If you read my piece over at lip mag last week you might have gathered that I have embarked on a weight loss program. As part of this I’ve made a few major changes to my routine, and probably one of the biggest is that I’ve taken up running. The last time I attempted this, working out to a Discman that drained its batteries as soon as you switched to “anti-skip” was the cutting edge of technology, so, yeah, I’ve started out slowly (I am pretty sure I still walk faster). On the bright side, I’m feeling myself get stronger every day and the endorphin surges often make me wonder if it’s legal to feel this good.
Aside from the chemical rush, and the desire to complete the ‘fun run’ I was peer pressured into signing up for, one of my greatest motivators is the exceedingly trashy pop music I’ve designated as my running soundtrack. If it’s upbeat and I know the words, it’s on my phone and generally, I have a lot of fun singing along in my head while my mouth is occupied with breathing heavily (and the rest of my body is trying not to die). I guess everyone does that, huh. Look, I don’t know, I’m not some sort of RUNNING EXPERT, ok?
Because I’m me, I often get distracted from the mind-singing and start thinking about feminist readings of the music I’ve chosen. And then, because I am always on the hunt for blog topics, I resolve to write my musings down. Which brings us to today’s Song I Listen to While Running – the first of what I hope to be many – Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 90s’ classic ‘Baby Got Back”, which also goes out as a “by request” for my friend Bec.
While specifically written to celebrate the beauty of Black women, women of all shapes and ethnicities and colours love this song – as partygoers can generally tell from the piercing squeals that usually accompany Sir Mix-a-Lot’s first declaration of his admiration. “Baby Got Back” is one of those songs which is guaranteed to fill a dancefloor. So what is it abutt (sorry) this song that speaks to so many of us, whether we’re flat- or fuller-cheeked?
While couched in male-gazey terms that concentrate on the sexiness of a big ass and imply that the ultimate point of female beauty is to attract men, our Knight of the Round Thing In Your Face actually gives us a rare tune that promote healthy body image and a positive relationship with the skin we’re in, as well as being fun as hell to dance to.
Sir Mix-a-Lot encourages this, firstly, by using a lot of positive descriptors about “your” body as it currently stands. He wants you to “shake that healthy butt” and equates it to “gold”. He calls a thick ass “juicy”, which calls to mind steak. While at first we might object to the “piece of meat” connotation, steak is delicious and valuable, and Mix-a-Lot never refers to women in a degrading way. Women are equal sexual partners to him – while he lets you know he’s up to “ugh, double up, ugh ugh”, ultimately it’s up to the big-butted girl of his dream to consent (by contacting 1 900 MIXALOT, which I think is probably too many digits).
Additionally, we know that this ideal big butt is healthy, because “red beans and rice didn’t miss her”, meaning that our girl is not on a crazy restrictive diet, but she also does “side bends and sit ups” to maintain her fitness. Further, he warns against unnecessary plastic surgery (because you’re great just the way you are!) by advising that “silicone parts are made for toys”, and he encourages good mental health by referring to negative body self-talk as “nasty thoughts”.
Finally, the good Sir addresses where he thinks these thoughts might come from, by calling out popular culture in the form of Cosmo and rock videos. Although fashions may have changed over the last twenty years (granted, if you look at Miley Cyrus you might have difficulty believing that), the beauty ideal promoted by these influences has not become any more achievable. ‘Baby Got Back’ is a high profile rejection of their standards, and consequently the song becomes relateable to anyone who does not fit the women’s magazine mould.
It’s no wonder so many women feel so positively about ‘Baby Got Back’, and that’s even without looking at the song’s sheer catchiness. Even if your backside is as flat as a pancake, the message that you are beautiful just the way you are – despite what airbrushing might tell you – is impossible to resist. Try not shaking your healthy, natural butt when it’s this appreciated!
Up next: Feminism in gaming: The ‘Monkey Island’ series