It’s just a matter of fact now that when Beyoncé does something, the world talks about it — especially if it affects her personal life. So when the announcement was released that Beyoncé was pregnant with twins, the Internet blew up, and her artfully posed image quickly became the most liked Instagram image of all time. And, as always with the Internet, everyone was quick to weigh in with their opinion. Was the shoot “over the top”? Empowering? Self-indulgent? Think of an opinion, and you can be sure someone gave it in response to Beyoncé’s bare stomach.
This is not the first time that Beyoncé has shocked the public with a pregnancy announcement. Many of you probably remember Beyoncé’s first pregnancy reveal at the MTV Music Videos Awards in 2011. After an energetic, passionate, and frankly brilliant rendition of “Love on Top,” she threw her mic to the floor and opened her tuxedo jacket to reveal her pregnant stomach, which she then lovingly caressed. Pause a minute. You can see the image, can’t you? Just like when the video first broke and the image that Beyoncé was pregnant was placed firmly in people’s minds. It was an image that she expertly crafted and created. Her being pregnant would always be a spectacle, but she ensured that it was choreographed right to how she wanted it.
Actually, when talking about the pregnancy to Harper Bazaar, she said that she had put a lot of consideration into how the image would be revealed to the world: “I put a lot of thought into how I wanted to unveil it. It was important to me that I was able to do it myself.” She wanted to be the one who presented the news to the public, not wanting it revealed entirely by the media: “I didn’t want a crazy picture or gossip story to break the news, so I decided to say nothing and proudly show my baby bump.”
Of course, the news of her being pregnant would always be spread and circulated by the media, but she could control the central part: the image people saw.
Her first pregnancy, however, ended up being dogged by vicious rumors that claimed she was faking her pregnancy. Beyoncé’s recent loud and proud Instagram image and her subsequent Grammy performance this year — both of which saw her expose her bare stomach proudly — are, no doubt, in response to that. She was overlooked at the Grammys (much to the chagrin of Adele, who declared Beyoncé the true winner in her eyes) and was sentenced to getting the award for Best Urban Contemporary Album instead of Album of the Year; but, with her Grammy performance, she made sure that her image and herself were not forgotten.
This is important because — in all the excitement and speculation and judgement placed upon Beyoncé’s Instagram reveal — an important aspect was forgotten about regarding the image: Beyoncé chose to share it. Instead of her image being determined by the media, she determined it herself. Yes, the image was a spectacle, but it was Beyoncé’s spectacle.
In a world where female bodies, especially black female bodies, have become a spectacle, Beyoncé may have created another image for people to gawk at, but she presented herself how she wanted. Most importantly, she made it clear that she’s in charge and will not be erased.
As Sady Doyle describes in her 2016 feminist bible for the digital age, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear, and Why, “Women who have succeeded too well at becoming visible have always been penalized vigilantly and forcefully, and turned into spectacles.” In society, it is typically the media who have made these women’s images into spectacles. In her book, Sady Doyle particularly discusses how the media grabs onto famous women’s failures — their drunkenness, their despair, and their scandals — and presents them as “trainwrecks” to be viewed a million times over. Most people growing up in the early 2000s, for example, know about Paris Hilton’s sex tape and watched Britney shave her head, replaying the videos again and again and even sharing them with friends. Watching women fall apart became a spectator sport.
Beyoncé, however, turns the idea of being a spectacle on its head. She will not be an object that is used to sell magazines. Yes, she will be marvelous and spectacular and will give you that wonderful media image, but she will do so on her terms. And people will leave always remembering her and the image that she wanted them to see.
Women using the concept of being a spectacle and turning it on its head was also recently showcased by the film Jackie, which explored how Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (portrayed by Natalie Portman) arranged the funeral for her husband. She orchestrated it to be a media spectacle so that she herself, as well as her husband, would not be forgotten.
What is also remarkable, then, about the image Beyoncé created is that, like Jacqueline’s, it was an attack. While Jacqueline’s move was a way to attack all those who dared to forget or criticize her or her husband, Beyoncé’s spectacle was an attack on the big business that is celebrity pregnancy. This became the business of the public after Demi Moore’s infamous pregnancy photo on the cover of Vanity Fair. Moore’s cover has influenced countless others, and many attribute it to influencing Natalie Portman’s 2017 Vanity Fair pregnancy cover photograph.
After all, a celebrity pregnancy is a grand looping narrative for celebrity magazines that specialize in crafting a storyline, especially when it comes to females’ bodies. How much weight did they put on? How quick will they lose the pregnancy weight? As always with women, it comes down to weight, weight, weight. Poor Jennifer Aniston has been cursed with speculations for years on whether she is pregnant each time she eats a meal. It’s unsurprising, then, that the Internet phenomenon Felicia Day decided not to announce her pregnancy right until she was ready to pop! And, like Beyoncé, she took to social media to make the announcement herself, on her terms.
Crafting her own image is a theme we have seen repeatedly with Beyoncé. In 2013, she released her new album without any warning. She then followed that up with her album Lemonade; although it was proceeded with clues on her social media, the album was mostly released without any warning at all, showing studio executives that she didn’t need their promotion to sell her album. (After all, it was released exclusively on Tidal at first as well.) People don’t show up for the studio execs. They show up for her. The power of Beyoncé’s image is not anyone else’s. It’s hers.
Therefore, whether you love or hate the Instagram image is not the point. The point is that she chose how she was going to present herself to the world. She did not allow herself to be silenced by people transforming her into a spectacle. She made herself the spectacle, demonstrating the power of social media in perhaps one of the grandest gestures so far this year.