Body Positivity or… Something Else?
Megan Thee Stallion, in interviews (*video includes explicit language), a New York Times op-ed, and in a conversation with congresswoman Maxine Waters, positions herself as a role model, particularly for young women. Some things about Stallion are admirable. Even as a successful pop star, she believes in the importance of education and is pursuing a college degree. She believes in the importance of community and describes herself as an “awesome friend.” But the glorification of sex and the objectification of women in Stallion’s lyrics overshadow any positive influence she might have as a role model. Stallion has stated that the video for her song “Body” “advocates body positivity,” but how exactly “Body” is meant to advocate body positivity is unclear.
In her lyrics and music video, Stallion is clearly supporting a number of things other than body positivity: objectification of women, lesbian and drag culture, voyeurism, pornography, rebellion, and the glorification of sex. The only body positivity is reserved for her own body: she repeatedly raps about her own sexual desirability and her own sexual appetite, putting down other women for being less sexually desirable. With videos and lyrics that consistently portray herself as sexually dominant and as an object to be used for sexual fulfillment, Stallion is blurring the lines between pop star and porn star.
Since the beginning, a staple of male rappers’ lyrical content has been the objectification of women. For some reason, it seems that women rappers are taking their cues from their male counterparts, and also objectifying and sexualizing women, including themselves. Instead of reproaching male musicians who objectify women and use them to fulfill their sexual desires, Stallion is demanding that her own sexual libido be considered to be on par with the most sexually insatiable man. To many, this seems incompatible with Stallion’s position in culture as a “role model” for young women.
Sexuality as Power and Freedom
From the perspective of Stallion and those who agree with her, however, there’s a reason for all of the sexual content in her music. Similar to the rationale behind cancel culture, the reasoning behind songs like “Body” begins with an assumption about power. The idea behind “Body” is that women can leverage their own sexuality to gain power. In her New York Times op-ed, Stallion states that she is capitalizing on her sexuality to regain her own power. Congresswoman Maxine Waters agreed wholeheartedly with Stallion, responding to the op-ed by saying to Stallion, “we need your voice in this fight.” Overlooking the ways in which she might become little more than a sexual object in her videos, Stallion takes every opportunity to sexualize herself. However, becoming a sex-object as a form of “power” often ends in violence toward women. It can also lead to eating disorders and depression for those who don’t fit the image touted by celebrities like Stallion.
Power is one side of the coin in Stallion’s musical output. The other side is about expressing independence and encouraging others to do the same. Megan Thee Stallion stated, “I’m only going to talk to you about what Megan wants to talk about and I’m only going to do what Megan wants to do and there is nobody powerful enough walking this earth that’s going to make me feel any differently about it.” Stallion was raised by her mother and grandmother; she was taught to never rely on anyone and that lesson has stuck with her. She credits her mother as one of her greatest inspirations and is leveraging her sexuality to live the life of independence her mother always told her she should live.
However, it has been shown that self-objectification increases negative emotions about one’s self, “particularly feelings of shame and embarrassment.” Devastatingly, lower self-esteem makes people more likely to allow themselves to be treated poorly, which in worst-case scenarios can mean women become the victims of violent crimes or they are abandoned to live as single mothers, among other tragic possibilities. Self-objectification can create a vicious cycle that continues to make women’s lives worse. Stallion may intend to help women through sexualizing herself, but she does not. Rather than giving women more power and freedom, self-objectification does the opposite.
What is perhaps most significant about Stallion is not the shocking content of her music, but that she is held up as a role model for young women because she has unapologetically sexualized herself. What at other times would be called pornography or misogyny is held up as courage, empowerment, and virtue. What should have been condemned as degrading women has instead been embraced by mainstream culture as somehow being a display of female power and independence. For men to objectify women is rightly vilified, but for some reason, women objectifying women is praised. It seems as if Stallion and many others believe that female sexualization of females is the best way, perhaps the only way, to secure the power and independence women should have. The Christian narrative offers a more hopeful story about what it means to thrive as a woman, without having to grasp for power by displaying yourself as an object of sexual desire.
Stallion wants to have independence and power for herself and for other women, but what she is seeking are false power and false independence. The model of Jesus is that the greatest must be a servant and that power is made perfect in weakness (Matthew 23:11, Philippians 2:5-8). True power cannot be found in leveraging one’s sexuality, because our sexuality is not the truest thing about who we are.
Stallion also advocates for extreme independence, in which a person can do whatever they want. However, this is a false independence known as licentiousness. G.K. Chesterton argued that true independence is actually found within the structure provided by Christianity. He wrote in Orthodoxy, “the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”1 Outside of the structure provided by Christianity, we will not be free, we will become slaves to the vices of our choosing (Romans 6:6). Christianity provides true freedom, but the sort of “independence” Stallion advocates for is licentiousness.
As a successful performer who is looked up to as a role model, it seems that Stallion has achieved both power and independence. But Stallion will only ever have these things in a superficial sense because she is chasing false forms of them. By advocating for these things, she is hurting rather than helping the young women who look up to her. Not only is she encouraging women to chase things that will not satisfy them, but she is also declaring with every song and every video she creates that the way to do it is by sexualizing and objectifying yourself.
Since we are made in the image of God, there is something glorious about the human body. But in her eagerness to capitalize on her sexuality, Stallion misses what it means to be fully human. To be fully human, as Jesus was fully human, has to do with far more than our sexuality. Sexuality encompasses only small parts of things like beauty and purpose. As creatures made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), we do not find life, happiness, freedom, or power in glorifying our own bodies and sexuality. Instead, we are meant to turn back to God, the Source of all of our glory. Christ, fully human, is our model: “for the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.”2 Instead of magnifying reflected glory or the human body, we should turn back to the Source of that glory and behold God. When we do, we see what it means to be human.
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