I’m not exactly sure how, but at some point recently, my 4 year old daughter, Elliott, learned some of the words to “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor. While I’d be lying if I said I haven’t listened to the song a few times (darn you, catchy doo-wop melodies!), I don’t make it a habit to listen to a lot of “my music” around my kids. In the car, we listen to a special Spotify playlist called “Tiny Turn Up: Elliott’s Jamz” with music that I find acceptable for the kids. (It’s mainly the Despicable Me, Yo Gabba Gabba, and Frozen soundtracks with some Raffi staples and a dash of the “Cupid Shuffle” because we went to Chuck E. Cheese’s one time and apparently, the poor teenager whose job it is to schlep around in the giant rat costume for what I can only assume is minimum wage also has to spend a few minutes every hour or two performing a line dance with the kids to a Chuck E. remix of various “popular” (meaning: at least five to ten years old), vaguely hip hop-esque songs, before throwing handfuls of tickets into the air and running in the opposite direction as quickly as possible while a mob of six-to-eight year-old boys trample the toddlers and smaller kids who don’t know enough to care about the tickets.)
Recently, though, I had to add “All About That Bass” to the playlist because Elliott refused to stop screaming during our car rides until she heard it. Her knowledge of the lyrics only go as far as “All about that bass, bout that bass, no trouble (NOT treble),” but it’s still a strange feeling to hear my child singing a song about “bringing booty back.”
While I agree with the surface message of the song, the self-love and body appreciation seemingly-girl power tone of it all, I also find it a bit grating. True body acceptance doesn’t require telling “them skinny bitches” anything or bashing “stick figure silicone Barbie dolls,” and as a self-declared feminist, I can’t help but wince when I hear the misguided attempt at countering the media’s obsession with skinny white girls. I suppose it could be a lot worse, as far as songs on the radio for a four year old girl to sing along to go, and she doesn’t have a clue what the song is about. And sometimes, it’s a welcome respite from “Let it go, let it goooo.” But still, it gives me feelings.
When I reflect back on my own childhood, I have no memory of “children’s songs” outside of my kindergarten class singing the Raffi classic “Apples and Bananas” (which is on the Tiny Turn Up playlist, bee-tee-dubs). I remember mumbling my way through “Hotel California” by the Eagles at a very young age. I recall knowing every single word to 1997’s smash hit “Too Close” by the one hit wonder R&B group Next at age 8 or 9, and having absolutely no cognizance of what any of it meant. “Baby, when we’re grindin’ I get so excited. Ooh, you know what I like..”
I think about the future, relative to my kids, fairly often. I look at my younger sisters, ages nine and 20, and the way pop culture has influenced their upbringing versus my own. Seventeen years is a very significant age difference and, while 20 and 26 may not be so different, 11 and 17 were light years apart. I see the effects of the hypersexualization of pop culture and the media in the past 30 years or so (thanks, Madonna) on me and on them and it makes me downright terrified about how it’s going to be 11 years from now when Elliott is 15. But, upon reflection, I wouldn’t say that it’s a simple issue of the music and movies that we see these days being vastly more sexual than stuff was in say, my parents’ heyday of the 80s. Back then, rock ‘n roll was all about sex. Post-“Deep Throat” era movies incorporated their fair share of sex. Art was all about sex. BUT- back then, it was more difficult for children to gain access to that stuff, and that’s where the real issue lies- access.
The problem isn’t Beyoncé singing “Surfbordt” while gyrating on the beach or Rihanna in her panties shrieking about chains and whips. It isn’t 50 Shades of Grey or the shirtless Twilight werewolf boy or Fitz talking dirty to Olivia Pope on Scandal. It’s the 24/7 switched on-ness of our world. It’s the access. I have not seen an episode of Scandal in its entirety since watching the first three episodes of season one on Netflix to determine its bingeability (it failed the test), for example, but even I’ve seen a clip of the “If there’s any hope, come prove it to me” moment. Access.
It’s the fact that my four year old owns her own iPad mini and, while the parental controls have very tight parameters that she hasn’t figured out how to outsmart (yet), there are people who make pornographic dubs to clips of Snow White and rate them PG on YouTube so they can be stumbled upon by children with tight parental controls set on their devices. That’s how my four year old knows the opening bars of “All About That Bass,” even if she substitutes trouble for treble, without me knowing how it happened. Access.
So, as modern parents heading into the impending sexpocalypse of the pop culture-saturated future, what do we do? How do we prevent the sexual awakening of increasingly younger children? How do we keep our precious babies precious and babies for as long as possible? How do we teach our little girls that it’s okay to have bass but no treble? Or treble but no bass? Or neither or both? Because it’s not important. How do we raise healthy children who appreciate their bodies and have an age-appropriate knowledge (or lack thereof) of sex?
It’s all such a big mystery because there is no blanket answer.
It’s become a cliché, but children are seriously like friggin snowflakes- they’re all different. They’re all molded by whatever genes stuck when mommy and daddy’s genetic material was flung against the wall (so to speak) and by their parents (whether they’re mommies and daddies, mommies and mommies, daddies and daddies, just mommies, just daddies, grandparents, legal guardians, or any of the beautiful iterations that families come in), their teachers and coaches and pastors and family friends and strangers who drop knowledge bombs in line at the grocery store, and all of the other people that come and go throughout a child’s life, leaving little tiny ripples on the surface of their ocean that you may not even realize are there. Every single person is an amalgamation of their genetic predispositions and their experiences and the things they experience tangentially through awareness of the people they encounter in life. So, rather than trying to develop a one-size-fits-all method of moving into the future with your kiddos in tow, we have to tailor our own knowledge and insight to the child we’re dealing with.
Rather than refuse to let my little girl spend all of maybe 40 seconds singing the parts she knows of “All About That Bass,” I chose to add the song to the playlist and made a mental note to pay attention to my child and try to be aware that, although she’s four, the seeds are being sown that will affect her self-esteem and acceptance of her body for the rest of her life. Today isn’t the day to sit her down for a conversation about the politics of being a female, but it CAN be the day for hugging her and letting her pick out whatever outfit (no matter how badly the colors clash or whether motorcycle boots are weather-appropriate now that it’s 82 degrees during the day here in Houston). Today’s the day to lay a small piece of the foundation that will help shape her experiences and perspectives for the rest of her life, for her to be taught through example that everyone is awesome (an awesome snowflake, if you wanna go there) in their own way, regardless of their EQ levels. (See what I did there?). For now, we’ll leave the lessons for another day and just enjoy being “all about that bass, no trouble.” For now.
As for teaching her the importance of the difference between good music and the crap that comes on the radio… well, that’s a lesson that can never start too soon. Feel free to look me up on Spotify because, plentiful guilty pleasures aside, I have pretty awesome taste in music.
For your listening pleasure, Tiny Turn Up: Elliott’s Jamz:
(I apologize to your brain in advance for any damage caused by “Surfin’ Bird.”)