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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Earworm Weekly – “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor

Posted By on Tue, May 3, 2016 at 12:31 PM


I've mentioned before that I am of the nonstandard body type commonly known as “fat.” Not only that, but I've been a fat activist for many years now – someone who actively works for the rights and dignity of fat folks.

My very first publishing credits were as the health columnist for the landmark zine Fat Girl. If you're guffawing at the idea of a health columnist for fat folks, then you might want to do a bit of basic reading before proceeding. On the other hand, if you're dying to get a hold of paper copies of Fat Girl, guess what's currently living in my basement?

Wait! You cry. I thought this was a music column! Well, this week my earworm is Meghan Trainor's “All About That Bass,” the super-catchy surprise hit that praises the well-upholstered form.

As it happens, I am not all about that bass. Or treble. I would not describe myself as “curvy,” unless you mean the great swooping curve of a capital O. I am round. I am an apple. I am fat. But it's rare enough to hear a song in praise of girls “of size” that I will happily overlook this fact for now. I will overlook a lot for the sake of this song, whose retro style and lighthearted charm won over not just me, but enough fans to temporarily knock Taylor Swift's “Shake It Off” out of the number one Billboard slot in the waning days of summer 2014.

Casual listeners and non-activist types may be surprised to learn that “All About That Bass” is controversial among the fat-and-proud crowd. In radical fatty circles, this song came under fire for its line about “skinny bitches.”

If we're working toward a body-positive world, the argument goes, we shouldn't be shaming anyone about their body shape. Hating on skinny chicks does not advance the cause, because it just swaps one body ideal for another without challenging the spurious idea that some bodies are better than others in the first place.
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In theory, I sympathize. In practice, we still live in a world where people will not only proudly self-identify as skinny bitches, they will launch a best-selling series of diet and advice books with that phrase as their brand. (The title of the original book should really have been “Sanctimonious Vegan,” but apparently that phrase has less sell-through appeal.)

The lyric in “All About That Bass” hardly even aspires to the level of mean found in, say, the average Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello song, much less the annals of classic hip-hop disses or the latest emo breakup tune. In other words, I think the thin-and-pretty crowd can take care of themselves; one of the other principles of social justice politics is that the balance of power makes a difference.

“Skinny bitch” is a hundred times less vicious than “fat bitch” because being a skinny bitch is, in fact, still a state some aspire to. Even if everyone hates you, you'll never get kicked off a plane or overlooked for a job; your doctor won't lecture you about your figure and “height-weight proportional” still won't be a phrase that excludes you from anything.

Trainor is cute and sings bubblegum pop with a Betty Boop voice. Apparently as a consequence, she is required to be sugar-sweet and super-nice at all times. (How feminist!) But I like this song better with its bracing hint of vinegar.

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Lori Selke


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