Dear Beyoncé Squared (a.k.a. the intersection of Beyoncé the person and BEYONCE the self-titled visual album),
I am writing you this letter to express my immense gratitude for the inspiration you've both provided me with over the last couple months of my life: Inspiration that I did not necessarily see coming, but inspiration that in retrospect, I needed as I entered 2014. This is not about celebrity worship or attempting to deify you above all other humans, because that's not what I'm about. This is literally just a "thank you" -- an expression of respect from one grown woman to another.
Your work over the past few months has filled my heart with empathy and courage and has helped empower me to embrace sides of my personality that I all too often shy away from or apologize for. The strength and freedom with which you, Beyoncé the person, express yourself through your work, BEYONCE the album, as well as the audacity with which you executed your vision, have affirmed what I am striving for in all aspects of my life. I see myself in you, and though I sometimes feel that this might be a special bond that only you and I share, I know deep down that that is why you are the genius that you are -- you are sharing deep truths and thus everyone sees a bit of themselves in you.
Some more specifics so you really understand what I mean...
"Pretty Hurts" taps into the core of my life's struggle and mission (our struggles and missions go hand and hand after all, don't they?).
"Blond hair, flat chest, TV says, bigger is better. South Beach, sugar-free, Vogue says, 'Thinner is better,'" pretty much sums up what most girls, myself included, struggle with as we ride around on a pointless hamster wheel, trying to change ourselves physically to fit a singular ideal of beauty that does not exist. "You try to fix something but you can't fix what you can't see, it's the soul that needs a surgery" affirms my belief that true beauty and true style comes from within -- these things cannot be bought.
The people who inspire me every day are beautiful and cool, not because they fit into a mold defined by someone else, but because they know themselves and are true to who they are at their core. They express that truth every day. Once I began to realize how brainwashed I had been since birth by the fashion industry marketing machine, I started to feel liberated and thus more comfortable in my skin.
It's awesome to me that someone with as much influence as you, through songs and videos like "Pretty Hurts," is brave enough to share your own journey with the world. Seeing you openly discuss marketing's insane power over your own psyche and how you've overcome it empowers me, and countless others like me, to see through the bullshit as well.
On another level, I relate to the symbolism in the "Pretty Hurts" video. Watching you throw your trophies onto the ground, ditching the side of yourself that functions solely for outside validation and an "end-result" versus living for the satisfaction of a purposeful, risk-driven and flawed journey, is extraordinarily powerful. I too used to live entirely for those results -- the grades, the degree, the straight and narrow path -- but I didn't realize how much I was limiting myself from feeling a deep sense of passion and fulfillment.
Slowly, since high school and through starting StyleLikeU, I've been forced to let go of the pursuit of perfection and the illusion of security that it brings. Even though it's f*cking terrifying every single day, the feeling of functioning from my heart and living for a greater calling is something I've come to view as invaluable. So thank you for showing me that even if it seemed like you had it all, you've suffered in your own trap of perfection too and are now beginning to let it go, take artistic risks and reveal your darker, more human side.
Some other favorite B-squared moments: The conviction with which you flip your hair in "Partition," when you assert, "We flawless, ladies, tell 'em," in the "***Flawless" video with the straightest face (see 2:39 in video), how bold you are when you say "I'm in my penthouse half naked, I cooked this meal for you naked," not giving a fuck about how silly that statement sounds, and the way you let the supermodel lick your boob in the "Yoncé" video (I die. I really die). And these are not my fave moments just because you're so fucking hot, but this is also because you're acting like such a boss. You make me want to own the boss in me.
A lot of people criticize your brand of feminism. They say that you're not a feminist because you say things like, "I just want to be the girl you like" in one song, while in others (like "***Flawless"), you encourage women not to worry about what guys think. However, I relate to your special brand of feminism. Your music makes me feel girly yet in control, sexy yet strong at the same time. You're competitive with your work yet recognize the power of female sexuality -- you're not trying to BE a man. So what if sometimes you want to do a little dance to turn your husband on?
I think it's cool that you don't act holier-than-thou regarding your feminism and let your music and videos reveal the contradictions inherent in your fantasies. Sometimes we all want to show men how hot we are and sometimes we all get jealous, even though other times we are a badass boss bitches who don't care what anyone thinks. That's human.
You know what I think is even cooler about B-squared? I think it's the dopest sh*t ever that you are expressing your sexuality within the confines of your monogamous, decade-long relationship. That is extremely empowering to someone like me who has never been inclined towards casual sex. Watching you affirms that I can still harness a sexual power and enjoy sex without giving it away for free. This perspective is disturbingly novel, yet so necessary in the current pop culture landscape. More over, you prove pretty definitively that this mentality doesn't make me an old maid (See: the chair dance in the "Partition" video).
Here's another thing: I see you getting more comfortable in your skin as you get older and that really excites me. You've always been superhumanly hot, but it's evident in the ways that you're expressing yourself now that you feel hot in a way that you might not have fully felt before. Perhaps it goes back to the whole perfection thing -- you're freeing yourself from a certain pressure and it's shining through in how you look.
Even the way you've let go of some of your uber-choreographed dance moves and highly constructed pop song formats in videos and songs like "Drunk and Love" seems so liberating. It's also pretty badass in "Rocket" when you proclaim, "I'm comfoooooortaaaaable in my skin and you're cooooomfoooooortable in myyyyyy skin," yet another moment that utterly kills me in the best way imaginable.
I look forward to feeling that same freedom you've found in your body in my own (I am getting there, slowly), and I am so glad to be looking at images of someone with curves and an ass like you instead of just another scrawny size zero model. Don't get me wrong -- I do think women are beautiful in all shapes and sizes (scrawny models included). I just have to admit that it makes me smile inside to see how "eh" the supermodels in the "Yoncé" video look next to you. You make having an ass, which is an asset of my own body which I haven't always viewed as such, seem MUCH more appealing than looking like a hanger. And thank god, because I'll never look like a hanger, no matter how hard I try and you've helped me to actually feel proud of that.
And then there is just the quality of your album as a whole. The visuals for "Ghost" and "Mine" (and really all the songs the album) are just stunning. The styling (shout-out to Bea Akerlund who we are DYING to shoot for StyleLikeU and Lysa Cooper, whose closet is coming up) is impeccable all around. I would just love to walk around in your "No Angel" fur coat, leotard and heels outfit all day everyday if I had the swag. I'm working on it.
Also, how in the name of all that is holy did you create this shit in just SIX MONTHS, all while touring, being a wife and raising your newborn?! I mean, damn. I never stop working either, and sometimes I feel crazy for it, like something's wrong with me, like I need to loosen up and be more "normal." But you make me want to embrace my workaholic tendencies because it doesn't feel like work when you're doing what you love.
To top everything off, you came into this album cycle at the top of the game and yet you didn't let that make you lazy. You reinvented the wheel with this record and did something totally outside of the music industry's box with how you released it, dropping the whole damn shebang on us without even the slightest warning. This makes all the hard work so much more inspiring in a world where everything is so formulaic.
You recently said, "Now, people only listen to a few seconds of a song on their iPods. They don't invest in an album. It's all about the hype." Way to bring substance back to the mainstream music listening experience, B. That's exactly what I am trying to do for the fashion world with StyleLikeU!
What's the icing on the cake, you ask? Well through it all, you've totally kept your values in check along the way which is ultimately the most important thing. "Nothing feels better than my child saying 'Mommy.' Nothing feels like when I look my husband in the eyes. Nothing feels like when I am respected when I get on the stage and I see I am changing people's lives. At this point that's what I am striving for." This is what I'm striving for TOO, B-SQUARED!!!!
Beyoncé: Before, you and your work left my glass feeling only half-filled. I felt that I wasn't looking at a whole person. I used to find you a bit stiff, too perfect, not fully relatable. Other pop stars like Rihanna, while lacking your natural talents, seemed to reflect something more complicated and deviant, important parts of the human experience that you couldn't quite portray. Honestly, though, I've always felt kinda wack about loving Rihanna, because I find her values so questionable.
The bottom line was neither of you felt complete to me in terms of being a full expression of a popular role model that I could feel good about relating to, that I could feel good about young girls looking up to, until now. I'm glad not only for myself, but for all the little Lilys going through the hardships of adolescence and having someone like you at the top of the pop culture food chain. We're all very lucky to have you.
"Before, I would have been too afraid of what other people would have thought, but I let down that third wall and I just did."
B, thank you for letting down your third wall, for sharing your inspiration, your fantasies, your truth with us. Even though I don't know you, I feel we have a little more in common than I realized before, and you are a stunning emblem of what it means to be a woman -- flaws and all.
Anyway, I'm done dorking out for now. I really could go on and on, but I think I have embarrassed myself enough for now :). Besides, I have a lot of work to do if I'm ever gonna master this dance.
Photograph by my mom & StyleLikeU co-founder, Elisa Goodkind.
Follow Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stylelikeu