Despite its progressive furnishings, indie rock is no friendlier a place to be a fat woman than anywhere else in music or society. Ellen Kempner of the Boston-based indie darling band Palehound, knows this intimately.
On her devastating new single "Worthy," which PAPER debuts off her third LP Black Friday, she unflinchingly bares her scars of self-loathing and body-hatred: the kind of insidious, socially inflicted wounds that run so deep, not even releasing a pair of critically acclaimed records and finding a loving partner (normative metrics of success) can heal them completely. As "a fat girl who's been told her whole life that she can't find love looking like she does," "Worthy" is Kempner's document of grappling with "the shock of finding someone who isn't telling you to change" and the "wild journey of figuring out how to believe the person who believes in you."
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While most body empowerment songs blend together into a soup of glittering generalities and inspirational clichés, that sometimes feel comically inadequate to address how body hatred actually feels, "Worthy" is precise and brutal. In the vivid, uncluttered songwriting she's become known for, Kempner captures both small, violences of these feelings ("I think I hate my body/ Til it's next to yours") and the relief of finding someone who helps keep your ghosts away ("With you I wear the clothes/ I'd buried in my drawers").
"Being a fat girl in indie rock has lead me to have a very skewed image of my body."
The tender video continues the love story between Kempner and a lover wearing a yarn mask she depicted in her recent single "Aaron," dedicated to her trans partner during his transition: Kempner follows a string of yarn that leads her towards a yarn-masked lover, who hands her her disguise. In the end, two yarn people, happy to have found each other, enjoy a sunny afternoon.
Learning not to hate yourself, let alone love yourself, is rarely neat or linear. As such, "Worthy" ricochets between hope and doubt, as Kempner details the explosive episodes of self-punishment that can dome out of nowhere: "I think I'd better quit/ I text you late at night/ I'm in the motel bathroom/ Staring at my thighs." There's a time and place for affirming, decisive declarations of body positivity and self-love (see: Lizzo), but the agonizing, compassionate honesty Kempner shares in "Worthy" is its own kind of healing.
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"Being a fat girl in indie rock has lead me to have a very skewed image of my body. I'm constantly surrounded by people who look like models," Kempner tells PAPER. "A lot of my insecurities stem from fears that my body could be an obstacle for me as an artist. 'Worthy' is about breaking down the self hatred that this environment has planted in me."
Photo courtesy of Bao Ngo