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Music videos raise new body image debate

By Keontá Bender, Point Park News Service:

In Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” the rapper and her cast are constantly shaking their butts to the beat of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Nicki Minaj. Photo:
Nicki Minaj. Photo:

Another big hit, “Booty,” depicts Jennifer Lopez revealing all of her curves in various scenes, covered in oil and water.

Singer Megan Trainor’s  “All About That Bass” highlights a diverse group of dancers who are different shapes and sizes.

The music industry is having a revived booty call — with more videos showing the posteriors of women gyrating and shaking — reigniting the debate on body images of women and raising questions about whether sexual exploitation has become the norm in videos on MTV and other music networks.

“Research indicates that the media can lead to negative consequences like low self-esteem,” said Sarah Schulz, professor of behavioral science at Point Park University.

The debate about body image has played out in the media — whether it’s fashion models on the runway or women on the cover of magazines whose images are digitally altered to unrealistic sizes. In some cases, dissatisfaction of the body can lead to depression, eating disorders, anxiety and low self-esteem, experts say.

“While many women want to feel sexy, most do not want to feel like a sexual object. Many songs today sexualize and objectify women, reducing them to objects to touch and ogle; of course, there are songs that mention women’s curves that are appreciative without being objectifying, for example, the song ‘All of Me’ (by singer-songwriter John Legend) comes to mind,” said body image expert Robyn Silverman in an interview via email.

In the music video for “Anaconda,” half-naked women appear in various themes such as in the jungle, in the gym while doing workouts and against a white backdrop grinding on chairs while Minaj raps the lyrics to her song.

The “Booty” video depicts an intergalactic countdown which leads to Lopez and female rapper Iggy Azalea gyrating on each other.

Trainor expresses the importance of self-esteem and confidence through a colorful doll-like theme dancing with women, posing as dolls and mocking digital editing.

“It’s not embracing women, but it’s degrading us further. Instead of shaming women for being too curvy or overweight as our generation experienced, we’re now shaming women for not being curvy enough,” said Gabrielle Davis, a sophomore advertising and public relations major at Point Park University.

Others see the trend as portraying women as objects rather than people.

“Focusing on certain body parts on women objectifies them because it’s taking away the fact they have also have a brain,” Schulz said.

Some people say these videos and their messages should be viewed as a compliment. While others think they offer something to teach young women.

“It’s hard for girls to be confident nowadays. Since this song came out, it’s not what we’re used to,” said Chloe Bendis, a sophomore mass communications major.

This can be seen as an empowerment because it’s defying the norm of body image, Schulz said. These songs are giving the performer a platform to express their message and feelings about certain situations, she said, but it’s only challenging the mainstream, not the industry.

“It’s trying to break stereotypes that the only desire is thin,” she said, “but it still focuses on physical attributes more than others. It can be empowerment for the individual.”

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