Could you name all the members of One Direction? Depending on your age and your pop-culture preferences, you could probably have a go. You could definitely list off the Spice Girls: Sporty, Scary, Baby, Posh and Ginger. How about Little Mix? Unless you’ve taken an active interest in the band, it’s unlikely. With the release of their decidedly feminist fifth studio album, LM5, it’s high time we recognised Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Jesy Nelson and Jade Thirlwall for the brilliant young women that they are.
“If you got little boobs, love it. If you got a big ass, grab it. If you got nothing, babe, rock it,” they sing on their new single, Strip, a salute to the power and sexiness of body confidence. The photoshoot accompanying the song shows the girls covered in words they thought defined them – ugly, fat, talentless, slutty, geek weak; words they now reject and, in some cases, celebrate. Other women are invited to embrace their bodies – anti-FGM activist Nimco Ali, writer and campaigner Bryony Gordon and sex-positive blogger Hannah Witton appear alongside the band, who have been sharing their stories on Twitter for the past few weeks. It’s one thing to release a body-positive song (which, to be cynical, is bound to garner press attention), but it’s another to use that global platform to salute other women with important stories to tell.
But Strip isn’t a one-time feminist hit for Little Mix – LM5 is full of them. The album opens with The National Manthem, a 30-second instructional gospel for men to take note of – be faithful, be honest, oh, and worship women. From there, we’re thrust into Little Mix’s world of woman-focused pop, where no boy is good enough for their friend and Joan of Arc is someone to channel when dancing in the club. A special mention must go to Woman’s World on the deluxe version of LM5, a ballad about the pay gap, an extremely rare feature on any major pop album and one we didn’t know we missed until today. “If you’ve never been told how you gotta be, what you gotta wear, how you gotta speak, if you never shouted to be heard, you ain't lived in a woman’s world,” sing the foursome on a track, which they’re all listed as executive producers and Jade has a songwriting credit.
Little Mix are providing young girls with the tools and confidence to overcome the patriarchal standards of beauty and womanhood thrust upon them before they even reach puberty
Sure, the concepts aren’t necessarily complex and don’t overturn every stone of sexism and inequality. It’s easy to dismiss Little Mix’s venture into feminism as an attempt at relevance in a competitive industry, trying to keep up with the Beyoncés and Taylor Swifts of the world – two women who face this exact criticism themselves. But it’s precisely these arguments that make us forget these women are pop stars – not politicians, not spokespeople, not theorists. While they do hold clout in guiding public opinion, it’s unlikely they have the power to change the patriarchal structures we desperately need to dismantle. Theresa May isn’t going to increase funding for women’s shelters because she heard Jesy sing about “jiggling” her weight. But what Little Mix does have, which politicians like May could never attract, is the attention of thousands of young girls.
Songs like Joan Of Arc and Strip speak to a generation of young women who are experiencing the depths of low self-esteem. By using their own language (“Oh, you on that feminist tip? Hell yeah, I am!”), Little Mix are providing these girls with the tools and confidence to overcome the patriarchal standards of beauty and womanhood thrust upon them before they even reach puberty. This is evident in the #StripForLittleMix Twitter hashtag, where hundreds of fans are sharing body-confident selfies in support of the girls’ message. Hopefully, these same girls (and boys) will grow up having already mastered the basics of feminism, ready and willing to rip the system to shreds.
When Harry Styles defended his young female fan base in a Rolling Stone interview, we all tripped over ourselves to praise him. But Little Mix receive no such adulation for the dedication and promotion of their own feminism – it’s about time we started paying attention.