Why Anaconda doesn’t body-shame nor is anti-feminist

August 28, 2014
Body and Soul, Cara Rage, Feminism, In the News, Music Love, Rants

Nicki-Minaj-Anaconda

Unless you’ve been living under a big ol’ rock, you’ve probably heard some of the fuss about Nicki Minaj’s new song ‘Anaconda’. If not, a brief summary is that people don’t like it, they think it body-shames (specifically, skinny women) and that it’s anti-feminist. Which is a direct rebuttal to the people saying that the film clip can actually be considered empowering and doesn’t skinny-shame at all. I would like to say right now that I fall into the latter category completely. I’ve never been that big a fan of Nicki, I mean I love her image to death but her songs just aren’t quite my thing, which sucks because I am ALL about supporting black, female rappers in a misogynistic industry like the rap music scene. Before I get into why I like this particular song, I urge you to watch the clip now, even if you have already seen it, as I will reference it a couple of times:

OK so one of the first things people point out about this song is her use of “skinny bitches”. I’ll admit when I first listened to it I thought “great, skinny shaming! This is no better than Meghan Trainor’s damn song”. For reference, Meghan’s song “All About That Bass” has been a bone of contention to a lot of feminists because it’s packaged as a body-positivity song but is full of skinny-shaming (I will discuss this further later on). It’s a widely held belief in feminist circles that body-positivity shouldn’t come at the detriment of one body type over another. But otherwise I loved the song and was totally mesmerised by the film clip. I’m a member of an excellent feminist group on Facebook where we have discussed this video/song at length and it was through there that I started to question if Nicki was skinny-shaming at all, so I decided to do some research and see what other people have written about it.

I quickly found two distinct opinions, that Nicki’s brand capitalizes on racial stereotypes while reinforcing notions of Black female hypersexuality that are long established racist trope or that we live in a world where black women’s bodies are meant for our consumption but only on the terms which everyone who isn’t a black women gets to dictate (both of these articles relate to the cover for this single which was release a couple of weeks before the clip came out, just to clarify).  The more I thought about it, the harder I found it to be mad about Nicki’s supposed skinny-shaming and I was starting to lean more towards the opinion that she is reclaiming the sexy black woman image from people who either fetishise or demonise it but rarely respect it. Aside from the “fuck skinny bitches” lines, everything was so great about the song and the video, the way she featured no men except for the end when she gives a lap dance to Drake who is merely there as a prop for Nicki to dance upon and is denied any real pleasure from the experience (as soon as he tries to touch her she’s outta there), the symbolism of her chopping up the banana etc. 

As I kept researching I came across more articles that were pro-Nicki and so I not only started to side with them but started to vehemently agree with them. One article I loved in particular drew a comparison between Beyoncé who people are so readily to accept as being feminist (even before she “came out” as a feminist) and yet discount Nicki as being over-sexualised and anti-feminist. This is despite the fact Beyoncé has released some really problematic stuff in the past, but hey, she’s deemed classier so it’s easier to accept her brand of moderate and respectable feminism.

nicki-minaj-and-drake

So what about the “skinny bitches” line. Could I ignore it when I’d had a few rants about skinny-shaming in Meghan Trainor’s song. No, but I was suddenly able to justify it. See, Nicki has reclaimed the word “bitch” to be an empowering word for woman, the female equivalent of men being called “boss”. With that in mind, when you hear the lyric “skinny bitches” it’s suddenly not a case of her saying “you’re a bitch because you’re skinny” but her just saying “skinny women” because remember, she also refers to herself as a fat-assed bitch. Yes, she does say “fuck the skinny bitches” which sounds pretty abrasive and mean at first, but after a closer look it’s really just her telling the skinny women to move it because her and her fat-assed friends are coming in to take over the club. I now interpret “skinny bitches” to refer to the skinny, mostly-white women like Miley Cyrus who’ve been trying to appropriate twerking from black women, telling them all to get out of the way because the women who twerked first and twerk best are here and they ain’t impressed.

So back to why ‘Anaconda’ is a more empowering song than Trainor’s. First off, “All About That Bass” is presented as a feel-good body-positive song, which is all lovely and fun until she actively shames a skinny woman by presenting one as “less attractive” and unable to dance in the clip. Meghan is also a thin-waisted curvy girl (therefore an acceptable kind of “fat” that is still considered attractive and desirable) who wrote a song about how bigger girls are better than skinny girls because as her mum says “boys like a little more booty to hold at night”.  It’s just taking all the crap that fat women usually get and redirecting it at skinny women, which isn’t body positivity at all and is just plain ol’ skinny-shaming. But people don’t see that, they see a cute white girl in a cute music video being soooo cute and suddenly she’s the voice for all bigger women everywhere.

On the other hand, Minaj doesn’t have any such pretense. She’s doing what she usually does – the fuck you all type swagger that that you find in a lot of hip hop. At no point does she make the claim that she’s trying to make girls all feel good about themselves, her song is solely about her feeling good about her sexual prowess and how she much she loves her own big, fat ass. There’s a line that says “Say he don’t like em boney, he want something he can grab” which some might consider the same as Meghan’s booty line but the difference between them is that this is something a man has told her he specifically likes, whereas Meghan was told that to make her feel better about feeling fat/unattractive.

Nicki-Minaj-Anaconda2

I guess it can all be interpreted differently depending on your own personal experience. Overall I find the idea of skinny-shaming to be a step backwards when it comes to body-positivity, but at the same time I’m not that upset by it. Yes some slim women find it offensive, and I agree that it kinda sucks. But skinny-shaming is in no way comparable to fat-shaming. Thin people, women especially, have this thing called thin privilege, where they can see thin people like themselves represented in an appealing manner in all forms of media, they can walk down the street in a pair of shorts and not have people sneering at them or calling them names, they don’t have people concern-trolling them about their health or how they’re a burden on the health system or how they’re undesirable. So when people get up in arms about skinny-shaming and how it’s as bad as fat-shaming, I feel sad because it’s not true and it’s hurtful to try and align two types of shaming that at face-value might seem similar, but in reality one is oppressive while the other is just about some temporarily hurt feelings. Oh and just a note; if your immediate response to the concept of thin privilege is to dismiss it is being untrue or ridiculous, perhaps you need reminding of the phrase “check your privilege” because the thing about privilege is that you don’t know you have it until it’s pointed out to you.

In the end, these are all my own interpretations based on my own observances and the articles I’ve read online. I have never been skinny-shamed in my life because I am not skinny, but I also haven’t experienced much fat-shaming as I’m kind of in-between. I’ve seen both though, and I gotta say, fat-shaming is a lot more common and hurtful than any of the skinny-shaming I’ve ever witnessed, which seems to mostly stem from jealousy instead of outright disgust. ‘Anaconda’ has a lyric that can easily be perceived as hurtful, but that is not necessarily how it’s intended. This is a song about having a fabulous, big ass and being proud of it. Nicki uses her sexuality to express this in a way that empowers her. Maybe it doesn’t empower you, that’s OK, but you can’t tell everyone else that they’re not allowed to feel empowered by it. I’m happy for women to be empowered by ‘All About That Bass’ too, I won’t deny it’s too problematic for me to really enjoy but I understand why others feel differently than me.

Anyway that’s my feminist fat vs thin rant for now! Back to your irregularly scheduled program of intermittent fashion and geeky posts by yours truly ;)

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  • Peter

    Despite everything… The song is terrible, must of today’s music is pretty bad in general and this just takes the cake for me… If this is what the younger female generation has to look up to, god help us all…!! I’m not a prude, but even i could appreciate some of pop/hip hoppy songs on the radio several years ago.. today it seems they really are not trying at all.. this is just a thrown together piece of garbage.. how is this even classified ‘music’… The message of this song is just as bad.. have you even listened to the lyrics..?!!

  • Hi Peter. Yes I did listen to the lyrics, in fact I read them a few times through as part of my research for this post! I understand some people won’t like this song and I totally understand! We all like different stuff, it’s part of what makes life so interesting (imagine how boring it would be if we all listened to the exact same types of music?) and so, I am one of the people who likes this particular song.
    I feel like maybe you didn’t really read my post properly to get why I think this song is empowering to (some) women. If you still disagree that is fine, I understand my interpretation may differ from others. Thanks for reading/commenting all the same :)

  • Elle

    I agree with you about the Meghan trainor song, it is terrible. And I agree that body shaming towards over weight women cannot be compared to the few songs coming out that shame skinny women. But you can’t say one is worse than the other, it needs to about body acceptance in all shapes, skinny shaming is a total step backward and will just create more animosity between skinny and over weight women. And Nikki minaj’s video absolutely does objectify a woman’s body. Just because how she says it doesn’t make it acceptable or a positive step forward for women. And I think musically it is horrible, sampling a song and using it primarily as your beat and not changing it all isn’t talent.

  • Thanks for the link! I love this article. I hate “All About That Bass”, and believe me when I say this: I have plenty of goddamned bass.
    – Shiloh at http://www.thefatword.com

  • Hi Elle. Sampling is actually really common in hip hop. Almost every song Will Smith did used a sample from an older song. I’ve heard of a few people complaining about Nicki’s use of “Baby Got Back” which I can only assume is being picked up on because it’s such a recognisable song. But believe me, she’s not the first rapper to do it and she’s used the sample very well and no more than other artists use them!

  • Fel

    I think you’re missing some lines…ahem* “He can tell I ain’t missing no meals” and “Because he don’t like ’em boney, he want something he can grab”. How is this not skinny shaming or being really disrespectful towards those with eating disorders?

  • Cat.

    This is complete bull.

  • meep

    You’ve conveniently cut out half of her “skinny bitches” line. She says “fuck the skinny bitches”. Clearly she is NOT using the word bitch in a positive way. You’re simply choosing to be ignorant when you claim she is not shaming skinny women.

    I’m all for empowering non-skinny/fat women to feel good about themselves, but NOT if you’re putting down skinny women in the process.

  • meep

    Whoops. My bad, you have mentioned the whole line, but my point still stands. It’s a far, ridiculous stretch to claim that “Fuck the skinny bitches” is just meant to tell skinny women to move out of the way.

  • Jake White

    She is using the word ‘bitch’ in a positive way as she also says “Where my fat ass big bitches in the club?”, or did you just decide to ignore that?

  • Sara K

    How is saying fuck you skinny women still not body shaming?

  • Sara K

    This is satire right? You are joking, correct? Skinny shaming is just as bad as fat shaming. There is no such thing as thin privilege. You contradicted yourself and make no sense throughout your rant. Nicki clearly skinny shames and pokes fun at eating disorders. This song is empowering to a certain body type but at the expense of another which is shaming. Also considering its not ‘in’ to be thin anymore and its desirable to be ‘thick’ please explain this ‘thin privilege’ that skinny women have. There are so many larger beautiful women in the world making waves in a very appealing manner. Everything you said that larger women go through, skinny girls experience as well. I think you need to fact check yourself so as to not come off rude and uneducated on such sensitive topics.