A couple of weeks ago, I tuned into the Billboard Music Awards ceremony for a little while. During the ceremony they were honoring Beyonce for her lifetime musical achievements, showing people talking about her and her legacy. One thing that these talking heads were saying was about how great an influence she was for females around the globe. Now, I am not entirely familiar with Beyonce’s catalog of work, but this seemed like a bit of a stretch to me. I know that 2 of her hits: “Irreplaceable” and “All the Single Ladies” both lyrically declare some sort of independence from men, a theme which I am sure has been helpful to some women (although let’s be honest, Beyonce did not write either of these songs and was dating Jay-Z when both were at the height of their popularity), but I can’t think of any of her songs being particularly feminist or even pro-women.
The true problem I had with the entire spectacle was that when Beyonce came out to sing one of her new singles “Run the World (Girls)”. This song is all about how men have had their chance to run the world and it is now time to for women to run it. Now this is a sentiment that I agree with. Women’s opinions and views have been neglected for years in America and their certainly should be more women in power positions. However, Beyonce’s hit really just takes all the chauvinism found within male lead hip-hop and changes it into a female chauvinism. She brags about women having money and running the club and “endless power”. The chorus spills out:
“My persuasion can build a nation
Our love we can devour
You’ll do anything for me”
Rather trying to empower women, she almost seems to be teaching women to use seduction to manipulate their way into power. These lyrics accompanied with the performance of the song certainly make it seem so. Her outfit was of the typical shining, midriff baring, mini-skirt worn by most pop stars. These things combined really does nothing to bring women into any sort of real power position whatsoever, but rather furthers the image that women are no more than pretty faces and should count for nothing more than sex appeal. Females who declare that women are on an equal level with men, yet flaunt their perfect bodies around are simply using the oldest trick in the book to gain attention, one used by nearly every single advertising agency: sex appeal. There is a hypocrisy that exists within pop culture, especially with those celebrities who desire to be “role models” to all their tween fans, but still dress in barely there outfits and have sensual dance routines.
Even Lady Gaga, who declares that all were “born this way”, a message saying you do not have to worry about who you are or what you look like and that you should be perfectly content with it has a perfectly skinny body that she chooses to show off in her photoshoots and music videos. I suppose the argument could be made that they are simply confident in themselves and thus want to show off proudly, but when your body is “perfect” like most who make it in that industry, are you truly going to be an aid to empowering the countless girls who are scared to death that they look ugly? Or are too fat? Or aren’t pretty enough? Is this not part of the reason for why diseases like anorexia or bulimia develop? Or why sexuality is given up at such an early age?
The television show The Biggest Loser ran an ad a few weeks ago about its season finale. It showcased all the weight lost throughout the competition and worked its way through all the season’s most touching moments. In the background the song “Just the Way You Are” played triumphantly a seemingly perfect fit to wrap up the show. But, as my brother pointed out to me, this is the exact opposite of what should be playing for this TV show. The song is all about singer Bruno Mars loving a girl just the way she is. This means no change. Exactly. At this moment. How she is. The TV show on the other hand, is all about changing who you are by developing better exercise and eating patterns. While this is overall a good thing (except for maybe the part where they do the makeovers), you are giving the wrong impression by stating “just the way you are”, because their motivation was based on discontentment with the way they were (albeit probably healthy discontentment).
That song, in and of itself, does seem to deliver a good message, but if you watch the music video, you will see that really he is singing to a gorgeous woman who is perfectly dressed and made up. This makes the song lose its merit. He loves her just the way she is, well at least when she looks perfect… If the video had shown him singing to someone who is not the ideal image of beauty within our society, then it would truly make the song meaningful. Instead, it just serves as a song to butter up women’s hearts as Bruno Mars does so well.
My final complaint when it comes to women’s body image and the hypocrisy of “role models” is aimed at Disney. Although Disney has done a decent job of making it princesses multi-racial, it has not done anything to vary their body types. Each and every Disney princess has the same body type, all having unimaginably skinny waists. Some even wear the midriff baring outfits we discussed earlier. I do not know how much this affects women, but I imagine it has got to have some effect that as a little girl there is a 95% chance you will not look like the princess you adore; even if subconsciously. Disney, have you ever thought of making a bigger girl your new princess image? Or would that not sell?
This whole thing reminds me of the image of rich people sitting around at a fancy dinner discussing what to do about poverty. While they may have a good heart, they are missing the point. These celebrities, especially those who claim to want to empower women and make them feel special are all doing it from the place of having both riches and the perfect body. Sure they may have worked hard to get there, but it sets a standard that is nearly impossible to replicate, leading most who try to end in failure. We need role models who will stand up and lead by example, who will say that you do not have to have the riches, glory, hotness, and fame to be special and that you truly are “amazing, just the way you are”.
Author’s Note: These are mere observations, I do not fully understand what it is like to be a girl and what body image is like for women, but hope to understand this fuller and better in order to create true equality for men and women.