“All about the Bass” has reached the anthem status in pop culture. It’s a song of revolt against the unrealistic picture of female beauty in our culture. Trainor sings, “I see the magazine workin’ that Photoshop / We know that s* ain’t real, come on now, make it stop.” Trainor’s response? Don’t listen to the culture that creates a cookie cutter beauty. Instead she encourages women with the words “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.”
I’m against the same thing that Trainor is against – a culture that promotes a particular vision of physical beauty to the exclusion of many people. The effect of this visually driven culture is to plunge many girls in a sense of self wherein they evaluate themselves in terms of physical appearance and against a standard that isn’t physically attainable by 99% of the population. I have a daughter, and I am deeply concerned about what this culture could do to her self-esteem. I also have a son, and I worry that he, too, will have a false understanding of feminine (and masculine) beauty. To the degree that Trainor is in revolt against that culture, I’m with her.
But her response is inadequate and, I think, doesn’t actually lead to long-term improved self-image. Now, granted, Trainor is singing a catchy pop song, not writing an essay, so perhaps I’m expecting too much. OK, I’m definitely expecting too much! Nevertheless, her song gives voice to a broad worldview and that worldview is inadequate for at least three reaons.
First, it still gives men too much power to define beauty. For all its supposed girl-power the message of the song still puts a lot of power in the hands of men. “Yeah, my mama she told me “don’t worry about your size” // She says, “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night” And again, “’Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase” What’s the message? If you have that extra “booty” that’s just fine because boys will still want you and will be attracted to you. If I were singing this to my daughter I might say, “Yeah, my mama she told me “don’t worry about your size… because what a man thinks really isn’t all that important anyway!” Instead, Trainor is still stuck justifying why not being a size two is beautiful by saying that it is so because “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.”
Second, it still puts too much emphasis on physical beauty. Yes, it’s a revolt against a narrow vision of beauty but the emphasis is still on outward appearance entirely. This is, unfortunately, about the only place our materialistic age can go. Again, singing Trainor’s lyrics to my daughter I would modify them to be…”don’t worry about your size… because inner beauty is far more important than outer beauty any day!” (I know what you’re thinking, it’s a good thing I don’t write song lyrics.)
Third, it’s a lie. Trainor’s line, “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” sounds good but it’s just not true, and everyone knows it’s not true. No one is physically perfect, no matter what they look like. Telling ourselves we are is just untrue and since we KNOW it to be untrue the encouragement eventually loses its meaning and dies.
So none of us our physically perfect, but guess what, IT DOESN’T MATTER, and that’s the message we need to get across to our Photoshop world.
Is there a better way? I think so – and it comes from recognizing the fact that we are more than our bodies. Our value/worth doesn’t come from men (or women), from external cultural standards of beauty (whatever they may be), from physical beauty, or even from “within.” Our value is given to us by our Eternal Creator. We are created in the image of God, body and soul, and so we are valuable to God, unconditionally, body and soul. In light of this reality physical imperfections or failure to meet particular cultural standards or less than enthusiastic response from members of the opposite sex simply melt away into insignificance – or at least can be understood within a broader perspective.
I was exceedingly self-conscious about my appearance when I was a teenager. An elderly woman said to me on regular occasions something she thought was “cute” but was not particularly helpful, especially at the time: “You’re too pretty to be a boy.” The truth of the matter is that I was humorously skinny, had (and still have) wrists the size of toothpicks, have a gap between my front teeth, had weird purplish stretch marks across my back (that have mostly faded), have an “inverted sternum,” and have freakishly long second toes. I met no cultural standards for masculine beauty. These are all things I cared a lot about as a teenager. Two things got me out of that funk. First, maturity that comes with age and provides perspective. Second, the realization that my worth was eternally secure in my Creator.