It's the summer anthem many were waiting for. In the new video for the irrepressible hip-hop song "Thunder Thighs," women of different shapes, sizes, races and sexualities enjoy a summer day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn — all exulting in their own bodies as they braid each other's hair, eat ice cream and frolic in a fire hydrant's spray.
"Thunder Thighs" is the handiwork of Miss Eaves, the alter ego of Brooklyn multimedia artist Shanthony Exum. Her work, which includes rap, photography, illustration and graphic design, centers on themes she describes as politically progressive and feminist. For Exum, "Thunder Thighs" is a case of "art reflecting reality."
"I've had a curvy body for my whole life," she says. "A lot of the things I talked about in 'Thunder Thighs' — such as, like, wearing mom jeans or having your thighs touch and rub together, in the summer, getting 'chub rub' — these are things I've experienced my whole life."
Exum says she and her friend April Maxey, who co-directed the video, were deliberate about centering and celebrating all sorts of women. "We wanted to make a video that was very body-positive and representative of various people," Exum says. "There's plus-sized people, there's people of color, there's queer people — we just wanted to show everyone enjoying their body, having fun in the summer."
It was especially important to Exum to represent older women. "I do feel a lot of times people who are over the age of maybe 45 are left out of these conversations," she says. "But everyone has the right to celebrate their body. Everyone has the right to be visible and seen."
Exum particularly loves the moment in the "Thunder Thighs" video when an older woman, caught up in the joyous celebration, rips off her sweater to reveal a crop top without a bra underneath. "She's really shaking it, and just living her life and just having a great time!" Exum says. "I just told her to wear something colorful. She decided to come without her bra. I'm really glad that she did, because that was an amazing part of the video."
Exum says she's pleased about how strongly the video and song have seemed to resonate. "I've gotten a lot of messages from people who didn't know about me before," she says. "Like, 'I'm buying shorts for the first time!' 'I'm buying my first sundress!' 'I'm now feeling comfortable in my body to wear things that I felt I wasn't allowed to wear.' "
Spreading body positivity and celebrating people's uniqueness aren't just what Exum sets out to do with her music — they're part of her larger mission statement as an artist.
"I just want to show through my art the various ways through which people can live a life, and celebrate all of them," she says. To that end, Exum also runs a body-positive style blog, The Every Body Project, which features her street photography of stylish people of all body types, ethnicities and ages.
Body positivity is just one of the issues Exum sings about on the forthcoming Miss Eaves album Feminasty, out Aug. 4. She says the album title is a play on the word "feminazi," a derogatory term used to insult staunch feminists, combined with a beloved Janet Jackson lyric: "My first name ain't 'baby,' it's Janet — Ms. Jackson if you're nasty." Feminasty includes songs that celebrate aging, that confront men who tell women to smile and that detail her "evil scientist" scheme to cobble together a perfect partner.
One song that won't appear on Feminasty? The rap Exum wrote about NPR a few years ago. "I just let my fans tell me what topic they wanted me to write raps about, and one of them was NPR," she says. "So I was like, 'NPR, I bump it in my car!' "
Web editor Rachel Horn contributed to this story.
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