An Open Letter to Beyoncé Regarding Her Ill-Advised Photo Embargo

Hey Bey: We need to discuss this photography firewall your camp has recently attempted to erect around you. First of all, I love you. Please remember as we go forward that I am unshakably convinced that you are a magical she-stallion of blinding, white-hot radness. Keep that in mind because it’s about to smell like tough love in here.

This photo business: It’s not good. It’s, like, really, really not good. At best, this goes completely against your branding and makes you look insecure, not to mention a little foolish for thinking that you have any power to control The Almighty Internet. At worst – much worse – this photo ban, plus your frantic reaction to Those Half Time Show Photos, equates to you putting your stamp of approval on the very limited female beauty standards that you have long-since decried. That’s pretty considerable weight to put behind such an anti-woman, destructive, regressive construct. Here’s hoping this letter will illuminate the way bigger implications of this weird ass photographic power play.

Let’s talk about why you’re so goddamn amazing: You have actual superpowers. Like, I’m not wholly convinced you’re not an immaculately built robot. You can move your body in ways that produce a visceral response from your audience. Your body is as much an instrument of expression as the songs you dance to, if not more. And this ain’t some dry, “Genie in a Bottle” shit you’re working with. You’re not popping pretty poses so much as you’re channeling pure, primal life force. It’s kind of ridiculous. I’m talking volcanos, earthquakes, the thud of Jon Hamm’s penis against his thigh whilst jogging…do you get what I’m saying, Bey? You give performances that knock the wind out of folks. Even through a TV, your moves go straight to the gut. That’s what people love.

Listen, dudesie, we know you’re beautiful. You’re, like, almost uncomfortably good-looking. So when you pull a move like this, which pretty fucking clearly implies that you’re not comfortable being seen outside the lines of conventional ideals of female appearance, then how on Blue Ivy’s green earth are we supposed to believe that bullshit you’ve been feeding us all these years about how perfectly imperfect our mortal bodies are? Sentiments like that, coming from someone who unequivocally does fit the mold, are almost impossible to pull off without sounding ridiculously out of touch, or patronizing to a laughable degree. But over the years, you did it. You sold us. You made your audience feel like unstoppable machines of fun, glamorous, intelligent greatness, and now…what? You’re violently shutting out documentation of you at your most powerful? Does not compute.

It’s not that I don’t get it. Girl, I get it so hard. When someone tags me in a Facebook photo circa 3:00am the night before while I’m every shade of not right looking, I literally can’t untag myself fast enough. Your response to the Super Bowl photos was essentially you hastily untagging yourself, which is entirely understandable.

That’s how the situation looks from the perspective of you as an individual person. Now let me put it in the context of you as a hugely influential role model (which you are, and we can’t really ignore that): You’re supposed to be the one who takes female performers from being the vehicles of their own (and our own) oppression by a male-dominated media and become something much bigger than just a perpetuator of inherently sexist, limiting, degrading standards for what constitutes female worth and acceptable objectification of women. You’re supposed to be the thing that burns that mother down. (By the way, you gave yourself that role. I’m not trying to burden you with all this responsibility. This is an observation, not an assignment.) And so far, you’ve done a surprisingly good job, and you’ve managed to do it without feeling obligated to deny your desire to be a fully invested wife and mother, and be feminine, and openly possess so many qualities that usually go hand-in-hand with the limitations on women that you’re trying to conquer. That’s, like, some next level shit.

And I say it’s surprising because who the fuck thought anyone could even begin to make a dent in that? And right now, that’s all it is: a dent. But that’s everything. It’s the fuel to push forward, to believe in ourselves even harder, and to permit a little more hope to creep into our fantasies of a future where things are so much different for women.

Which brings me to my point. Listen up, Mrs. Carter, because this is goddamn important: you and your publicist’s furious scrambling to get those Super Bowl photos taken down, and your subsequent banning of photographers from your tour? It is about to dismantle all of it.

I mean, you can do what you want. Part of being a Good Feminist is supporting any woman’s right to make choices for herself; it’s really no better for me to ask you to allow yourself to be perceived as “ugly” just because it supports oneagenda than it is for the Patriarchal Powers That Be to ask that you be pretty, well-postured, and “smiling with your eyes” all the damn time. You should absolutely get to decide what you wear, how you look, what plants to name your child after, and how much control to attempt to exercise over your portrayal in the media. I would never ask you to surrender your right to make those choices. It’s your life. You are…Sasha Fierce, etc. Make the call.

I ask you to consider the following points:

  1. In the end, photos of you Hulking out from the unbridled force of your amazingness are going to hit the internet. You might run the world, but the internet still owns all our souls, and our faces, even our un-cute ones. I get that you’re calculating and controlled about your career, and I fully respect it. I identify with it. But girl. GIRL. You are basically begging for the very worst possible pictures of you to be taken and widely circulated. And they’re going to be super shitty, low-res iPhone photos, so we’re going to be as bummed to have to stare at them as you will be that they exist in the first place. If it’s inevitable that unapproved photos are going to hit the internet (they are. Let’s be very clear about that. They really, really will be seen, with more fervor than ever now that your camp has declared them contraband.), then at least make them, like, good photos.
  2. Boo, this isn’t your first rodeo. Haven’t you been at this long enough to learn that the more you try to combat “bad” press, the more the media is going to come after you? Does the name “all celebrities ever” mean nothing to you? This is making you look insecure as hell. I’m not asserting that you are insecure. In fact, that’s not a quality I would ever associate with you. Why not? Because your image control is so flawlessly on point. Until now. This biz does not fall in line with Brand Beyoncé as it has been sold to us thus far. Did you forget everything we learned from “Bootylicious”?! Did you forget your painfully accurate lambasting of the media’s portrayal of women in your documentary, The Beyoncé Story, directed by Beyoncé, starring Beyoncé?
  3. Look, I don’t care if this whole “disassembling patriarchal media control over female self-image” thing has been one giant marketing strategy. If you’ve been faking it, you’ve been doing a hell of a job. Tricking women into thinking they’re beautiful sells albums works just as effectively as convincing them that you’re beautiful, the tactic employed by, umm, every other pop star ever. If this is a sham, keep that shit up. It is serving women in general just as well as it’s serving you. Even if you have zero attachment to the greater good of women, nor any personal investment in what the future might be like once a universally bolstered female self-image has time to echo into other parts of life, even if all of this is just business to you, let me be clear: you are making a bad business decision right now. You’re naturally gorgeous enough to not have to worry about anyone ever thinking of you as an ugly person, even if they see a less-than-pristine photo of you. You’ve got beautiful on lockdown, lady. But you can start being seen as insecure and kinda crazy, and this mandate is a step in that direction. “Bad” photos aren’t going to damage your reputation, but acting insane about them definitely will.
  4. Asking us to only look at you when you’ve got your fierce face on not only flies in the face of everything you’ve built your image on, it completely misunderstands what “fierce” truly is. Bey, seriously, do you not see how utterly, phenomenally fierce those photos are? The ones you wanted us to not see? You are killing it in those pictures. You are working it so hard that you’re body can literally barely contain the energy you’re producing. And do you even remember that Super Bowl show? WTF. It blew everyone away. Those photos show the intimate process of you knocking the world on its collective ass. How can you not love that? And how can you not see what a disempowering message it is for your fans to see you not loving that?
  5. Is the Illuminati making you do this? Blink twice for ‘yes’ and I’ll stop giving you shit.

Before I let you go, I beg you to contemplate this alternative approach to dealing with the issue of “unflattering” photos: OWN. THAT. SHIT. Oh my god, own it with all you’ve got. Imagine the message you would be sending if, instead of covertly trying to erase them from public view and then getting all dictatorial over future performance photos, you wore those pics proudly? What if you used the attention they got as a platform for continuing to discuss the unfair scrutiny of women in the media, or pointing out how this kind of “oh look, they stopped being cute for half a second while working their asses off” nonsense would never, ever happen with a male performer?

Or how about just saying, “Check out how gloriously hard I’m working. Please not the superhuman levels of energy and intensity I’m producing. Look at how committed I am to what I’m doing that I forgot to give a rat’s ass about looking pretty for the cameras for a minute. I love these photos.” Because you should. I love them. And when you act ashamed of them, you stand to undo the progressive work you’ve done just by being you (or the perception of you we’ve been sold. Whatever. The positive effect is the same whether you’re a phony or not, which I hope you’re not because I still aim to make us BFFs one day.) You’re playing right into the fucked up rules about how women are “supposed” to look, that you are uniquely positioned to help break down.

All the best to Hov and BIC,

Jessica

Jessica Blankenship is a writer, vodka enthusiast, and future wife of Bon Iver. She is certain Tilda Swinton is a David Bowie performance piece.