An Open Letter to Michelle Obama: Beyonce is Not a Role Model
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 themselvessexually 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.
By Rakhi Kumar