It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Beyonce. I’ve written about her more than I cared to in the past year, though, not so much because I’m a fan of her, but because I’m a fan of Black women. And when a Black woman is the premiere pop star of our time, the line between legitimate critique and misogynoir is crossed habitually. So my defense of Beyonce isn’t about me loving her music as much as it is about me exposing the fact that criticism of Black women is more often about inherent bias against us rather than principled objection to what we’ve done. And this week’s announcement that Beyonce is pregnant with twins gave those who just don’t care for her, the perfect opportunity to mask their misogynoir as genuine contention with the way the Lemonade legend announced her pregnancy.
In a quintessential example of that kind of bias, a British journalist spent a few hundred words too many responding to Beyonce’s Instagram assuring any women who have yet to experience pregnancy that if they’re looking to Beyonce for a glimpse into the realities of pregnancy, they’ll surely be disappointed. Rosie Millard makes it clear that Beyonce’s “perfectly curved bump,” which she calls “an acknowledgment of marriage, beauty, fertility and sexiness,” gives women an unrealistic expectation of how a pregnant body truly looks. There should be more fat on the face, back and arms. There should be stretch marks. There should be a “haggard” face and exposed gray hair at the roots because “hair dye is frowned upon during pregnancy.” Millard’s expert opinion, as a “mum of four,” is that Bey’s multi-layered image of perfect motherhood” certainly “isn’t what pregnancy looks like.”
Instead, Millard points to Demi Moore’s nude cover of Vanity Fair back in August 1991 that inspired “thousands, if not millions of copycat versions.” A nude more covering her breasts with one hand was a “piece of cake” for these women, Millard included, to imitate. Yes, Beyonce kneeling in her underwear and bra holding her baby bump is a far-fetched representation of what a pregnant woman looks like because she’s wearing makeup and is clearly on a conceived set, but Demi Moore on the cover of a Vanity Fair makes pregnancy more relatable and personal for the average woman.
Notice the stretch marks the writer searched for on Beyonce on Demi’s body? Do you see how haggard Moore looks in a face full of makeup and diamond earrings? Check out the bulging arm fat. Look at the gray at the roots of the movie star’s hair. Yes, this is what pregnancy looks like: a white woman perfectly groomed, airbrushed and well-paid to pose on the cover of a magazine globally synonymous with high fashion and elitism. But pregnancy does not look like a Black woman in mismatched undergarments and bright lipstick posting her pictures from her maternity shoot on social media.
White women stay with the bullshit. If the goal were truly to critique Beyonce, as a rich, powerful celebrity, offering a glamorized presentation of pregnancy that may leave women without money and access feeling inadequate about how they look during their own pregnancies, then the juxtaposition with Demi Moore’s cover would never have happened. This was about an opportunity to do what white women do best: remind us that white women are the standard for all experiences of womanhood.
Even Beyonce, standing at the apex of superstardom, is unfit to present the world with the narrative of a Black woman elated to be carrying life. She may have amassed fortune and fame on a steady ascension to music royalty over the past two decades, but she’s still Black, as such, she should still be the white board on which society is free to project all of its stereotypes. Her performance of pregnancy must not deviate from that society has envisioned for Black women. She can be rich and famous, but unlike white women, she is not allowed to keep the facade of fabulousness through pregnancy.
After all, when Giselle Bundchen bragged to Vogue about having “only gained 30 pounds” during her pregnancy and sat poised without the bags under her eyes new mothers usually have, I missed the think pieces. Where was Millard when Claudia Schiffer posed pregnant for the cover of Vogue Germany without a stretch mark in sight? Kourtney Kardashian was praised for her bravery in posing nude at nine months pregnant.
The truth is this isn’t about the idol worship of a pregnant star. The problem isn’t that a wealthy celebrity has the internet going crazy over her pregnancy announcement. And this certainly isn’t about Beyonce not looking raggedy enough in her pregnancy photos. We expect, hell, we demand, celebrities look their best all the time. It’s one of the number one perks of fame. We expect them to have a team to keep them looking flawless. So why then, after hundreds of white women have bared it all pregnant on cover after cover, all looking their very best, should a Black woman more famous than them all be required to take one for the team and show the toll pregnancy really takes on your body?
She shouldn’t. No, this is not what pregnancy looks like, but it’s damned sure what misogynpoir and hypocrisy does.