by Ramona Pilar Gonzales
My Facebook stream was all gunked up with Worship-worship goo that morning. Most of the positive comments had the word “fierce” attached or adjacent, either directly referencing her self-appointed, “deceased” alter ego Sasha Fierce. I’m not one who worships at the altar of the almighty Bey. I do think she’s very talented, supremely focused, and her success has as much to do with that as it does having a supportive, entrepreneurial and knowledgeable father manager. But I will concede that the half-time show was pretty phenomenal for network TV. She was able to replicate herself using some of the same technology she used for her “Run the World (Girls)” performance at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards.
What particularly impressed me was that she and her creative team took the live, in-stadium audience, and the at-home audience into consideration in constructing the show. At 31 years old, she has been in the music industry more than half of her life. She’s no stranger to the business of creating, packaging and selling her own image and brand. I think that’s one of the reasons she has been able to cultivate devotees and it’s one of the reasons people who aren’t devotees respect her. She was raised, in essence, to curate and define her own representation.
Which is why I found it absolutely awesome when I found this picture in my photostream:
I immediately reposted with the following caption:
“Sexiest Woman of the 21st Century.”
Most of the responses I got were along the lines of “ha! So funny!” or “I’m dying!” Or some acknowledgement of the levity involved in posting this picture, which is strikingly different from the one used in the GQ photo spread.
Two responses in particular, from two different friends, caught my attention:
a) “I really don’t have any opinions about her either way, but I think that beautiful people can take ugly pictures, just as ugly people can take beautiful ones.”
b) “Still Beyoncé, still fabulous.”
This gave me pause. It seemed as though, to these two people, that in my posting this picture of Beyoncé with the caption “Sexiest Woman of the 21st Century,” I was taking delight in an “ugly” picture of her. It read to me as though they thought I was being mean, as though I was trying to have an Emperor’s New Clothes moment mired in spite against Beyoncé, which wasn’t true.
I did not look at that photo and say to myself, “Ha Ha, look at the pretty girl girl’s ugly picture!” The first thing I thought was, “that’s what I’m talking about!” Because when you give your all to singing and performing, when one is truly FIERCE, that is exactly what it looks like! When one bares one passion to the world, unrestrained, unadorned, pigmented and raw, it is muscular. It is fiery. It is the result of hard work, discipline and dedication. That’s one of the wonderful things about blues and soul: the stank face. It’s how you know they mean it. Case in point:
These are not the images of someone who is phoning it in.
Buzzfeed member Lauren Yapolater collated a list of The 33 Fiercest Moments from Beyoncé’s Halftime Show, a collection of animated gifs and still images that showed the gamut of Beyoncé expressions and poses from the super impressive and dynamic Super Bowl Halftime show. The list, which subtitle is “Last night’s Beyoncé concert, I mean Super Bowl performance, proved beyONCE AGAIN that 2013 is year of the Bey,” was clearly created by someone who a) is a huge Beyoncé fan and b) understands the awesome power of the fierce stank face and the reverence it deserves. Unfortunately, Beyoncé’s publicist is not on board that train.
There was a follow up article wherein they posted an email, reportedly from one of Beyoncé’s publicist, that requested certain specific “unflattering” be removed from the website. Cardinal Internet sin #1: if you tell the Internet you want something to go away, it will bring it on to you full force. According to Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph, this is called “The Streisand Effect”, which basically boils down to: the more you try to get rid of something, the more it persists.
Of course, the Internet had a response and Buzzfeed curated the best of the best into one convenient list entitled The Best Of The Internet’s Response To Beyoncé’s “Unflattering” Photos. Incidentally, She-Hulk and Zombeyoncé are my favorite:
Aside from the idea that, evidently, some of my friends think I’m bitter and petty (eh, I have my moments), what I find most interesting is that the “unflattering” photos of Beyoncé, or even Jennifer Lawrence is that they depict a woman in very raw, real moments. These moments are just as genuine were she to be crying or “vulnerable,” (whatever that looks like) as opposed to powerful and, I’ll be honest, maybe a little bit scary. The good kind of scary.
However, it’s exactly this type of raw expression of feminine fire and aggression that is considered ugly to a culture fixated on fictional images of beauty and hotness. And that is highly unflattering.