In a recent piece for PolicyMic, writer Natalie Morin takes bands and artists like One Direction to task for the lyrics of their songs, and the negative impact those songs have on young girls’ self esteem.
As Morin puts it, “Rather than praising a woman for her confidence, her low-self esteem is glorified: ‘You don’t know you’re beautiful,’ One Direction sings, ‘that’s what makes you beautiful.’ It’s an attitude that encourages insecurity while doing nothing to resolve it.”
Morin cites songs like 1D’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” and “Little Things” as the pop music equivalent of a “neg” A neg, as she defines it, is “an infamous and super-sleazy pick-up method in which men give backhanded compliments to women in order to make them vulnerable without looking like too much of a jerk.”
Morin’s piece is smart and sharp and an unflinching look at the damage a seemingly benign genre of music can inflict on its audience. That said, art, as we all know, is not a math equation. There isn’t one right answer and one wrong answer. A song can mean different things to different people. Is One Direction really “negging,” or are they doing the opposite and empowering girls with their lyrics?
Let’s take a closer look.
“You’re insecure, don’t know what for / You’re turning heads when you walk through the door / Don’t need makeup to cover up / Being the way that you are is enough/Everyone else in the room can see it / Everyone else but you.”
Yes, I can see the argument that the boy in the song is attracted to this girl’s insecurity and is “negging her.” But I can see a world in which this guy really thinks this girl is great, “everyone else in the room” can see she’s great, but the girl in question is so aware of everything that isn’t Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and Easy Breezy Covergirl about her that she can’t that she’s drenched head to toe in her own brand of beautiful. That scene from “Mean Girls” comes to mind where Regina, Gretchen, and Karen race to the mirror to bemoan their visible pores and man shoulders, baffling Cady, because she sees what we see: three beautiful, beautiful, beautiful girls. It’s easy for a girl to feel inadequate because there are so many boxes we are pressured to check off before we walk out the door. It’s easy to spend all day worrying about the boxes that AREN’T checked off instead of feeling great about what you have in spades: an athlete’s strength, eyes that serve as the window to your gorgeous soul, the best laugh ever. What if this song isn’t about celebrating a girl’s insecurity but a plea for her to feel secure about all there is to feel secure about?
Similarly, let’s look at a few lyrics from another one of their songs “Little Things”:
“I know you’ve never loved the crinkles by your eyes / You’ve never loved your stomach or your thighs / […] But I love them endlessly.”
Again, yes, Morin’s argument holds water. The dude in question could be attracted to her insecurity or negging her. BUT BUT BUT he could also just think this girl is the greatest thing since sliced bread and not WANT her stomach/thighs/eyes to look any different. This could be celebrating low self esteem OR it could be this guys trying to boost the girl’s self esteem hard because he wants her to love herself as much as he loves her.
I’m probably a little too old for One Direction (if you don’t have to have your parents drive you to their concerts, you’re probably a little too old for 1D) but when I listen to their songs, I feel awesome, as insecure as I can feel on any given day, I like the idea that my insecurity is my own weird deal, and in other people’s eyes I look as awesome as I want to be. All I have to do is figure out how to believe a truth that is so much better than my own lies.