A few days ago, the music video for John Legend’s “You & I (Nobody In the World)” was uploaded to his Vevo account and has since accumulated more than 6.5 million views on YouTube. John Legend once explained that the inspiration for this song came from seeing his wife apply makeup before going out and it was his way of telling her that she does not need makeup to look beautiful. The video (below) begins with his wife, Chrissy Teigen, preparing her makeup, but then goes on to showcase many other women in similar scenarios. Featured in the video are women of different ages, races and sizes, many of whom struggling to find beauty in themselves, some after major life events. One woman in particular shows the result of a double mastectomy; another fixes a wig, possibly after surviving chemo. Even Laverne Cox, star from the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”, makes some face time in the video (she is shown in the YouTube thumbnail, her presence drawing myself and probably many others to watch this video).
Upon watching this music video, I caught on to its message almost instantly. The video is a unique take on a message that is quite common in the media today (no matter how ironically). That being said, I definitely did not expect a lot of what I saw in the video and some of the featured struggles to be present. Many different walks of life for women are represented. I really had no complaints after watching it, but I cannot say the same about many of those who commented on the video. Excluding the average YouTube comment spam and those who appreciated the video’s message, there was quite a variety of criticisms coming at the video.
Many were predictable, such as the denial that people who are overweight are attractive, or the transphobia towards Laverne Cox. A bit like the comment below that kills two birds with one stone.
Others, like this one, point out that they see one tiny flaw in the origins of Legend’s message.
One commenter posted a last effort to salvage the makeup industry.
And then there’s this strongly opinionated guy. The completely censored part is a comment he made in response to another response and I have removed it since the context is missing.
But if you filter out the antifeminism in that last comment, he may be on to something; something that we see in these comments below which other users have made.
Apparently, one of the major criticisms coming down on this song doesn’t inherently belong to this particular song or even John Legend. It is that somewhere in the process of campaigning to help everyday women separate their perspective on beauty from that in the mainstream media, people forgot to tell men to do the same thing. Yes, there are men of a variety of shapes, sizes and bone structures with varying genetics that aren’t always portrayed in the media as well. Insecure men will see tall, muscular men with no visible body fat the same way that insecure women will see the tall, slim models with large curves. Whether you are a man or a woman, there shouldn’t be a specific set of measurements that define beauty (health yes, but not beauty).
I see this problem of a double standard stemming from three reasons. The first is that society has placed men in a position where it is wrong to speak out against perceived injustices. If a certain man were to discuss insecurities or mentally/emotionally damaging experiences the way women do, he would suddenly be labeled as soft or weak by both male and female peers. While both of these qualities are not exactly negative in small amounts, this man would be ignored and whatever problems that he has would be disregarded. Don’t believe me? Watch this video from ManKindInitiative on YouTube and see what everyone’s laughing about.
Another problem stems when men are successful in voicing their issues. They are instantly shut down by women voicing their own complaints like theirs outweigh those of men. Most men who recognize inherent problems towards their own gender in society are well aware that women face challenges on a daily basis because of their gender. In other words, not every man with a problem is being whiny and ignorant. I am not at all denying the existence of issues that women face because of their gender; I could easily speak about both in the same breath. I am just choosing to focus on one perspective here.
The third is a problem that both men and women face. It comes when a message starts out as sincere and well-intentioned, and then a few extremists pop up and attack other groups a little bit louder than everyone else. A simple campaign about men’s body image, for example, would suddenly turn into viral memes and gifs bashing women for being shallow and insensitive. It is typically this kind of behaviour that makes people turn their back on causes because they don’t want these harsh and numerous messages constantly being fired at them, especially when they know that they are not as bad as they are being made out to be. On the other side of this same example, the simpler guys who only wanted to voice their more innocent concerns are suddenly called misogynistic just because their emotions and intentions were taken way out of their original context.
So to segue back to my original point about body image, we can see why men are often more reluctant to speak out about the insecurities that many of the women in John Legend’s video face. That being said, the campaign on behalf of men may not be as barren as some people may think. It is here that I would like to mention a duo from the opposite end of the musical spectrum as John Legend, LMFAO, and their anthem Sexy and I Know it.
I never thought much of these guys from a musical stand point. Sure there’s a fun, catchy aspect that makes their music great for parties, but we can all understand why this song was critically bashed at its peak. But there was something about it that made it a hit and I never really understood it until I saw this video from Watchmojo.com. A guilty pleasure of mine last summer, it was among their videos that I realized something that I hadn’t earlier seen from this song. While I would recommend this full video for its viewing pleasure, the only part of their Top 10 Guilty Pleasure Songs video that is relevant here comes from 2:10-3:00.
Believe it or not, this song is a body image anthem, and even while singing and dancing along, no one realized it. The first time watching the video, some cringe-worthy men are walking around almost naked and throwing their crotches around in plain view of a bewildered and disgusted crowd. But maybe we’ve misread it and it actually features men comfortable enough to sport their bodies no matter how they look to a crowd that is confused, but ultimately admires their confidence. While most of the men have smaller builds, there is clearly a fair amount of body fat showcased on these men who still feel sexy. Even when sweaty (and not in a posed “I’m dripping because I just went for a run” kind of way, but in an “It’s hot and kind of sticky out here” way) and potentially uncomfortable, these men make this ode in an admittedly unorthodox but flashy way. Want to criticize them for showing their genitals bouncing under their speedos? Let’s first discuss the vast number of women running across the beach in bikinis in slow motion with their large breasts bouncing in other music videos.
To conclude, no one should ever be criticized for excluding groups from their well-intentioned messages. If you can’t find someone who speaks on your behalf, maybe you aren’t looking hard enough. John Legend chose one aspect of beauty and body image inspired by real emotions from real events to focus on in his song. Ultimately, everyone has the right to feel comfortable in their own skin and I’m sure that if one fan were to tell Legend that his song helped them to embrace their natural beauty and stop worrying about what those around them said was beautiful, he would have achieved his goal.