In a time when a woman allowing herself to be photographed without make-up is often seen as a revolutionary and courageous act, there have been a number of videos/songs in the past week that serve as reminders that females don’t have to paint their faces, look like models, or have it together emotionally every moment to feel good about themselves.
Welcome to a new age of Girl Power.
In Colbie Caillat’s “Try,” the singer/songwriter sings of her experience of always making sure she looked perfect—nails and hair done, right outfit— so people in the music industry would like her. The song serves as reminder to herself that she doesn’t have to try so hard; that people will respond to her authenticity. In the video, she expands the notion to women of different shapes and sizes, as they follow her lead by taking out their hair extensions (or wig) and removing their make up looking straight into the camera. Caillat sings the last part of the song with her face stripped bare—the ultimate sigh of vulnerability in today’s world.
In Mary Lambert’s “Secrets,” she reveals perceived flaw after flaw that she tries to keep hidden over an irrepressibly jaunty tune— whether it’s that she’s bi-polar, comes from a dysfunctional family, cries all day, is gay, is overweight…she has a catalog full. But her message it that we all have our secrets and keeping them locked away in a place of shame is far more damaging than letting them out.
Both these songs/videos are about women reclaiming their power by letting go of the messages that society pounds into us over and over that we are not good enough as we are and that there is always some unattainable goal —losing 5 more pounds, having longer eyelashes, going a shade blonde — that would make us acceptable to the world. Of course, every time someone meets that goal, the goal line moves.
Ideally, we teach these self-acceptance messages to ourselves and don’t need them to be validated externally, but sometimes they still seem more believable coming from the outside. For that, we got John Legend’s “You & I” video last week. The stirring clip opens with Legend waiting as his wife, model Chrissy Teigen, gets dressed. But then, as he sings that he loves her without all the bells and whistles and all the machinations she puts herself through for an evening out, the video broadens to females of all ages and ethnic groups looking into the camera as if it were a mirror as they examine their faces for flaws, putting their features under impossible-to-pass scrutiny. Pull the camera back and the video reveals women bald from cancer treatments, women who have undergone mastectomies, a lovely girl with Down Syndrome in a colorful dress. It’s a vivid reminder that beauty, despite the strictures that magazines, TV shows, films, and magazines put on it, does not come in a one-size-fits-package.
Finally— and it’s surprising it took so long—newcomers Maddie and Tae have countered all the bro-country songs that reduce women to a nameless (“girl” is not a name) stereotype, who wears tight jeans or a short skirt and cowboy boots and is very happy for the opportunity to ride shotgun in her boyfriend’s car. Main requirements are looking good, not having a first name, and keeping her mouth shut.
But Maddie and Tae want none of that as they sing, “It ain’t easy being the girl in a country song. How in the world did it go so wrong. Like all we’re good for is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend, nothing more. We used to get a little respect, now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck, keep our mouths shut, ride along and be the girl in a country song.” Yeah, it might be time to aim a little higher.
The modern day patron saint for female empowerment in song is, of course, Beyonce. None of these songs have the strident feel of “Run The World (Girls)”; the message here is more akin to her song, “Pretty Hurts” and its lines, “We try to fix something but you can’t fix what you can’t see/It’s the soul that needs the surgery.” For the most part, these are reminders to be gentle to ourselves, not manifestos.
Will any of these songs ever change anything? I don’t know. It feels like they are mere drops of water into a pool spilling over with messages that we aren’t good enough as we are and they lose their potency. But maybe it’s simply good enough that they exist in the moment and for the moment. If watching the video for “Secrets” or “Try” makes a girl feel like she’s OK for the four minutes that clip lasts, maybe that’s the most we can hope for in this world that constantly and exhaustingly tells women that they are not good enough as long as they have wrinkles, as long as they aren’t model thin, as long as they aren’t this or aren’t that. The message is delivered in surround sound and it is everywhere.
If I could, I would pipe the below playlist continuously into every baby girl’s room so that from the minute she is born these songs counteract the images and messages that make her feel bad about herself. As she got older, any time some one made her feel less than, she could put the playlist on and hear a strong, powerful woman tell her that she is complete, she is everything she needs to be, and that she is enough.
By the time she got to middle school and high school and started dating, no boy, no peer pressure, and no societal norm could force her to be something that she is not just because the these positive message would have already taken hold and they would drown out the ones that tell her she can’t compete unless she conforms to a extremely narrow, impossible, unnecessary ideal.
And now we have several more entries to add to the list.
“Beautiful,” Christina Aguilera
“I’m Beautiful,” Bette Midler
“Firework,” Katy Perry
“Roar,” Katy Perry
“This One’s for the Girls,” Martina McBride
“Unwritten,” Natasha Bedingfield
“Born This Way,” Lady Gaga”
“Stronger,” Kelly Clarkson
“Girl On Fire,” Alicia Keys
"Run The World (Girls)"