Mrs. O and Beyoncé: A Problematic Love Fest?
This writer says the first lady sends a dangerous message in calling the pop star a role model.
By: Demetria L. Lucas
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, former relationship editor for Essence magazine,and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.
(The Root) — Maybe you’ve heard about the ongoing love fest between Michelle Obama and pop star Beyoncé Knowles. Their public girl crush stems back to at least April 11, when Beyoncé posted an image on her blog of a handwritten note, fawning all over the first lady. “Michelle, is the ultimate example of a truly strong African American woman,” Beyoncé wrote. “I am proud to have my daughter grow up in a world where she has people like you, to look up to.”
Mrs. Obama responded in kind via Twitter: “Thank you for the beautiful letter and for being a role model who kids everywhere can look up to. –mo”
Really? That raised my arched brows, but I assumed FLOTUS was being extraordinarily gracious after Beyoncé’s flattering open letter. I mean, Bey did lend celeb power to Mrs. O’s Let’s Move! initiative; she belted out Etta James’ “At Last” for the Obamas’ inaugural dance; and she and her husband, Jay-Z, have been fundraising for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
FLOTUS and Bey’s latest round of gushing began when Mrs. Obama told People magazine last week that if there was anyone in the world she would trade places with, it would be Beyoncé. On Tuesday she was at it again. While promoting her new book, American Grown, on Good Morning America, she fawned over Bey once more. “I love her to death,” said Mrs. Obama, a bona fide role model.
This love fest has gone too far for my liking. I’m no one (and neither are you) to police the first lady’s musical tastes, but this continued public endorsement of Houston’s Finest rubs me the wrong way. I am not a Bey hater, but I am an observant onlooker.
By all accounts Bey is humble and hardworking, and I know firsthand that she puts on one helluva stage show. She sings well. She’s rich and beautiful, and her jet-set lifestyle seems fabulous from the outside looking in. Beyoncé is undeniably talented. But … she is also several things I would never want a young girl to aspire to or emulate.
She is only slightly more role model-esque than three of the four reality stars ironically gracing the current cover of Vibe. Let’s keep it funky, folks: Beyoncé’s talent — the one that’s made her a multimillionaire and a household name — is the ability to habitually line-step on the Madonna-whore dichotomy. That is to say, she has mastered the art of moving her tush like a stripper and her hips like a porn star, and she still manages to be perceived as a lady and some sort of feminist. Women who have done the same or less have faced more criticism.
Her lyrics fluctuate between empowerment lite and sending women nearly back to the June Cleaver dark ages. For every “Me, Myself and I,” “Irreplaceable” or “Love on Top,” there are songs like “Cater 2 U,” where Bey (during her Destiny’s Child days) does everything for her man, from untying his shoestrings to offering a manicure.
There’s also “Run the World (Girls),” which sounds pro-woman at first, but the lyrics, combined with the video, seem to say that a woman’s real power lies in her ability to persuade a man to action by enticing him with what lies between her thick thighs. (She undercuts the come-on slightly by saying, “F–k you, pay me.”) And then there’s “Ring the Alarm,” which is pure Birdism 101. Bey sing-shouts in her special way about not leaving a cheating man because she doesn’t want to lose (or have another woman gain) access to expensive material goods purchased by her significant other.
Consider a few of Beyoncé’s performances/publicity stunts (and I’m scratching the surface here), like the time she sang “Ave Maria” at the 2009 BET Awards while scantily clad in an outfit from Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” days. Or the entire year she didn’t wear pants while promoting B’Day. Or how she showed up to the Met Ball (aka the East Coast Oscars) in May wearing a dress that literally showed her ass.
This is the person with whom the first lady wants to trade places?!
For a woman of Michelle Obama’s caliber to uplift Beyoncé as a role model, and to speak of swapping lives with her, sends a damaging, demeaning and dangerous message to women and girls. It says that despite education and intellect, grace and power, what really matters is our looks, our willingness to submit and our ability to swivel our hips to sexually satisfy the opposite sex. We hear that message loud and clear every time a reality show airs. We don’t need to hear it from our first lady, too.