Proud2Bme | The Year of Beyoncé

The Year of Beyoncé

By Rachel Pratl--When I think of Beyoncé Knowles, I think of how her career has impacted my life. That’s oddly introspective. She’s just an artist after all, right? Perhaps, but she means more than that to me.

The first time I heard the unhinged honesty in her voice in the acoustic YouTube version of her song “Halo,” my eyes welled with tears; it was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard. It still is. I think of her famous alter-ego Sasha Fierce and that magnetic confidence that she unveiled in her 2003 hit, “Crazy in Love.” I admit to practicing that fearsome self-assuredness since I was old enough to be told to by the world to simply “fake it ‘till you make it.” Fake it, I tried - as I attempted to master the “Single Ladies” dance routine, struggling to attain that swagger that my body just couldn’t pull off  (maybe next year?).

When I was 14, I remember the day I first saw her on that cover in the Harris Teeter checkout. It was the 2007 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She was the first non-model and non-athlete woman to pose on the cover, and the second cover model of African-American descent after Tyra Banks. It was the first time a girl who looked like me had ever been praised by the media. I remember feeling thrilled that she was around, even if just to make me dance and sing and feel like world might think I was pretty too.

Childhood memories aside, it seems as if 2013 will be the year of Beyoncé. In January, she performed the national anthem from the steps of the Capitol during the swearing-in ceremony at President Barack Obama's inauguration in Washington, D.C. (her performance at the event only seemed fitting, considering that she, with her husband, Jay-Z, raised four million dollars for the President’s re-election campaign last September). Lasr night she headlined the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show, prompting many of my fellow non-football fans to, for once, experience the all-consuming rapture of the universally televised event.

And in just two weeks, Knowles' feature-length documentary film, Life is But a Dream, will premiere on HBO. Directed and produced herself, the film features footage from her childhood as a remarkable young talent, behind the scenes exposure of her rehearsing her stage performances and recording her music, and even some scenes showing the world-renowned icon as a regular woman, just like you and me, balancing her family life and her career, just trying to keep it all together. She just signed a $50 million endorsement deal with Pepsi and she will soon set out again for another world tour to promote her fifth solo album, which is due for release as early as April.

She is on the cover of GQ this month. The magazine named her number one on their “Hottest Women of the 21st Century.” Beyoncé is a brand, an image, and an unstoppable media machine; of course she would land the cover of one of the most popular magazines in the country. I know it’s been said that Beyoncé is just another female artist who, by complying with western gender stereotypes and directing her trademark racy performances, even by posing in little clothing on the cover of GQ, is simply profiting off of her sexuality.

I think that we, as women, owe it to ourselves, to look a little closer this time, to acknowledge Beyoncé as more than just another pretty face smiling at us from her perch next to the gum in the checkout aisle. We should look past the superficial and give credit for what she’s accomplished and what she stands for, which she reveals in her interview with GQ.

The article recalls a quote from the beginning of her upcoming movie where she says of the breakdown between herself and her father over the management of her company, “You know, equality is a myth, and for some reason, everyone accepts the fact that women don't make as much money as men do. I don't understand that. Why do we have to take a backseat? I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let's face it; money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what's sexy. And men define what's feminine. It's ridiculous."

To me, that quote embodies what Beyoncé is all about: female empowerment.

She is defining what’s "sexy” for a new generation of young women; to her, it’s a woman who designs and wears her own line of clothing, who keeps her personal life hidden from the media unlike so many other talented Hollywood starlets, who produces her fame according to her own design. Beyoncé is a brand, the next Oprah, appealing to a much larger audience of young men and women, proving that what started with singing and dancing has grown into a force to be reckoned with. That force is of a woman who is driven, hard-working, uber-talented, and independent, who is constantly redefining what a "hot," in demand artist looks like. For now, it’s a newly married mother of a one-year-old!

And on top of all of that she looks like a healthy, confident young woman, showing girls that you don’t have to fit into the preconceived ideal of a stick-thin, Caucasian, blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty to be a success. Her music, her image and her bold statements about power, independence and femininity will help young women realize their right, perhaps for the first time, to define “sexy” for themselves.

Growing up with her music, her presence on the pop culture scene used to symbolize the coming of a new era within the media, the due appreciation of a multi-faceted star. Now, as a grown-up with a slightly broader world-view, she embodies not only that base appreciation, but the image of unfathomable success--the kind of success I can only hope and dream for. To me, she is still that glowing inspiration, that glossy cover girl making me feel, all over again, that I, too, can run the world.

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