Despite being one of the most commonly recognized forms of catharsis, there are still subjects in songwriting that are treated as non-issues or considered seemingly too taboo to talk about. Heartbreak? Tunes about that are a dime a dozen. Drug use? It’s a common topic. Once a fellow music writer told me all songs are about relationships or substance abuse. Aside from the odd politically charged track, he was pretty spot on. And if you discount songs by Demi Lovato and that one Ted Leo jam, a topic that is almost constantly shied away from is body image issues.
Girls and women in almost all aspects of life are discouraged from expressing their feelings about their own physicality if they suffer shame or disordered thinking. Despite the overwhelming pressure to be perfect, talking about the weight of this pressure is often treated as vanity and shallowness. This is why it was so chilling and refreshing to hear Mary Lambert.
A haunting confession spoken in a shaking voice over stark piano, “I Know Girls” talks of the pressure nearly every girl feels to fit in and the tolls that pressure takes on a woman’s mind and body. In five minutes, Lambert manages to be more honest and compelling than most artists are in entire records. And for the first time in more than a year, a song moved me to the point of breathlessness and teary eyes.
The topics at hand are ones that are more and more prevalent in women’s lives every day — The pressure to stay thin, the pressure to drink, the pressure to sleep with men because as a woman, you are taught to feel worthless unless you attract the attention of good looking men. Self harm. Drug abuse, either to lose weight or to numb the shame of your own actions. I’m no stranger to these emotions, nor is the majority of my tumblr dashboard. There are thousands of us — girls and women of all races and sizes and economic backgrounds who have at one point in our lives literally starved ourselves for the approval of others, who have mutilated our bodies because the pain and pressures we felt were too much to contain inside our veins. Despite our amassing numbers, our feelings and actions are shrouded in secrecy and shunned. More often than not, when we speak up with honesty, our problems are minimized. We are humiliated, invalidated, and treated as if we are mentally unstable if we express any emotion bordering on extreme, even if a situation calls for an extreme reaction. We are taught from a young age that our pain doesn’t matter. But it does.
“You are no less valuable as a size 16 than a size 4, you are no less valuable as a 32 a than a 36 c.” Those are words I never heard spoken in a song before. Sure, pop artists marketed to young girls sing about how beautiful girls are in a vague way so every preteen can insert themselves in Selena Gomez’s shoes but those same stars are promoted in magazines that feature ads airbrushed into oblivion, dieting tips, and sex advice so “your man will love you more.” Because, just like Lambert says, most girls only know how to exist when they are wanted, measuring self worth by the caliber of men interested in them, by their MAC eyeshadow, and by their liquor consumption. Take all of that away and who are they? Who am I? Who are you?
Worth is measured by more than a gap between your thighs or the number of calories you ate. It’s more than a boy or a compliment or a cute dress. Mary Lambert knows that and with the brave, confessional “I Know Girls,” she has cemented herself as one of indie music’s most positive female role models.
Amber Valentine didn’t once mention anything about Lambert’s looks in this article because the way a woman looks has next to nothing to do with her music.