What follows is an open letter to First Lady Michelle Obama written by Huffington Post UK/Intent.com/Yahoo! Shine writer, Rakhi Kumar. It was published April 20th, so I apologize for sitting on this one for a couple weeks now. Regardless, I still wanted to post on it. Kumar's issue with influential individuals, like Mrs. Obama, promoting Beyonce as a role model in a lot of ways mirrors my own. Truthfully, I think that at one time she was a fairly decent role model. In more recent years, however, I would retract that sentiment without any hesitation. At this point I think she has officially jumped the shark, as it were. If I'm being honest with you, and I am, I've never been a huge Beyonce fan. Sure, lady has some serious pipes and I will not discard her obvious gift of voice, but ultimately she's another product of the marketing machine. For me there have been more than a few instances where other artists have alleged theft by Beyonce and Co., both songwriters and other performance artists. The similarities are… interesting. Besides, I liked Ryan Tedder's demo of "Halo" better than hers.
Nevertheless, Kumar's letter touches on a lot of issues that I have as both a grown man and as the parent parent of a young boy. My wife and I are excited about the idea of having more children, and the option of us having a little girl is obviously still on the table. If we were to be blessed and graced by a little girl, Beyonce just isn't someone I'd be peddling to my little girl. I'd more so be pointing her towards Ella, Aretha and Adele rather than Beyonce if we're fishing for role models in the pool labeled "Famous Singers." For those three ladies, their music stands on it's artistry alone. They didn't need sex, glitz, glamor and hip thrusting in order for their music to be successful. They didn't trot out in corsets and other get-ups typically found in places that grown men ought not be going. Those ladies just came out and let their instrument sell the records, t-shirts and concert tickets. Sadly, in this age the phrase "sex sells" is a generally accepted principle regardless of the lack of wisdom in "sex sells." For those who believe it a credible sentiment with regards to advertising and marketing, I would refer them to Mad Men creator/writer/director Matt Weiner, via Don Draper. Youtube it if you must.
The reality of such a thought? Well, it sells alright, but at what cost to the people buying it and being sold in it? If you think the world of porn/fantasy is victimless, I have some acreage on Mars I'd like to sell you.The author of the open letter below, a well educated woman herself, brings up some finer points about what Mrs. Carter is selling when she takes the stage. Call me a prude, old-fashioned, or whatever else you want, but read the letter and then consider your own children or future children. I don't want my son(s) to grow up objectifying women the way so many men in our present age do. I want them to treat women respectfully or like they would a sister, and to treat the woman they marry in the future like a treasure. And, if we are someday blessed with a daughter I wouldn't want her to see it fit to be sold for her figure. Additionally, I want for her to seek a man who will nurture and care for her heart and her soul, first, and her body after.
I once remember hearing 2 boys talking about 2 actresses from a movie. They're both adults, but I would consider them boys for the conversation that evolved between them. They were discussing the differences between the two actresses and that one was an "ugly dog" who better not ruin a movie because of it. Their words, not mine. And I remember just having this sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach because one of them is the father to a little girl. I thought to myself, "Man, if he overheard someone talking about his daughter like that, he would want to wear out a steel-toed boot on that dude's teeth." It's interesting how little perspective we have and what little grace we exhibit on a daily basis. It's also a thorough example of what we actually value in culture.
Additionally, as a former educator it was always my heart that kids know that they do have value far beyond what society would assign them. Teachers have a front row seat to witness one too many little girls starve for attention, and one too many boys looking to give them attention that is unhealthy, for them both. Some of these children suffering from daddy deprivation. So, as a daddy I want to lead my child(ren) well when it comes to who we look up to, what we value, and how we treat people.
Read the letter, it's worth it. I'm sure some will let their rampant, unquestionable, and irrational support of Beyonce and/or Mrs. Obama get the better of them, and that's fine. Politics and celebrity are the new choice drugs of the masses. Sure, one could make the point that Mrs. Obama knows the "real" Beyonce, not just the Beyonce on stage. Here's the problem; you can't separate the two. There is no split personality or duality there; one cannot exist without the other. The one consciously obliges to the other. And, at best you are making my case for me and taking it even further in that defending Beyonce is propping up and celebrating the facade or personality a person constructs for themselves for money. Sorry… not buying it, and neither should you.
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.