Thursday, May 9, 2013

Beyonce is Not a Role Model?

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This post was inspired by an article a friend linked to on Yahoo titled An Open Letter to Michelle Obama: Beyonce is Not a Role Model. In it, the writer laments on the outfits that Beyonce uses in her performances and wonders how Michelle Obama can still consider her a role model for her two young daughters.

Personally, I consider celebrities no matter how big they are as human being first, and just like the rest of us, they have the life pressures they face, they have their flaws, their dreams, their goals, and how they want to live their life. They are on pedestals because we put them there, not because they have special powers or personality traits that make them saints or idols.

When I say somebody who is in the public eye is a role model, it means to me that the person has used some of the talent they have and made the world notice them. It may be in Science, Arts, Sports, but in today's world, mostly in Entertainment. Thinking that these ordinary people have somehow become perfect is setting oneself up for a fall. In the same way however, that thinking they are all bad is disingenuous too.

Beyonce has her strong sides, just as she has her weak sides, but blaming her for all that is wrong in the world for other women is kinda tricky. As adults we know to be inspired by the aspects that we admire, and allow her her foibles. We do not have to do exactly what that person does, for instance we do not have to become an R&B singer in a bodysuit like Beyonce's, but we can emulate the drive and hard work that got her to the top.

For the children in our lives, like Michelle Obama who has two daughters, our task is to educate them by making ourselves who are closest to them their primary examples of what a human and a woman is. Make your life as real and admirable as you can, teach your children the basic tenets of morality, self esteem and being an individual, and protect them while they're still young from the power of the media. By the time they're old enough, they'll know how to be true to themselves and not to follow the crowd, and how to pick and choose what to emulate from their favorite singers and celebrities.

Below is the particular image that got the writer incensed, and his article.

An Open Letter to Michelle Obama: Beyonce is Not a Role Model

By Rakhi Kumar

Dear Michelle Obama,
I'm addressing this to you because I admire you. Because you're smart and a mum to two young girls. And you're the First Lady of the USA. And because you were recently quoted as saying that Beyonce is a great 'role model' to your two daughters, and because you recently tweeted, after the Superbowl, that you were 'so proud' of her. I'm writing because everything you do is admired and emulated by so many; but when you endorse a recording artist like Beyonce, I see the most misogynistic aspects of the music industry (that prefers girls to be no more complex than dolls) interpret your comments as a seal of approval for the thoughtless cultural currency that they flood the youth market with. I'm writing because I think it's time to stop suggesting to very young girls that ultimate feminine success - in the music industry or anywhere else - comes with the need, or the expectation for them to undress.

When Beyonce kicked off her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour two nights ago, wearing her sheer bodysuit with nipples showing, to me she performed the final degradation of her talent; a retrogressive transformation that has taken someone stellar and otherworldly, and made them into something dreadfully familiar and sad.

Variations of Beyonce's body suit can be found in brothels, strip clubs, and red light districts across the world - where sex is for sale and it happens to be dispensed through a woman's body. That she is a human being with feelings and dreams, perhaps a sister, a mother, a leader, a teacher, a student - ALWAYS - a daughter - all of this can be forgotten. In those surroundings a suit like Beyonce's would look far from glamorous. Maybe just downright heartbreaking as a woman somewhere becomes an object, available for the gratification of a desire - at a price dictated by her 'managers'.

Next time you're presented with a shortlist of people in popular culture who you should spend time with or commend, think about how many young girls want to be just like Beyonce: Beyonce who sings 'Bow Down Bitch' and wears sheer bodysuits and high heels, singing about making money and being independent.

Remember that in the USA, the average age of a girl when she is trafficked for sex for the first time is 13.

Remember that she's often brought into the 'life' by drug dealers who promise her a celebrity lifestyle, clothes like the ones Beyonce wears, and situations where she can live like Queen Bey: looking hot, being desired by alpha males, wielding power over others with her body and sexuality.

Understand that in an obscene act of manipulation by the young men who will pimp them, for a very short amount of time - maybe only for a half an hour in one of their early encounters - young girls who are trafficked do actually get to taste the experience that they have identified as ultimate feminine success: they get given hot pants or body suits like the one Beyonce's dancing in, they dance for men who find them alluring, and for a very short time, these very young girls are convinced that they've made it - only to be assaulted, abused, and sometimes murdered in the years ahead, by the men who they thought wanted them.

Beyonce, performing in sheer body suits, nipples displayed, mouth open, high heels and sheer tights, shaking her butt on stage, can no longer be held by world leaders as an icon of female success.

Because for as long as she is, we are feeding a demonic myth that women must make themselves sexually available to enjoy ultimate success. And it is demonic because the impact this myth has on those most vulnerable young girls who fall pray to, is unimaginably horrible.

It can take years of a young girl's life away from her when she tries to escape a life of abuse at home by believing promises of money and glamor, sexual allure and power - a life just like the most successful women in the world; only to be sold for sex, beaten, and made addicted to drugs. It can take a chance of an educated, secure future away from her; and sometimes, if she can't find an exit - it can take her very life away from her.

Beyonce is a singer and a songwriter. She doesn't need to wear see through clothes or body suits to sing. We know that because we've seen her singing accapella in a hospital in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and - and she sounded like a celestial being from a different dimension.

She doesn't have to do this. She's choosing to. And she's not the first or only one woman to do it. And like the many women who have played this game the way they have, her reasons may be economic, artistic, personal or even misunderstood. But whatever her reasons, her influence cannot be underestimated or misunderstood.

It's time that young girls were sent a different message. A more refined, intelligent message. A message that engaged them at the level of their intellect and potential because implicit in our message to them should be the acknowledgement that they are naturally brilliant and that we believe that they are capable of everything - without ever having to undress to achieve their success.

The work here is to re etch the self image and self worth of young girls who think that sexualizing themselves is necessary to be powerful or successful.

So please, let it be known that Beyonce is not a role model.

She may have a lot of money, and she may have enormous influence.

But she can no longer be called a role model.

(Unless you think it would be really cool for Sasha or Malia to follow her example and sing songs for people on a stage whilst wearing sheer gold glitter bodysuits detailing the contours of their body, under the management of their daddy and/or their husband).

Instead, call out those who deliberately allow their sexual identity to eclipse the genius of their spirit and sacredness of their soul. Tell young girls that they are more than that. Engage with artists who sing, dance, write, design, perform - but whose presentation centers on showcasing the brilliance of their brain, not their body.

If I had daughters I'd tell them to pass on the Beyonce show because when you're wearing a sheer see through body suit with nipples on display, no matter how much gold thread in it - I don't see any light coming out of it. I just see a glowing ball of soullessness.

I'd say to my girls: all that's gold doesn't glitter. Let's find something genuinely luminous…and take them to a Lorna Simpson exhibition, or a C.C White concert, or hand them a Zadie Smith book.

I also wanted to show some comments to the article that I think add perspective and depth to the conversation. Of course there are those who agree in entirety with the writer of the piece. Where do you stand?

Daisy - Isn't it a bit contradictory to say that powerful women have to be a certain way? Instead of worrying about someone's nipples and the fact you only see short outfits as a sexualised image instead of anything to do with style choice or that just because a woman has her flesh on show it has to be sexualised. Instead care about the fact she is the only person I have seen live who has a strong feminist outlook and I think everyone is aware that there is no sexual availability to a woman part of one of the most famous couples in the world. Plus if Beyonce wants to act in a sexual way, then why shouldn't she? It's her body and her rules.
I think if you want a good role model for two young girls then Michelle Obama has a fair point, Beyonce is a hard working woman and has a healthy attitude towards other women. I don't really think its fair for other women to degrade other women.

Whitney - Your argument really is with Beyonce wearing provocative outfits, not with Mrs. Obama. I'm not arguing with anything you've said about the objectification of women, but Beyonce is a strong, successful, independent woman in a loving marriage. That is the woman that Michelle Obama believes to be a good role model for girls: someone with talent and passion who worked hard to make it to where she is. Personally, I don't understand the need for the eccentric, provocative costumes that female performers often wear, and it would be nice if that was not the industry standard, but that stage persona does not define the person, and good role models at the familial level can help to make the distinction clear to young girls.

J - I think that it is very easy for the author and many others alike to make big assumptions about the way Beyonce negotiates her body, image, career and clothing. I do understand that popular culture places an enormous amount of value on eroticizing the female body. However, to give cause and reason to Beyonce's wear without actually hearing Beyonce say why she wears such clothing is a little misleading and overgeneralized. Could it be that Beyonce is telling women to embrace their curves, breasts, and to not be ashamed of who and what they are? She does shake her rump but that she is not the first to do so (I am referring to African and Latin dances that involve hip movements). I also find that it is too easy for us to demean those who embrace their body and sexuality, as opposed to those who decide to take a more academic route. Also, I do not blame Beyonce for sex trafficking. I blame the misogynistic and sexist culture that she is a product of and to some extent has tried to reverse.


  1. Blessings....
    We are all roll models, voluntarily and involuntarily, it is not to be mistake with being perfect for we are all human and subject to err.


  2. These days celebrities are being put on pedestals like they are above "humans". These people are just like us only that they are more known. They are entertainers! Madonna, Janet and all the raunchy R&B male groups of the 90s etc were even worse than the present entertainers and the previous generation turned out fine so I doubt it's the fault of the entertainers! Parents want the TV to raise their kids! Put your kid in front of the TV so he/she won't bother you! SMH! It's like me now, I LOVE Rihanna! She's a strong young woman who had something very bad happen to her in front of 7 billion people and is able to hold her head up high. She makes mistakes like every other human being and she lets you know it. She worked hard to take herself from one small island to being pop music's juggernaut! Her work ethic is inspiring! That's something to look up to! Now will I wear a sheer top and thong bikini like Rih? Hell naww! LOL! But that doesn't take away from how she inspires me! Parents need to explain that to their kids! Make sure that the foundation at home is VERY SOUND!!! Parents should PARENT!

  3. I agree that everyone isn't perfect and we all have flaws and I get where anyone would be coming from by saying, "Beyonce is a strong, independent woman..". But I have my own view.

    When little girls watch such videos of Beyonce and other celebs dressed provocatively and dancing suggestively, I'm sure they are not thinking "wow, she's a strong independent woman". I was once a young girl myself and I remember how I would watch TV and see things like that and the only thing on my mind would be how I can get one of those outfits and dance without worry, but of course in my dreams. And sometimes, I'd play dress up and try to convert my clothes into halters and mini-skirts and dance in front of the mirror, when no one was watching. I could have been between 7 and 10. It is as I grew older and started to 'give myself brain', I saw things differently.

    Our young girls watch and listen and internalise what they would. Talking about parents sitting down and 'explaining' to children sounds sort of like an unrealistic thing to me, because how many parents have time in this world of ours, and really how many parents even know Beyonce is a 'strong, independent woman'; they just know she's Beyonce that sings and swings her hips. Children have amazing minds and the media has such a strong influence and children would internalize what they would. Once you expose them to such things, it's sometimes hard to 'undo' the damage and so it's better not to even expose them to it at all and then try to 'explain', "...oh, this is why 'so, so and so', should be a role model"

    This brings to mind some of the episodes I've watched of 'How do I look', hosted by Jeanie Mai which air on The Style Network. Women come on the show, women used to a lifestlye of dressing raunchily, boobs falling out and thighs excessively exposed and when such women say things like "I'm a lawyer" or "I love to inspire children", Jeanie's jaw drops in shock. Later on in the show, a 'test' is carried out to explain to the 'culprit' how her image affects what people think about her. She may be asked to deliver an inspiring speech to a small audience behind curtains. The audience would actually be inspired, but once the speaker is revealed from behind curtains, there is shock on their face and they can't reconcile the very too 'different' persons, the one who delivered the speech and the one standing before them.. And some even go along to say they wouldn't take their children to listen to the woman speak. And then Jeanie Mai has to do some explaining..


    That's how I see it sha. Sorry for the long comment.


    1. You're so right AY.
      I admit that what Beyonce is wearing is a stage outfit and those may be fake breasts but it is tacky.

  4. I think Beyonce should really ditch the wannabe riri things. She would make a very good role model, I personally like her strength and intelligence but like the writer pointed out, a teenager might not really understand which one to concentrate on esp since these make up the ones she wants to really put out there. I said it before it'd be more rewarding for her if she was not trying to please everyone and that is exactly what I sense when she tries the provocative trend. Look Adele. Look at Alicia Keys. Beyonce has everything it takes to light up a stage without all of that. But then again, it's her life. And in that case, pointing my young girls towards her as a role model can be very misleading


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