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The Wellness Quest with Dr. Kate Browne
Listening to music has a lot of benefits, from stress relief to boosting exercise performance. Music can alter our mood, connect with others and help us express feelings when we don’t quite have the words to explain it. From dubstep to classical, when it comes to wellness, music is a great tool to have.
But can music be body positive?
The pop music industry has been a notoriously difficult space for plus size women to be heard. In the 1960s, folk rock legend “Mama” Cass Elliot of faced a lot of size-based stigma and mistreatment from being kicked out of The New Journeymen to having her bandmates write songs with her body as the punchline that she had to sing. (“And everybody’s getting fat/Except Mama Cass,” “Creeque Alley”). Pop stars like Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga, and Kelly Clarkson have reported being pressured by their record labels to lose weight in order to boost record sales and further their careers. When the people in charge of bring new music to audiences fails to promote artists with non-conforming body types or suggests that careers depend on fitting into an ideal body size, whose voices are left unheard?
In many ways, body positive music is about the music itself, not the body types of the people who create it. There are musicians with unconventional bodies who do not write or perform songs about self-love. There are women whose body fit the beauty ideal in almost every way who create songs about self-love. Both are valid ways of making music. But, like representation in all media, seeing artists who look like us matters. It’s a powerful thing when inspiring messages about loving yourself as you are comes from artists whose bodies defy pop music ideals. I believe that a truly body positive music landscape makes space for artists of all kinds expressing a wide range of feelings and experiences.
This blog post was supposed to end with recommendations for body positive songs and musicians to follow if you want to find more inspiring tunes that celebrate bodies of all shapes/sizes/configurations. Except that…the more I thought about my recommendations, the more bothered I became. Many of my vocal icons and role models like Brittany Howard, lead singer of Alabama Shakes, don’t address body image in their work. It felt like I was calling her “brave” for being a larger woman in the music industry. That didn’t feel right. And some artists like Demi Lovato fit the mainstream beauty ideal but are often held up as body positive icons by consistently addressing positive body image in their music. WW’s (formerly known as Weight Watchers) new ad campaign recently featured “Worship Me” by Lizzo, an absolute gem of a role model whose inspirational music specifically addresses self-love as a major theme. Lyrically, Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” could be considered body positive anthems. In other words, there’s a fine line between inspirational and exploitative when it comes to recommending body positive music.
Unlike books, film, or TV shows, music rarely comes with a summary to guide us in our interpretation. And maybe that’s what makes music the most body positive media of all. Research shows that music changes our brains, so when we engage in music that inspires us in a way we define for ourselves, we hear our stories reflected back in ways that make us feel understood and part of a larger landscape of human expression.
So, instead of recommending specific songs or artists, I’d like to encourage you to find music that resonates with how you want to feel about your body and to support unconventional musicians in your favorite genres. Soundcloud is a great resource for finding new-to-you artists, and 8Tracks features user-curated playlists with tags, like this one for neurodivergent music and this body positive collection. And if you want to know what music makes me feel ready to take on the world, follow me on Instagram at @drkatebrowne.