State of The Trout: Going Away. Again. Whee.

This is just a quick note to let you all know that I’m going away on family vacation this week. Does it seem like I’m constantly traveling? If it does, it’s probably just because I’m CONSTANTLY TRAVELING. After September, I think I have a whole month where I don’t have to leave or do anything.

The Merlin Club post will go up as scheduled on Friday, but I’ll be absent for #MerlinClub on Monday night because the hotel we’re staying in on Mackinac Island doesn’t have wifi.

In other news, I was on a local daytime show in Grand Rapids, MI this past week:

Notice that super cool dress? That’s from ModCloth.com. The next time you see me on TV, I’ll be wearing ModCloth, because they’ve graciously offered to dress me.

When I get back from vacation, I’ll have pictures of my recent cosplays, a new chapter of The Afflicted, and hopefully another Buffy recap.

More About That Bass

Comments on the original “All About That Bass” post are closed: I’ve elected to close those comments after a threat I received on my Facebook author page. The comments have now been removed, but here’s a screencap so you can see why I’m basically 100% done with that post and anyone’s thoughts on it (you’ll have to click on the image to see it full-sized):

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 5.22.01 PM

I think it’s fair to say that since comments disagreeing with this story have been so passionate as to sometimes cross into vitriol, and now have escalated into threats, I’m not overreacting in shutting them down. Especially since Facebook has not responded to my concerns with anything other than a form letter to let me know that they don’t answer their email. I guess if I disappear mysteriously, you’ll know what happened to me. In the event of my death by skinning,  send updates to Facebook. They won’t read them or respond to them, because they couldn’t care less.

Clarification on my comments regarding reconstructive surgery after mastectomy: A few people have expressed concerns about this portion of the “I’m Not All About That Bass” post:

Why is it that we don’t view breast implants as body modification on the same scale as piercings or tattoos? I have this crazy feeling that it has something to do with misogyny. Maybe because the primary objective of breast implants is to conform to a specific cultural standard? How is that different from piercing your septum?

I know how it’s different. Men pierce shit, too! Plastic surgery is viewed as a way for women to make themselves more sexually desirable to heterosexual men for as far into their lives as possible. Even reconstructive plastic surgery after breast cancer fulfills this role; when performed for the patient’s personal comfort, it’s still done to uphold the standard that all women must have breasts (well hello, transmisogyny!), which is what’s making that patient uncomfortable in the first place. To be clear, I’m not shaming anyone for having any elective cosmetic surgery for any reason, just defining our world view and cultural expectations of breasts in this context.”

When I first started receiving comments from women who were angry that I’d said all women who have elective breast reconstruction post-mastectomy were doing so to be sexually attractive, once I went back and read it I realized that I had not worded the passage carefully enough. I do not believe that every woman goes into breast reconstruction thinking, “I’m doing this to be sexy again.” I realize that to many women, losing their breasts is traumatic, and they’re choosing reconstruction because they want to feel whole or remove the reminder of what they went through as best they can. Some have made the argument for balance and posture issues in the case of partial mastectomy, which I’m not dismissing at all . The point I was trying to make, before I messed it all up in clumsy wording, is that replacement of any non-essential body part with a new, non-functioning version of that body part for cosmetic reasons is due to our cultural perception of how bodies “should” look.

If we lose a leg, we get a prosthesis so we can walk again. If we lose a hand, we might get a little claw. These are body parts that help our bodies to function, and the function can be more or less restored using these things. But if we lose our nose, we can’t replace it with a new nose that can perform the same function our old one did. When we have reconstructive surgery to return our bodies to a “whole” or “normal” looking state, we’re doing so because of deeply ingrained expectations of what a human being looks like. This is not a judgment against people who elect to have these surgeries. It is an observation and condemnation of cultural biases we do not notice about ourselves and which we have no control over. I’m not saying this should change so that women are unable to receive reconstruction. I’m not wagging a finger at women and saying, “You shouldn’t do this, it makes you vain.” I understand the reasons a woman would have reconstruction. I absolutely would have one, because not having breasts would make me feel, as many women do, like something about me was missing. But I would not be making this decision without any cultural conditioning that tells me that an important piece is missing. I would be making this decision specifically because of that cultural conditioning. If it were my nose, or my ear, or the removal of a facial scar or a mole, I would be doing it for the same reason. There is no possible way to make a decision about how our bodies look that does not have something to do with our expectations for how bodies should look. When people lose fingers, it’s less common to get a prosthetic one for cosmetic reasons. Do you know why? Because we don’t place as much aesthetic value on our fingers as we do our faces and our breasts.

Reiterating: having reconstruction does not make a woman bad, vain, shallow, or stupid, but no woman is making this decision with a mind devoid of awareness of cultural expectations.

If you disagree with this, or you still believe that by saying this I’m pointing fingers at women who choose reconstructive surgery, then I can’t prove further that I’m not, and this is pretty much the last thing I have to say on the subject.

Women who have had breast cancer and who have opted not to have reconstructive surgery share their views on gender expectations and how they played into their decision to forego reconstruction, and you can find their work here:

“Cover Your Boobs Whether You Have Them or Not”
“Life After Mastectomy and The Choice Against Reconstruction”
“I Chose to Live as a Flat Chested Woman”
“The Sum of All My Parts: A Guest Post on Feminism, Breast Cancer Awareness, and More”

None of these women have suggested that no one get reconstructive surgery, nor do they shame the women who decide to. But to overlook their valid points about how they’ve been treated due to their appearance post-mastectomy would be just as bad as making that judgement against the women who choose reconstruction.

If you didn’t agree that the song reinforces misogynistic cultural tropes, have a listen:

 Former X-Factor competitors Emblem3 have covered “All About That Bass.” See how you feel about lines like, “Us guys like a little more booty to hold at night,” and “It’s pretty clear she ain’t no size two/but she can shake it shake it/the way she’s supposed to do,” when you’re listening to young men sing them.

Not only do they reinforce they original tropes that made the song so problematic in the first place, they up the ante on the misogyny and body shaming by changing lyrics to say things like, “She’s bringing booty back/go ahead and tell those skinny bitches that/no more joking/never say you’re fat,” and “My father once told me don’t worry about her size.” Are we supposed to applaud this? It’s positive to hear young men trash “skinny bitches,” just so some women can feel better about not fulfilling a standard of beauty they’re longing for? How’s that body positivity working out for you, women who showed up in the comments to tell me I’m the one doing the shaming?

Also, Emblem3, rethink your policy of covering songs by female artists and making them all about you. It makes you look like assholes.

If you liked the message behind “All About That Bass,” try this instead: Many commenters who disagreed with me suggested I was either a frustrated singer/songwriter who couldn’t make it, or that I should write a song and make it better than Meghan Trainors. As I am not a singer/songwriter, I can neither be frustrated by my non-existent failed music career, nor can I write a song, because I lack the necessary skills and education needed to do so. However, I can recommend some body positive songs that should make you feel as good, if not better than, what you’re hearing in “All About That Bass.”

I wanted to make this list longer, but it seems like it’s impossible for a woman to write a song about accepting our bodies without relying on the validation of the male gaze.

And now, I’m done talking about this song. When I wrote that piece, I had no idea that I would receive more outright hate mail in a few weeks than I did when I tore apart Fifty Shades of Grey over the course of two years, or when I wrote about Jennifer Lawrence and it wasn’t to fall all over myself loving how she falls all over. Congratulations, Meghan Trainor stans. You’re officially 100,000 times more frightening and unbalanced than 50 Shades readers and JLaw fans combined. That’s really, really saying something.

Still at AAD, but I had to share this.

I just found this spam comment in moderation, and it’s AMAZING:

This is because CCS Elementary School is said to be haunted by the ghost of an elderly women was murdered in the building. It may be just an urban legend, but it is said that she was pushed down a staircase, where she lay in a heap until her murderer picked up her lifeless body and placed it in the dumpster out back.

WTF, spam comment. Don’t leave me hanging. What happened next?!

State of The Trout: Yet Another Whirl-Wind Travel Adventure

Hey everybody! This is a head’s up to tell you that I’ll be gone from Tuesday until next Monday at the Author’s After Dark conference in Charlotte, NC. In the meantime, comments that go into moderation will probably not get moderated, because I’ll be hob-nobbing with all the reader elite, and desperately hoping someone buys my books.

• Are you in the Charlotte, NC, area? I’ll be signing books at a huge, multi-author book fair at the Westin Charlotte (601 S College St) on Saturday, August 9th, from 2-4pm. The signing is free, and there are going to be a lot of authors. I think like, well over a hundred.

• The  Afflicted chapter four is now available on Wattpad.

• If Ever I Would Leave You is on sale for $0.99 at Amazon and Smashwords. It’s still not available at other retailers, but you can get every format you could possibly need at Smashwords. It will eventually be available in broader distribution.

And… well, I guess that’s about it. Huh. I thought for sure I had more news this week. Guess I didn’t.

Merlin Club S03E03, “Goblin’s Gold” or “I could have lived a thousand years without seeing Gaius’s tongue”

merlinbanner2

Merlin club is a weekly feature in which Jessica Jarman, Bronwyn Green, and myself gather at 8pm EST to watch an episode of the amazing BBC series Merlin, starring Colin Morgan and literally nobody else I care about except Colin Morgan.

Okay, I lie. A lot of other really cool people are in it, too.

Anyway, we watch the show, we tweet to the hashtag #MerlinClub, and on Fridays we share our thoughts about the episode we watched earlier in the week.

Continue reading

Wednesday Blogging: Motivation

“Jenny,” I’m sure you’re all probably not wondering, “what is it that motivates you to keep to your office hermitage, barely seeking the sunlight or the warm embrace of the outside world?” Well, I’ll tell you. I have several powerful motivators:

  1. Fear of poverty. If you’re new to this here blog, you’ve missed a really exciting past five years. After my career shot around the room making fart noises as it rapidly deflated, I just kept working right along, until the day I no longer gave a fuck and started mocking Fifty Shades of Grey. I owe a lot to that book. If I hadn’t decided, “Fuck it, this book is so bad, I don’t care if no publisher will ever touch me again, if I’m going down, I’m going out in a blaze,” and started viciously mocking it on the internet, I wouldn’t have gotten the courage to say “Fuck it, I’m going to do this publishing thing my way.” But I did, and we went from food stamps to relative financial security in a couple of months. It was insane. But as bad as it was to be poor, what’s almost worse is not being poor, but remembering how easy it was to lose everything the last time. I’m constantly afraid that somehow, everyone will find out that I’m a fraud and not a real writer at all, and I’ll lose everything again.
  2. Fear that I won’t get to write all the books I want to write before I die. Does what it says on the tin. I have so many stories in my head, there is no possible way I could ever tell them all. It’s like my brain is a sinking ship, and I have to get as many passengers off of it as possible. I wish I could write every second of every day.
  3. Just generally being a malcontent. I get angry about things, as you may or may not have noticed. And when I get angry, I write about the things that make me angry, and usually I can make one or two of you angry (either with me or at me), and it goes in a beautiful circle of blazing hostility at the world, ourselves, and other.

That’s pretty much what motivates me. I know “championing social justice causes” probably should be on there, and I should be like, all noble about trying to make the world better for my fellow fat people, but I couldn’t take myself seriously if I were taking myself that seriously, and this blog is really only a thinly-veiled excuse for me to make dick jokes about pop culture, anyway.

As you’re reading this, I’m either recording a segment with NPR, nervous about recording the upcoming segment with NPR, or being super relieved that I’m done recording that segment with NPR. Let’s all cross our fingers that I don’t say something dumb, okay? I’ll ask them when it’s going to be on and let you all know. I’m going to be talking about “All About The Bass.” So it’s a pretty fair bet that today, abject terror is my motivator.

Wanna see what other Wednesday writers get all motivated by (I’ve used variations of “motivate” so much in this post, I feel like it’s not even a real word anymore)? Check out their posts:

Gwendolyn Cease • Kellie St. James • Bronwyn Green

Jessica Jarman • Leigh Jones • Kris Norris

I Am Not All About That Bass: Deconstructing The Summer’s Feel-Good, Body-Positive Hit

Due to a recent threat I received on Facebook, I’m closing discussion here.

You’d know if you’d heard Meghan Trainor’s body acceptance anthem “All About That Bass” before. Because if you had, you’d still be hearing it right now in your head. Over. And over. And over.

Since we’ve got a lot of new visitors here lately, I’m going to restate the unofficial Trout Nation opinion* on liking problematic stuff: Just because we like something doesn’t mean it’s above reproach. We should practice turning a critical eye on the media we consume, as it gives us a chance to view our own thoughts through the lens of pop culture. This helps us learn about internalized prejudices we might otherwise have never realized we had.

(*I said “unofficial” because it’s nothing we’ve ever voted on. It just seems like a lot of people come here specifically for the dissection of pop culture. And we talk about it a lot. But we don’t have a democracy or anything. It’s a government of the people and one bewildered figurehead.)

Before we start taking this apart piece by piece, I want to warn you that the entire song is sung by a white girl using a faux African-American Vernacular accent that’s only about two levels below Iggy Azalea on the “There is no way you actually sound like that in real life”-o-meter.

So, let’s listen to this song and take a look at its accompanying video: 

This thing is catchy, the girl is adorable, the video is like John Waters’s Hairspray if it hadn’t been satire and Amber Von Tussel had been nice. It’s cute and I can see why a lot of people like it. But holy shit is it problematic! Jesus and wowza. Let’s ease into this with some trivial griping before we get on with the serious stuff.

“Because you know I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble.”

But what you are singing? Your voice right now? That’s treble. A song that was only bass wouldn’t be a very interesting song. And unless you have a really impressive range that you’re not showing off on this particular composition, you’re going to have a hard time hacking it as a singer in a world that’s all bass and no treble.

So, the lyrics begin:

“Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two/ but I can shake it, shake it, like I’m supposed to do.”

So, she says it’s clear that she’s not a size two:

That's her, the blond one in the middle.

That’s her, the blond one in the middle.

Okay, so, yeah. Maybe not a size two. But not fat or “plus-size” by any means. Don’t let the unflattering dress trick your eye. This girl is not a fat girl. This whole concept of not-fat women believing they need to call attention to their not-fat bodies in order to promote body acceptance baffles me. I call this the “fatcceptable movement.” Notice I didn’t say “fat acceptance movement” or “body acceptance movement.” Both of those ideologies rally against the cultural standard of one perfect size at which an individual earns their humanity. The fatcceptable movement insists that there is only one type of “real” woman, and any outliers are less sexually desirable to heterosexual men, and therefore of less value.

In the fatcceptable zone, you’ll find women ranging from a US size eight to a US size fourteen talking about how big is beautiful, men don’t want sticks, real women have curves, etc. Lots of famous women have made bold statements about their size while living in the fatcceptable zone. Among them are Jennifer Lawrence,  Never Been Kissed-era Drew Barrymore, and Kate Winslet before she started looking like Barbie’s hot mom (that’s a compliment, by the way). These are all women who do not fall outside of the normal range of sexually attractive bodies, but who don’t get described as skinny and who are expected to answer questions about how they feel about their “curves.” Holding women like this up as “plus-size” is meant to spread  a message of body acceptance and positivity to women who aren’t the size two that Trainor throws out there, but who aren’t fat, either. To sum up, easy to digest anthems and slogans of this nature are meant to make women who think they’re fat feel good about the fat bodies they don’t have, while constantly reminding them that they should feel fat.

The lyric “but I can shake it shake it/like I’m supposed to do,” bothers me on two fronts. One, we were supposed to be shaking it this whole time? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Is this going to affect my grade? And two, people who’re a size two can’t shake it? What size is Shakira? Because she’s pretty little and she can definitely shake it.

“Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase/
And all the right junk in all the right places”

It’s in the right places, guys! Meghan Trainor is a fanfic Mary Sue. You heard it here first.

One of the main themes of this song is that women who are considered to be of average size are preferred by men. If this song is promoting body positivity, then why does it define a specific body type as being more desirable, and place all of a woman’s value on her fuckability to heterosexual men?

“I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop/We know that shit ain’t real, C’mon now, make it stop/
If you got beauty beauty, just raise ‘em up/
Cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”

This verse is what “All About That Bass” could have been. Look how perfect it is. It celebrates the body of every woman and encourages them to celebrate their beauty in turn. Granted, beauty is a subjective construct that women shouldn’t have to worry about in the first place, so there is a problematic ideology that’s still inherent in these lyrics. But let’s focus on how rare it is to hear this message in pop music in the first place.

Like I said, it’s what this song could have been, because after that we’re right back to:

“Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size/She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night”

Again, the message isn’t really, “I have value, even though I don’t fit the mold I’ve been told I should fit,” but, “I have value, in fact I have more value than some other women who don’t share my body type, because I’m the one a heterosexual man should be attracted to.” And I say should be, because the next few lines say exactly that:

“You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll/So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along”

“If you’re not a heterosexual man willing to objectify me over other women, then HA HA! I am rejecting you first.”

At what point did “body positivity” become, or need to become, yet another method to police each other’s bodies? If a woman has breast implants, that somehow lowers her worth? This is just another way in which the fatcceptable movement tries to define who is and isn’t a “real” woman. Why is it that we don’t view breast implants as body modification on the same scale as piercings or tattoos? I have this crazy feeling that it has something to do with misogyny. Maybe because the primary objective of breast implants is to conform to a specific cultural standard? How is that different from piercing your septum?

I know how it’s different. Men pierce shit, too! Plastic surgery is viewed as a way for women to make themselves more sexually desirable to heterosexual men for as far into their lives as possible. Even reconstructive plastic surgery after breast cancer fulfills this role; when performed for the patient’s personal comfort, it’s still done to uphold the standard that all women must have breasts (well hello, transmisogyny!), which is what’s making that patient uncomfortable in the first place. To be clear, I’m not shaming anyone for having any elective cosmetic surgery for any reason, just defining our world view and cultural expectations of breasts in this context.

So, with that in mind, back to the fatcceptable stance on plastic surgery: even though we’re defining your worth as a woman solely by your appeal to men, if you do anything to try to make yourself more appealing, you’re a fake ass bitch and we hate you.

Now, onto the “stick figure” portion of the chorus. This is just another shot fired at women who have bodies that threaten the self-esteem of women who can only be content about their size if it’s hailed as the “perfect” shape. That’s really what’s at the base of any “eat a sandwich” or “stick insect” barb.

“I’m bringing booty back/Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that/No I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat/but I’m here to tell ya every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”

This verse perfectly incapsulates what is wrong with this song. What could be a positive message comes out as a backhanded compliment. Sure, every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top, but only grudgingly. You get to feel good about yourself, but only if women Meghan Trainor’s size get to feel better by mocking your appearance. And only if you share the same weight insecurities.

And come on. Saying what you really think, followed by “just kidding,” is the most passive aggressive move on the planet. “Just playing” is like “bless your heart”: it’s a chance for the speaker to say whatever they want while forcing the target of the insult to accept what’s being said in good humor.

Now, since we’re past all the verses, I want to talk about the video. There’s a theme here:

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 4.00.37 PM

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 4.00.54 PM

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 4.02.11 PM

Did you guess the theme? Did you guess “black women as props?” Because that’s the theme. Of the four back-up dancers in the video, one is white. Trainor is shown flanked by two black women several times, including a scene where the women seem to be enthusiastically encouraging her dancing, a la Miley Cyrus’s infamous “We Can’t Stop” video. This isn’t done to encourage body acceptance or equality of any kind; it’s to show the audience that Trainor is cool. White people can’t dance, right? So if black people cheer on a white girl dancing, that lends her points, right? Because the video strikingly recalls Waters’s Hairspray, I can’t help but be reminded of the line, “Being invited places by colored people! It feels so hip!” We white people love to see ourselves getting approval from black people. We just don’t want our societal standing challenged, because that makes us deeply uncomfortable.

Looking at the two bottom images, let’s discuss the role of “booty” in this song. Booty outside of the pirate context has long been used to evoke the stereotypical image of a black woman with a large, round butt. This particular racial trope has been used by white people to objectify, fetishize, and sexualize black women by our media and our white supremacist culture, then white girls apply it to themselves in a positive context. When Trainor calls attention to the size of her butt and calls it a booty, we’re supposed to laud her as being body positive and a strong feminist, but  she can’t “bring booty back,” because it was never used to stereotype her to begin with.

The last picture is a perfect example of how society views the bodies of black women as available to all takers. In this scene, the white woman pictured grabs the black woman’s butt while she’s dancing. This reinforces not only the insidious cultural need of white people to control and sexualize black women’s bodies, but also the dangerous belief that the bodies of black women are on offer for anyone to sample, consent not required.

Sidebar, the fact that all of the above was going on, and the song was written in the style of 60′s pop music, a genre that was appropriated from black artists of the time and repackaged with white faces really drives home a truth that many white pop artists don’t want to admit: that white performers are only doing shallow imitations of black artists, and suppressing those black artists’ work in the hopes that no one will notice.

I know a lot of people are going to criticize me for deconstructing something that seems, on its surface, to be a positive, important statement, but as a fat woman, I’m no longer content for women who are not fat to define themselves as such to lend their defensiveness and unhappiness with their bodies credibility. As a feminist, I’m no longer content to watch women of color treated as props to further an appropriation of beauty standards that white women boast about and black women are oppressed by. If the core of your message devalues other women based on their physical appearance, you’re not promoting an ideal that helps women in the way you believe it does.