Saturday Feature: If We Were Having Coffee…

I’d tell you that this week has felt rather short, which is both a blessing and a curse. As I mentioned, last week felt very long and very full, and that made me incredibly tired by week’s end. This week was the inversion of that–I felt as though I was just getting started, and then suddenly the week was over and we were staring at the weekend.

It was nice not to feel so fatigued this week, but it’s also another week closer to the dreaded exams, and I’ve got lots of both reading and grading to do this weekend.  My lecture class turned in their first essays this week, and since I’ve got my online course turning theirs in tomorrow, which will mean I have another 20-ish to grade on top of the 20-ish I have to grade right now, I should get started.

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I’d tell you that I’ve been talking with people about Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” this week. There’s a certain compulsion to love it. The song does have a good enough beat, and Trainor’s voice is not only good, but distinctive, and the Time of Auto-Tune, that’s something. But the song itself—it seems at first to be so body-positive, to be about celebrating bodies that are different from the status.

But it’s also got an underlying message that is about male attraction being the marker of beautiful and usefulness. “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” That’s the justification for her size (and let’s be honest—no one needs to justify their size). So boys get to define the usefulness and attractiveness of our bodies. Because they want more, we should strive to fit the size-window between Barbie Doll and Eva Longoria. And Trainor is actually pretty small. No, she’s not a size 2…But she’s also not a size 16. This is the Jennifer Lawrence brand of body positivism. She’s a body-positive role model because she’s a size or two above normal for famous women and is talking about that.

But when we allow this to be the message, we’re ignoring the culture that set up a woman like Meghan Trainor to say things like this and to project such a message about herself and other women. We’re ignoring that Trainor compares the body to a bass for a reason—its shape. That’s the “perfect” shape. We’re ignoring that in order to talk about why her body is ok (and that she even has to do that), she talks about why men like it. We’re ignoring heteronormativity. We’re ignoring body shaming of thin women and of fat women. We’re ignoring a lot of things.

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I’d tell you that class went exceptionally well this week. We tried something which I tend to do each semester to illustrate the difference between connotative and denotative meanings of words as well as why a thesaurus can be your enemy. We listed all the words for “woman” that we could think of, including the negatives. Then we sorted out connotation, denotation, and what would happen if you’d never heard that word but just used it because you liked it, and we discussed contexts when the words would change meanings. It’s such a fun thing to do. We also talked a lot this week about language and culture, and I’m enjoying the conversations.

Students are writing blogs this semester, too, and I’m seeing really interesting differences between the ones who are online-only students versus those who are lecture and online students insofar as what they’re willing to reveal on the Internet. In contrast to what we normally see on the net (anonymity, asynchronicity, and being behind the keyboard working to make people bolder), not having the classroom environment seems to make students less open in their blogs.

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I’d tell you that I’d love to chat more, but I’ve got to start getting some grading done or I’ll still be grading tonight.

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12 Comments

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  1. Good luck with grading!

    This past week I’ve finally gotten a working car radio, so I’ve heard “All About That Bass” roughly a bazingajillion times, and every time I hear it I dislike it more. The entire song is literally about her being more attractive to men than skinny girls are, with a brief aside at the beginning to say that she’s not smart but that’s okay because she can “shake it like I’m supposed to do.” Skinny girls are under a lot of pressure to be curvier already, and even if they weren’t, it’s not okay to badmouth one body type to make oneself feel better about one’s own, AND it’s not okay to say she’s “supposed” to look any way at all, ESPECIALLY when she’s supposed to because guys like it. I had that same “oh, that’s nice, body positive” reaction the first time or two, but it’s actually not that AT ALL. Argh gablargh.

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    1. Thanks!

      And yes, I thought so too. What I think accounts for the reversal is the formality of an online course environment and not being able to see your fellow students. Also there’s less interest among students in creating a community in online classes—or at least there seems to be, judging from this and from some of my other past experiences teaching online.

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        1. heh. Well, I thought it needed to be said. I *want* to like that song, and I’m inclined toward body-positivity in general. But it’s all an ambivalent sort of positivity, locked up with problematic ideas.

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  2. Fantastic post! I agree with your comments but still take positivity from the song. It’s a step in the right direction and can start getting closer to where we should be. I am glad you’ve been vocal about saying we have further to go.

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    1. Thank you!

      I think that what we’re seeing, with things like Trainor’s song, is ambivalence. We’re still between cultural ideas about bodies, and we always will be, probably—they’ve changed such much over history.

      Liked by 1 person

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