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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

India.Arie's "Video" is as honest as it gets in this gilded world of ours

Rising above the weight of unrealistic physical expectations, she delivers a soulful, guitar-driven affirmation of her self-worth.

Oh, unattainable ideals, why do you pain us so?

In this airbrushed, mass media-laden world, it’s so easy for us to be caught up in comparing ourselves to the chic images of the leading popular figures of our time. "Figures" is a particularly fitting word, because it can refer to certain people just as much as it can certain body types and images.

The music industry has often been the place where these images are most visible. While body positivity is increasingly present in the current popular scene, that is a quite recent development. Even a decade or two back, the pop world was dominated by impeccably fit young stars, who were seemingly magazine shoot-ready at any moment. In seeing these people being given the spotlights and praised in multiple forms of media, we wanted to be like them, and part of that involved looking like them.

When reality set in, and we realized we couldn't come close to being them, it was often a tough pain to swallow... but not for one India.Arie. One of the brightest new R&B talents of the early 2000s, India.Arie knew she wasn't built like those teen and young adult idols, but she refused to let herself feel bad because of that — a feat particularly admirable given 1) her place as a musician, and 2) women's increased likelihood of developing a negative body image, especially in relation to sociocultural standards and the aforementioned mass media portrayals. She stood tall, proud of who she is and how she looks, and this self-confidence was reflected in her debut single "Video."

The lead single off her debut album, Acoustic Soul, "Video" is Indie.Arie's celebration of what she has rather than what she lacks, a message which is reflected instrumentally as well as lyrically. The track's instrumental lives up to the album name in its first measures, when India.Arie's acoustic guitar chords meld with a sample of funk band Brick's 1977 song "Fun." It's unmistakably R&B, but the guitar adds a rawer flavor to it all, adding some hints of folk or singer/songwriter that pull you into the artist's narrative more.

To sum up said narrative, India.Arie is proud of how she looks, disregarding and in fact embracing her non-supermodel appearance because she presents herself on the outside how she is underneath. How she may craft her look from one day to the next "really just depends on whatever feels good in [her] soul," as she listens to herself and her own desires rather than letting the world craft her views on herself. In the process she retains her individuality and is proud of herself for doing so. When she sings, "When I look in the mirror and the only one there is me" at the beginning of the second verse, she speaks to maintaining this uniqueness. She doesn't see anyone else in the mirror because she doesn't feel the need to do so; she knows how she likes to present herself, and she likes the way she looks because it's unabashedly her. The chorus fits these ideas to a T, as the title statement in "I'm not the average girl from your video / And I'm not built like a supermodel" lays the foundation for the affirmation which follows: "But I learned to love myself unconditionally / Because I am a queen."

"Video" extends the talk of beauty standards to clothing choice, to which the artist has a similar stance of taking pride in her own choices. She disregards the idea that the clothes make the woman, singing that "[her] momma said a lady ain't what she wears but what she knows." In a world where women are far more scrutinized on the basis of fashion than men, India.Arie's refreshing viewpoint shows that she can rise above the noise and know that such observation and comparison only weighs women down. Moreover, she'll remain herself on the inside regardless of how she may design herself on a given day, as she affirms in the end of her chorus: "No matter what I'm wearing I will always be / India.Arie." This confidence is imbued by self-love, which disregards outward displays of opulence ("Keep your expensive cars and your caviar") in favor of preserving oneself truthfully on the inside ("All I need is my guitar").

In letting her inner self radiate outward, rather crafting herself to fit society's expectations, India.Arie sets an admirable example of an ideal 21st-century stance toward beauty. The masses may subscribe to one set of rules on the surface, but at their core, beauty, fashion, and appearance as a whole are individual. By focusing on her own tastes, India.Arie stays true to herself, and in that way is more of a model than any of the ones in fashion magazines and advertisements. Her viewpoint is especially admirable and welcome as a woman of color, being part of a section of our world which has lagged behind in having visible role models, and which has always been judged according to standards set by the White masses. Through her visibility as an artist, India.Arie was able to break through and resonate with many who didn't have someone like her to look up to before, especially in her affirmation of individual style. After all, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you are your own first and foremost beholder, so you ought to please yourself with your appearance over anyone else.


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