Object Lesson

Or: Why Did Beyonce Want to Dress Like That?

Beyonce-Knowles-Super-Bowl-Halftime6

One of the first things that a friend of mine posted about Beyonce’s half-time extravaganza was that it was “not as skanky as Madonna’s.”  I admit, I didn’t see Madonna’s contribution to Super Bowl history, but it’s a little hard to see how it could be more “skanky” unless she actually took off her clothes and surely even I would have heard about that. Maybe it was the make-up. Beyonce was sporting that sort of “fresh-faced”-Clearasil-wholesome look from the neck up, totally at odds with what was going on below her chin.

After the Super Bowl was over, nearly 10,000 people– most of them women– commented on the Facebook page “Binders Full of Women” (named in honor of that comment by you-know-who) about Beyonce’s performance and there was a definite divide. Love her or hate her, why was she dressed like that?  Or maybe “undressed like that” is more accurate. Some women defended the singer’s choice of wardrobe. Others were horrified. I’ll say this for the costume– wearing that no one would notice if she was lip-syncing or not. The founder of “Binders Full of Women” finally came out and stamped her foot saying that “Slut Shaming” was not permitted there.

Oh, okay.

Well, for starters, I don’t like referring to women as sluts, or skanks or whores or hoes or whathaveyou based on what they’re wearing. (Yes, I did famously say to my 13-year-old stepdaughter who came home wearing a skirt that didn’t quite cover her pudenda, high heels and bright red lipstick that “If you dress like a whore, people will treat you like a whore.”  But that was after the gentle heartfelt talk on the same subject the day before and she was a child and it is our job to instruct our children so they don’t grow up to dress like Beyonce.) Seriously, though– grown-up, successful, strong women can wear anything they damn well please.

So why would she choose that warm leatherette and lace ensemble that someone described as a “wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen”?  Is her singing not enough? Is she not comfortable enough in her own beautiful skin to dress a little  less, er -provocatively?  Honey, I’ve been in strip clubs, and that’s how those women dress, at least at the beginning of their sets. Is this a condemnation of American men that they can’t be entertained by anything short of a stripper? 

Funny thing is that so much sex is used to sell commodities in America that I was not particularly scandalized by the half-time show. The camera work and pyrotechnics reminded me of nothing so much as a Pepsi commercial, which can’t be coincidental. I probably wouldn’t have even thought much about her mixed message. She was not presenting herself as a powerful and strong and accomplished woman, but as a sex object. I’m not sure that would have even registered if not for Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys.Unknown

Before the Super Bowl, Jennifer Hudson joined a chorus of children from Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing “America the Beautiful,” an experience she described as “emotional” and “overwhelming.” Even the players lined up on the sidelines wept. But at no time did we think we might get a glimpse of something naughty. Jennifer looked like someone you could take home for Sunday lunch after church. Not dowdy by any stretch, but appropriate for what she was asked to do.

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ersAlicia Keys was on hand to perform the National Anthem. There has no suggestion that any lip-syncing was involved, as Alicia Keys delivered a quiet and elongated rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  Hell, that brought football players to tears too. Seated at her piano, she would have been at home in any concert hall any place in the world. Those two women clearly didn’t feel that they needed to dress “sexy” (as Bey puts it) in order to entertain the millions tuned in for the Big Game. I guess their performances were validation enough.

Perhaps Beyonce herself said it best in a Tumblr message after the game: “What a proud day for African-American women. Kelly, Michelle, Alicia, J. Hud, you are all beautiful, talented and showed so much class!” [emphasis added]

So I get it that the suggestive clothing is part of Beyonce’s persona, it’s her schtick, but what message does that send to those little girls everywhere who idolize her?  That a good voice, a pretty face and a modicum of talent are not enough– that you have to sell “it” every minute of the day if you want to be worth $350 million dollars? There’s been some righteous criticism that Beyonce does not do enough to send a message of empowerment to her fans. Now that she’s a mother with a daughter, maybe she ought to take a long hard look at exactly what it is that she’s selling.

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