a weird interpretation of the message. That you need a big butt, or be able to “shake it” or have “all the right curves in all the right places” – it just doesn’t feel like full body acceptance. We all know where those curves shouldn’t be. And it just adds one more thing that women can try to work towards.

    This quote from Tina Fey is pretty much explains it:

    • There’s definitely an element of skinny-shaming to it. I think that’s why she has the line, “I know you think you’re fat” which is supposed to be an apology or empathetic line to skinny people. Overall it’s tough, right? Because the default way that humans make themselves feel better is to focus on what they have that is better than others. “He may be a jock, but you’re smart”, etc. Perhaps we need to work as a culture at better celebrating the best of each of us without having to look at the negatives of others.