Sam Smith just dropped the music video for “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” and it’s receiving a lot of media attention – but not all of it is praise. In a world where patriarchal beauty standards dictate which bodies are to be sexualised and publicly applauded, Sam is seemingly taking a stand and calling out the double standards with their latest music video. Sam’s been clear about their desire to challenge these norms in the past and to express themselves freely, regardless of society’s expectations. But critics are accusing the video of being overly sexualized.
I hopped onto YouTube, curious about how far Sam had pushed the sexy envelope and was surprised that whilst the music video is raunchy, it’s no raunchier than any other music video produced by other artists in recent years. Sam gets about in lingerie, and nipple tassels and there’s a fountain scene that hints at golden showers. Nothing we haven’t seen in other music videos one hundred times.
Madonna, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera have been serving us sex appeal for decades and we all just dance along. What’s different is that Sam is sexualising a fat body in a way that is typically reserved for thin cis-female-presenting bodies. The criticism this video is getting for being overly sexualised is steeped in both homophobia and fatphobia. One fan aptly wrote ‘If Harry Styles wore the same fits on a magazine cover, y’all would be screaming YAS QUEEN’.
Whilst we can explore the objectification of the female body in media in another blog, here we need to examine the double standard of sexualization in the media. Cis-gendered, female, small-bodied women who fit into patriarchal beauty standards are typically celebrated for their sexualized performances in music videos. Last year Nicki Minaj’s released her music video for “Super Freaky Girl” featured Nicki writhing around in a bikini, rapping “You can smack it, you can grip it, you can go down and kiss it” supported by an ensemble of women who bend over to reveal their thongs. Among many accolades, this song won Best Video at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
In another recent example, last year Megan Thee Stallion and Dua Lipa released “Sweetest Pie”, in which Megan wears only body jewellery whilst Dua sings “Ooh, baby, we can go fast. I’ll drive, and you just lay back.” If we even look at Lil Nas X’s video for “Industry Baby” in 2021, Lil Nas X pushed against the norm, sexualising thin cis-male bodies as they dance naked with nothing but blur squares to keep it PG. He won Top Rap Song at the Billboard Music Awards for this song last year. Does anyone accuse their videos of being overly sexualized? No, because it’s considered acceptable for thin, small-bodied, (disproportionately female) cis-gender people to be sexualized. But when a non-binary larger-bodied individual like Sam Smith does the same, suddenly, it’s perverted.
Sam Smith has been open about their struggles with their weight and the criticism they’ve received alongside their personal struggles. And recently Sam has been open about recovering from their body dysmorphia, and how they are no longer fazed by any opinions about their size. The video for “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” is a true celebration of that.
But separate from Sam’s feelings about this criticism is the impact this criticism can have on viewers. A video that could be seen as a celebration of sexuality in a body that is so rarely publicly celebrated, could help give permission to so many others who experience weight-based discrimination to consider some degree of self-acceptance. But this criticism just perpetuates the weight bias that people in larger bodies experience every day.
But Sam isn’t here to make friends, they’re here to make a statement. And fans are not taking the criticism lightly. Maybe this backlash will get more people to have a conversation about the way media perpetuates outdated beauty ideals and encourage people to check their own biases. The way I see it, “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” is a bold and daring statement about weight bias, traditional beauty standards, and non-binary sexuality.
Sam is sending a powerful message to everyone who has ever been shamed or ridiculed for their weight: you deserve to be confident, sexy, and proud of your body, no matter what anyone else says. So, let’s consider this as a call to action for everyone to embrace their bodies and their sexuality because I don’t think Sam is going anywhere.