True life: I love music videos. While some consider them outdated, I think they're incredible storytelling mechanisms and pieces of visual art. I used to watch Taylor Swift’s "Blank Space" music video every night before bed, and have watched the artistic masterpiece that is the "Pillowtalk" video upward of 10 zillion times. But I do find it disheartening that the typical representation of women in this sector of media is ultra thin and white.
While the lack of diverse and/or plus-size women in pop culture has been noted over and over and over again, it's still a matter of great importance — perhaps now more than ever. Take the two aforementioned music videos, for example. The primary female leads in both are thin, white, blonde women, which is disheartening. Although a shapely body type seems to be "in" in the realm of pop culture beyond music videos, many famous curvy women still have body types that don't accurately represent the typical larger woman's. While the Kardashians have been praised for their curves, for example, their particular brand of beauty is, for most, unattainable. I love what the Kardashians have done for women of different body types, and I think they have changed the conversation about butts and boobs, but there’s still so much room for diverse representation of female bodies in the media.
Recently, there has been a tiny, but impactful, ripple in the pop culture ocean — specifically, in the world of music videos. In DNCE’s new music video for "Toothbrush," Joe Jonas plays opposite up-and-coming plus-size model Ashley Graham. Graham is featured in everything from her underwear to going-out clothes to daywear, and looks amazing in all of it. Better yet, she looks like herself. Yes, she’s a model, so she’s already extraordinarily beautiful, but the choice to cast her in the video feels natural rather than forced or gimmicky. Because romantic, sensual images of plus-size women in this form of pop culture are rare, Graham's low-key performance sends an even stronger message: Full-figured women exist, and there is no reason for them to hide or for the public to shame them.
As both a Jonas Brothers freak and a feminist and girl-power enthusiast, I was psyched to see this video. Most of my body-image ideals shaped during my most vulnerable years were influenced by a Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan brand of skinny. Although I now love running and am generally small, I didn't fit this mold for most of my life. Growing up, I thought that I would never be attractive to boys and that I wasn’t worthy of love because I was "fat."
Of course, I have since realized that being attractive to boys shouldn’t be a priority, but knowing this hasn't made loving myself any easier. It was made even harder by the lack of people in TV, movies, and music videos that looked like I did. Without this representation, how could I — how could any young women — understand that looking different from these ideals isn’t wrong? By quietly casting Graham in this role — as a desirable, beautiful, and, yes, plus-size character — many female viewers will likely realize they, too, can be considered as beautiful as she is — and that's important.
But thinking about larger women in music (and in pop music specifically) also led me to consider the other end of this spectrum: the extremely slender pop star. Take Ariana Grande, a performer at the forefront of a reemerging Pop Diva moment. Like the divas who came before her (Whitney, Mariah, et al.), Grande is extremely petite. Her outspokenness on feminism and women’s representation in the music industry, however, is refreshingly inclusive. In one of her many Instagram manifestos, Ari proclaimed, "You know what is NOT sexy? Misogyny, objectifying, labeling, comparing and body shaming!!! Talking about people’s body’s [sic] as if they’re on display ASKING for your approval/opinion. THEY ARE NOT!!!"
Though she is small in physique and in many ways has an "ideal" body type, Grande’s insistence on using her platform to promote an honest and inclusive philosophy transcends the influence of her physical appearance. I would love to have her toned-ass arms (who wouldn't?), but she encourages us to first and foremost value her talent and wisdom — which is how we should view women in pop anyways.
By the same token, Graham's role in the new DNCE video affords her an even greater platform to speak about her experiences in an industry that was undeniably designed for thin women. And Graham has proven she's up to the task, having already built a pretty spectacular platform for sharing her message of body positivity. She’s the first plus-size model to have ever graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, and she recently designed a line of size-inclusive lingerie. She’s done red carpet fashion coverage for E!, and now, as a music video star, has reached another, perhaps even broader female audience — one thirsting for a woman with Graham’s prowess, image, and confidence.
As Graham herself noted at the 2016 Forbes Annual Women’s Summit, "Waiting for others to determine how we should think, do, and act forfeits our own strength." Indeed, strong women do not need representation to feel strong: They can be and are powerful of their own volition. But that doesn't mean they don’t have moments of weakness or misrepresentation. By being exposed to a variety of body types, especially those that have been discarded or excluded in the past, struggling women can grow into strength. Let’s help girls grow.
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