Time magazine released its “100 Most Influential People” issue today and the cover features none other than the indisputably influential Beyoncé. Profiled by Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In), Beyoncé is recognized as being the boss that she is—someone who “doesn’t just sit at the table. She builds a better one.” In the brief profile, Sandberg cites Beyoncé’s feminist convictions, noting Bey’s mantra “that girls ‘run the world’ and [her declaration that], ‘I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.'” It’s a succinct summation of the woman who “shattered music industry rules—and sales records” with her surprise release of her visual album late last year, and who constantly pushes the boundaries of what is expected of an artist. And yet, of course, people find something to complain about.
What is it this time? Well, it’s the fact that Beyoncé is not wearing any pants. TheGloss.com calls it “unacceptable” that Bey is featured in her underwear on the magazine cover, acknowledging that she should be able to “wear whatever she wants to,” but also lamenting the fact “that one of the most strong, powerful women chosen on the list” was portrayed in her underwear in a manner that urges the viewer to think something along the lines of “Yes, she’s incredibly influential, but look hot hot she is!”
While I understand the complexity surrounding the portrayal of powerful women in a sexualized manner, and would probably cringe if this image of Beyoncé seemed to in any way diminish who she is and what she represents, I think that one of the most powerful things about Beyoncé is her whole-hearted embrace of her sexuality (especially as of late) and her ownership of her body and her image. Her pose on this cover isn’t that of a coy or cowering woman. She’s standing with her shoulders back, looking us straight in the eye. It’s startlingly provocative, but not for the usual reasons that an image of a half-clothed woman would be so. It provokes because Beyoncé is unapologetic about who she is and the power she wields. This is a huge statement, and one that it hasn’t always been possible for a woman—especially a woman of color—to make. Beyoncé has power and influence not in spite of being a woman of color, but because of it. And there is nothing about that which needs to be covered up. Unless, you know, she wants to cover up. Because, damn, Beyoncé could wear or do just about anything at this point and it would be all we’d want to talk about. She’s even made me want to buy a kale sweatshirt. Now that’s influence.
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