Barbie has retained her French-manicured grip on American society for a pretty long time now, wreaking havoc on girls and women’s body confidence all along the way. There have been countless attempts to overthrow her reign, like the “Lammily” doll, while others revel in the worship of her plastic glamor, as iconic fashion designer Moschino’s spring 2015 collection exemplifies.
Meghan Trainor leads the most recent rebellion in her music video, “All About That Bass.” Trainor’s feel-good song might have good intentions, but it has a few flaws, too.
First of all, it’s fantastic that she’s criticizing Barbie and media usage of Photoshop, which create impossible body ideals. But, Trainor’s jab at Barbie’s unhealthy monopoly on beauty unfortunately creates a monopoly of her own.
She celebrates her curves, yet she uses derogatory terms for skinny women and sings, “I know you think you’re fat.” While when she then adds, “I’m here to tell ya every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top,” it rings false, especially considering that the only skinny woman in the music video is constantly pushed and ridiculed by the curvier dancers. This seems to be fulfilling yet another singular beauty ideal, one in which curvy women have “all the right junk in all the right places” and skinny women are told their bodies aren’t good enough.
Songs that are meant to spread positive body messages should not promote one over another, and the comparison is unhealthy in itself. The way she frames her conception of beauty is divisive and antagonizing at its core — it’s not uniting women but rather breaking them apart.
Her second mistake is justifying her body size based on what men desire. She sings, “Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size/ She says, ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.’” Even if it’s true, self-confidence should not be linked to someone else’s desire. A person should value his or her body in and of itself. If the ultimate goal is to feel good about yourself and your body, then the first step is making your body about you and not about anybody else.
Relate to your body the way you would relate to any other thing that you love. For instance, ice cream. You love ice cream. It makes you happy. It’s a good source of calcium. If someone hates, truly despises, ice cream, that wouldn’t detract from your pure love of ice cream in any way. Now try that thinking with your body.
It’s interesting to note that while Trainor shuts down Barbie, she keeps Ken around in the video. While she rejects the Barbie ideal for herself, she holds fast to the Ken representation. Notice that the overweight man is left dancing alone. What does this say about men and the body norms they face?
Women might have the spotlight when it comes to body image issues, but unattainable standards take their toll on men, too.
Jessica Lovejoy makes a crucial point in her article, “Body Image Issues Are Not Just For Women,” saying, “Only within the last few years have fuller-figured women been in the media. We have our own plus-size models and clothing stores that cater from size 14 upward, and even chain stores carry plus-size clothing. The fuller-figured gentleman does not have this luxury. You will almost never see a heavyset lumberjack-esque man gracing the cover of a clothing catalogue. Or a fashion magazine. Or an in-store poster.”
Some male celebrities obviously do not fit this model mold and are still featured in the public eye, but she’s right that most men in advertisements are extremely athletic and muscular. The media does not make a big deal out of accepting a large variety of male body types the way it recently has with women. Healthy body campaigns like Dove’s “Real Beauty” and aerie’s “aerie Real” do not have male counterparts. A British newspaper called “The Sun” filled this gap with their article, “What real men would look like in pants ads,” in which they juxtaposed high-end underwear advertisements, including one featuring David Beckham, with photos of four regular men posing in the same underwear. The result: average men look nothing like the Photo-shopped images of men who resemble Ken dolls.
Yes, you read that right, Photo-shopped. The media push stereotypical masculinity to the extreme with a little Photoshop magic. Even “Men’s Fitness,” a magazine that should be promoting a healthy body attitude, released a cover photo that was straight out of science fiction.
What is the effect of these unrealistic representations of men? According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “An estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male” and “Men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they are ‘woman’s diseases.’” Men also can react to body dysmorphia by using steroids. Body anxiety starts at a young age, and the Association says, “81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.”
Fat should not be a fear-inducing word, and neither should skinny. These are two extremes, which many people naturally fall into, and there is also much space in between. All body types qualify as beautiful and real, even if they are a minority of the spectrum. There should be no hierarchy of body types that rates one over another.
If we’re going to defeat Barbie and Ken once and for all, we cannot replace them with other dolls to fill their tiny, plastic shoes.