On August 4th, 2014, Nicki Minaj dropped her latest single, the immediately catchy “Anaconda,” which samples Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 classic “Baby Got Back.” In the song, Minaj raps proudly about her large derrière and all of her male suitors due to her, um, assets.
The cover art (below), which shows Minaj squatting with her back to the camera in nothing but a thong and a pair of blue trainers, dropped a few weeks earlier and garnered a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Her buzzy single cover has received the coveted meme-treatment (some of the best are featured below alongside the original cover), with parodies ranging from Marge Simpson and Hannah Montana to The Last Supper and Kermit the Frog.
Needless to say, the single cover quickly became an internet phenomenon and continues to make waves.
The song, an infectious marriage between old school 90s hip hop and Minaj’s classic rap style, is hard not to love. Until the very end. In a final throwback to “Baby Got Back,” where Sir Mix-A-Lot ended with “When it comes to females, Cosma ain’t got nothin’ on my selection,” Minaj instead raps: “He love this fat ass / This one is for my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club / I said, Where my fat ass big bitches in the club? / Fuck the skinny bitches / Fuck the skinny bitches in the club / I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the muthafucka club / fuck you if you skinny bitches, what? I got a big fat ass!”
Minaj, who has skirted rumors about having had butt implant surgery for years now, is essentially scoffing at the skinny girls and this isn’t the first time in recent memory where skinny-bashing has been prominent in a mainstream pop music. As body-positive as songs like Colbie Callait’s “Try,” or Mary Lambert’s “Body Love,” Parts I and II, or even John Legend’s “You and I (Nobody in the World)” are, there are just as many songs that women out for being “too skinny.” Songs like Minaj’s “Anaconda” or Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” which a largely body-positive song about being thicker and loving it, have been criticized for promoting skinny-bashing and using the word “bitches” when referring to women. She sings, “I’m bringing booty back / Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that / Nah, I’m just playing, I know you think you’re fat,” which simultaneously puts down thinner girls while also alluding to the idea that even skinny girls think they’re “fat.” This begs the question: is this a positive idea? One HyperReality reader recently commented:
This commenter had a point. I wasn’t sure that I agreed at first; in fact, it admittedly took me some time to really see the destructive nature of “All About That Bass” and that one poorly-thought-out line, but the more I thought about it and the more I took notice of some of the more prominent body positive statements in the media at large, I noticed that there are quite a few who “bash” skinny. This lead me to wonder if it’s possible to promote positive images of curvier bodies without also criticizing those who are considered/labeled “thin” or “skinny”?
In a world that has, for so long, worshipped the shapeless, modelesque form, is it possible to promote “thick” effectively while also praising all body types? Is it possible to create universal acceptance of all body types? Sammi Taylor from Birdee writes:
Size shaming is rife within our media and popular culture, whether it occurs on the ‘skinny’ or ‘fat’ end of the scale. Like I discussed here last year, you can’t scroll through a model or clothing line’s Instagram account without being bombarded with negative weight-related comments. While Trainor is celebrating her curves and voluptuousness, she’s also marginalising [sic] women under a size 8. It’s a double-edged sword—one that she could’ve avoided by simply omitting the line about how being thin and bitchy are apparently synonymous.
Is Taylor right? Has “skinny” become synonymous with “bitchy”?
Is it necessary for women to call each other “bitches?” Isn’t that counter-productive? Unfortunately, with social media being the free speech platform that our forefathers [probably never] envisioned, it’s become commonplace to refer to women as “bitches,” even when ultimately what people are tweeting is meant to be positive:
In a media-driven world that focuses so heavily on labels, the “bitch” label has got to stop. No matter what shape, size, or color, no woman should call another woman a “bitch.” It just makes it more acceptable for men to do it. Logically, the more media allows skinny-bashing, the more it will become acceptable to put others down based on how thin they are.
Earlier this year, Man Vs. Food‘s Adam Richman, who notoriously lost weight through healthy eating and constant exercise, used the hashtag “#Thinspiration” on Instagram, which is usually a term used to promote eating disorders. This took name-calling to a disgusting new level.
Blogger Amber of Adipose Activist explained the significance of the hashtag on her now-viral post “Man Vs. Food. Social Media,” saying:
Now for those of you not hip to the lingo, thinspiration is very popular in pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia circles, generally consisting of pictures of emaciated bodies, mantras like ‘what’s more important, that slice of pizza or a thigh gap?’ and suggestions, tips, and motivation to either starve or purge. (Regardless of whether or not you agree with dieting, starving or purging are things that should never be encouraged.) Without context, thinspiration may not seem like a bad word, but a simple google search proves that it was created by a community of people with eating disorders to inspire each other to continue and celebrate their illnesses.
When a friend tried to explain the hashtag to Richman, he responded with, “DILLIGAF” (Do I look like I give a fuck). When Amber took matters into her own hand by encouraging her followers tell Richman that promoting eating disorders is never justified, this is how he responded:
Not only did he resort to insults, but he didn’t take the serious connotation of “#Thinspiration” as a legitimate concern. Among other truly offensive comments …
Attitudes like his are a huge problem. It’s also the main source of the problem; Richman’s views stemmed from not being educated enough to a) know the power of his celebrity, and b) know how problematic “thinspiration” is. Most people equate “skinny” with “ideal,” and everything else is simply “less.” Even from someone who was formerly fat, like Richman, “thin” was “inspirational,” and if that’s the case, then using simple deductive logic, anything that isn’t thin is not inspirational and therefore wrong.
This is the main issue with skinny-bashing in pop culture, whether it’s intentional or not; even though it may seem like a huge step forward for body positivity when songs like Minaj’s “Anaconda” or Trainor’s “All About That Bass” are released and brought to mainstream radio (and, subsequently, become viral due to their visual content and quotable lyrics, inspiring memes that last a[n internet] lifetime), it’s actually marginalizing more people than it’s supporting and reversing the “#Thinspiration” logic; thick = inspiring, therefore everything else is wrong. The Body Positivity Movement is not actually positive and accomplishing anything if the method used is inherently negative.
Kate Wills wrote a piece for Grazia titled, “I’m Sick of Being Skinny-Bashed” after photos of Kiera Knightley at Chanel were criticized because of her seemingly tiny waist. Wills talks about why she wrote about skinny-bashing:
‘I wasn’t convinced that I should write an article about my experiences of being naturally thin. Firstly because I feel there’s way too much written about women’s bodies and I didn’t want to add to that, but also because I was scared I’d come across as arrogant or whiney and not dissimilar to a certain columnist who claimed it was hard being beautiful, so in built is our notion that thin equals ideal (even though I know first-hand that’s not the case). A lot of friends advised me not to write it, saying “No-one will feel sorry for you, because being skinny is better than being fat.” But I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, I just wanted to make people realise that thin people get judged too, and that slim-shaming is no less hurtful than any other kind of bullying.
The “being skinny is better than being fat” comment is something that I hear a lot. I would be remiss (also: lying) to say that I’ve never said something to that effect before. In college, my four female roommates and I would routinely play a game called “My Fat Is Worse Than Your Fat,” where we’d sit around our apartment and take turns discussing how each of us thought we were fatter than everyone else in the room. It was destructive. So much so that we’d actively put down other people for being “too skinny,” when really we were all just unhappy with how we looked. Isn’t this how it always starts?
On some level, everyone is guilty of shaming someone else for their body, whether it’s our friends, family, frenemies, randoms on the street, or celebrities; I’m both a victim and a perpetrator. We rarely stop and assess how destructive it is to not only those people, but to ourselves and our own psyches as well. Over time, we begin to think that it’s “ok” to skinny- or fat-shame others, ultimately resulting in the development of self-scrutiny, which can easily lead to self-hatred.
All body image issues are cyclical in nature, and they stem from insecurity.
Even BuzzFeed, in all of their objectification-loving ways, compiled a list of the hurtful things people say to someone who is skinny. Things like, “You need to eat something,” “you look like you have an eating disorder,” “you aren’t allowed to have insecurities because of your appearance,” or “you look like a bag of bones.”
Phrases like those are commonplace, so much so that we are desensitized to the fact that they are, in fact, phrases that are intended to make fun of someone being, or point out that someone is, “too skinny.” (The same can be said for the use of the word “bitch.”)
And if you think this is just a problem for women, think again. One (of many echoed) comments on my article, “Sam Smith and the Gay Male Body Archetype,” spoke about being a skinny man among a sea of Adonis-like gay men:
To that effect, blogger and memoirist Nicolas DiDomizio also writes about his struggles with body confidence, describing himself as “thin,” yet often feeling like he’s “too fat.”
People tell me I’m too skinny. In text messages and voicemails and Instagram comments.
Eat carbs while you’re out. Statements like these shouldn’t feel like compliments, except they do. The validation swoops me up and flies me around for maybe a good three seconds, but then it lets go just as quickly, flinging me down into a pit where the words GET YOUR ASS BACK TO THE GYM are etched into the surrounding dirt.
It’s hard to live in a world where a four letter word (BODY) matters so much. It’s hard for skinny men and women. It’s hard for fat men and women. It’s hard for everybody in between searching for a way to categorize themselves, to fit in amongst the muscled, toned models in advertisements and on our TV’s and flexing their various prowess’ in the latest summer blockbusters. We survive by classifying other people. We make sense of the world by creating labels. Labels are comfortable. But they’re also extremely destructive.
In the end, we have to recognize that. We have to stop calling women “bitches” and we have to get out of the mindset that classifying others by their body type is not progressive at all. We can promote healthy body image without destroying others. In fact, it’s the only healthy way to do it.