In a perfect world our first lady would be free to choose her own friends and to define the perfect role models for herself and children, with no one daring to challenge her choices. But it isn’t a perfect world for Michelle Obama, and so her choice of Beyoncé as a friend for herself and a role model for her daughters—and, thus, for young girls around the world--hasn’t been universally applauded.
Unfortunately Beyoncé isn’t exactly helping matters. When Mrs. Carter belted out the classic “At Last’’ for the first couple at an inaugural ball in 2008, it was clear a strong alliance was on the horizon. The first lady and the popular singing superstar soon formed an unlikely bond that continued to grow through work with the first lady’s fitness program “Let’s Move.’’ The press regularly noted the two trading adoring sentiments, with first lady even taking her daughters to see her friend perform on a few occasions.
When People magazine asked the first lady last year who’d she like to trade places with for a day, she quickly replied that she’d choose the golden-haired bootylicious beauty from Texas. Many weren’t pleased with her choice, but let’s face it: when it comes to African-American women, Beyoncé is about as high profile and popular as you can get. Few others have the international cachet of the singing superstar and the first lady is well aware of this fact each time she mentions her name. It’s safe to assume that Mrs. Obama wants to connect with the minds of many everyday women who’d trade their eyeteeth to be Beyoncé, or any fabulous pop star for just one day.
But here’s the unfortunate conundrum posed for Mrs. Obama: when Beyoncé goes into the studio to record an album for her millions of fans, she’s not thinking about her friendship with the first lady; she’s thinking about what’s hot, what’s edgy, and what will sell to the masses. That surely must have been her mindset when she recorded the controversial lyrics single “bow down bitches” for her new album earlier this year. Just the use of the word “bitch” to reference another woman probably sent a shiver down the back of a strong pro-woman woman like Michelle Obama. But it also raises the question of who exactly Beyoncé wants to bow down to her—women in general or did she have a select few in mind? Say Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Martha Stewart, or Hillary Clinton. And why exactly does Beyoncé need real or imagined women to bow down to her in first place? Song or no song, this is not exactly role-model material for women.
Recently “B” took her love of art and controversy up a notch more when she kicked off her ‘’Mrs. Carter Tour’’ overseas and performed in a gold sequined bodysuit with faux nipples on the outside of the costume. Not only was the outfit just plain tacky and unattractive (especially compared with her Super Bowl bodysuit), it sent a very damaging and overly sexualized message about women’s bodies that stands completely at odds with the woman in the White House who’s hailed the singer a woman young girls should look up to. In an open letter to the first lady last week in The Huffington Post, Rakhi Kumar, editor in chief of the Modern Girl’s Guide to Spirituality, asked Mrs. Obama to refrain from referencing Beyoncé as a role model. She suggested the first lady send young women a more refined, intelligent message that doesn’t include using women undressing on stage for success. (Kumar made several key points throughout her letter but lost a few when she suggested that Beyoncé has performed on stage in a sheer, see-through bodysuit in which her own body and nipples could be seen; she hasn’t. Kumar also failed to acknowledge that the singer has been very successful based on her longevity in the business, her profitable fashion line, movie roles, and her ability to juggle marriage and motherhood.)
Still, recent events do suggest it’s time for Mrs. Obama to expand her Rolodex of friends and role models. She doesn’t have to dismiss Beyoncé, but it would be nice to see a few other faces in the mix. Hopefully this time she’ll go outside the world of entertainment, and beyond insulting lyrics, real or faux nipples, and last-minute lip-syncing. Hopefully this time she’ll to find someone who understands the awesome responsibility it is to have the first lady as a friend and fan and whose day job won’t conflict with that bond. Hopefully this time it will be a woman more like, say, Michelle Obama. A very regular woman with very regular looks from a regular town who simply used her brains and intelligence to become one of the most accomplished, charming, and admired women in the world. No bowing requested or required.