Wednesday, 29 May 2013

In Defence of Beyonce...

You may or may not agree with me - and obviously would be entitled to do so - when I say that I believe Beyoncé is one of, if not the, most inspirational women in the public eye today. She is a singer, dancer, businesswoman, mother, director and producer of films, designer  (or at least collaborator - with H &M), married to one of the most famous artists in the music industry, as well as being one in her own right - releasing four best selling albums - and on top of all this recently had time to set up her own website and launch (another) sold-out world tour. This is the woman who sang the USA national anthem unaccompanied at a surprise press conference before delivering a show-stopping Super Bowl Halftime Show; the woman who produced not one but two documentaries about her life as an international star (Year of 4 and Life Is But A Dream); the woman who managed to fit in having a baby somewhere in between starring in the music video for H & M's swimwear collection and appearing in the Chime for Change concert with Givenchy. She is a philanthropist - the charity section on her website contains links to the websites of multiple good causes, some little known and some recognizable to most of us. She is a fashion icon, constantly photographed in the latest stunning designer outfits, models fragrances for Thierry Mugler and her own brand but at the same time also often seen make up free, with baby Blue Ivy in tow.

I don't know what she's eating for breakfast but I want some. We can probably all agree on the fact that managing half of what Beyoncé does would be a massive achievement. And the woman is only 31 - how on earth has she fitted it all in? Does she not need sleep? Maybe she gave up TV watching around the same time as becoming her own manager and record label boss? Whatever the reason, her success is certainly something to aspire to or be inspired by. I can't be the only one who asks themselves on a bad day: What would Beyoncé do? However, recently, for a number of reasons, Beyoncé, and to a certain extent Jay Z as well, have been getting a lot of negative attention from the media. While it's true that "celebrities," some people would argue, have to accept that they will lose some of their right to privacy, and even the right to not be slated on the internet and in newspapers, surely there is a line somewhere? And for me, and maybe for you too, Beyoncé is on the other side of that invisible line. I'm in no way arguing that we should not criticise, evaluate or discuss what she (or any other public figure) does or says or chooses to wear - as in fact entire industries rely on us debating these very things - and I accept that as a society we have chosen to value certain people as entertainers and cultural representatives and therefore we are responsible for holding them to accountable for what they do and how they "represent" us.
But I find some of the comments and things that are said about Beyoncé to be almost more offensive or hurtful than things that are said about a lot of other celebrities. Recently, for example, when rumours began to circulate on Twitter and E-online, that Beyoncé is supposedly pregnant with a second baby, some of the comments I read from viewing one webpage on the news story were, for a start, harsh, judgemental and, to be honest, really mean. Why do people feel the need to make comments along these lines? You would never take it upon yourself to make judgements on other people's lives, people you have never met, people you know nothing about, so why do it to someone simply because their career and talents have brought them into the spotlight. Why the hatred for someone so obviously talented? The easy answer would be jealousy, because let's face it, who can say they aren't even the tiniest bit envious of Beyoncé's life. However, I think it goes deeper than that. I think, despite the huge differences between countries such as England and the USA and places such as Saudi Arabia where a woman isn't even allowed to drive a car, we as a society still look at a smart, intelligent, beautiful and successful woman, and perceive her as a threat. Whether or not this is conscious, or perhaps we are unaware of it, it is still a problem. Would Beyoncé be judged in the same way, for simply doing her job as a global superstar by being rich, famous and reportedly spending $1 million dollars on her daughters bedroom, if she was a man? I'm sure many men spend $1 million dollars on a lot of things without being slammed in the global media for it. If you could, and wanted to spend that kind of money on your child - money you had earned and worked for - surely that's your choice alone and you shouldn't have to be judged for doing it.

There are obviously other examples of society judging Beyoncé's life when really its none of our business anyway - who cares if she wants to go on holiday to Cuba, its a beautiful country and her fans there probably really appreciated it. The main one though, that really winds me up, is the constant commentary on the way she (and every other female celebrity ever) looks. As if their bodies, and hair, and faces, and oh my god is she gaining weight/losing weight/gaining too much baby weight/not gaining enough/looking fat/looking too skinny is the only relevant thing about them. Forget talent, and brains, and being a generally good human being: we live in a world that teaches us that all that matters is how we look. And personally, it just drives me insane.

It all links with the comments I talked about previously. Whether or not Beyoncé is pregnant with a second child (and I think we can all agree now that that particular internet storm has died down that it probably isn't the case) does that automatically mean the public, and her "fans" have a right to know? Just because you, as I do, buy someone's albums and enjoy their music, your interest in their personal life doesn't win over their right to have privacy. And reacting to news about a celebrity - even if you have very good reasons to dislike them - by typing anonymous, hurtful comments on the internet just makes you pretty pathetic. And accusing someone of having used "surrogates" for her "fake" pregnancy is another one of these weird trends: Kim Kardashian being another example.

I think that what I'm trying to say is since when did we all stop knowing how to be nice to one another? I don't mean nice as in being a pushover, but in the sense of being kind. Allowing people to get away with being horrible about those in the public eye translates to children growing up in a culture that teaches them its okay to make nasty comments, okay to be a bully and okay to make other people feel small in order to make themselves feel better. I don't want to live in a world where we accept this behaviour. I want to live in a world where someone as inspirational as Beyoncé is given credit for all the good things she does, for helping girls to feel good about themselves and the way they look when they see a woman who resembles what they see in the mirror being so successful and influential. If Michelle Obama considers Beyoncé a good role model for her daughters, and therefore for young girls everywhere, I don't see any reason to disagree.

Have a look at this article, or, as it says, take it from Beyoncé herself: "I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I'm just a woman and I love being a woman..." (Vogue).

Any questions?

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