Confession: Until I saw her self-titled visual album, I disliked Beyoncé. I was distrustful of her lightness and slightly European features, though they weren’t so different from my own, and I was convinced she had been getting lighter over the course of her career. When that visual album came out, I finally felt like I was experiencing the art of a person, not a brand. It was honest and true and flawed in a way I could understand. (“Pretty Hurts” still makes me cry.) I couldn’t get excited about her as a brand, but I’m here to support her as a woman — I’m always here to support women. Lemonade, which dropped on HBO on Saturday, is something else entirely. I’m not jamming to Beyoncé's music anymore. I’m feeling it to the roots of my soul. I don’t just respect her work, I understand it on a visceral level. Second confession: I haven’t felt sexy in a long while. The triple-whammy of weight gain, an ovarian cystectomy, and cyst-induced acne have left me feeling about as attractive as a blobfish. Though my boyfriend continues to find me sexy and desirable, I struggle with feeling like it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve apologized to him for my body before sex. I’m sorry for the pudge below my belly button, for the rash around my neck, the zit on my cheek, the cellulite on my ass. These apologies are never solicited, yet I feel compelled to only give my body with context, with asterisks to be read on my back from behind.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve apologized to him for my body before sex
To be clear, I’m beautiful. I see my beauty; it is validated by others in my life, by family, friends, my boyfriend, and strangers. But there has always been a thread of “not enough” in my self-image. Even Beyoncé was cheated on with a "Becky with the good hair." I’m not Beyoncé — can I ever possibly be enough? “If it’s what you truly want, I can wear her skin over mine, her hair over mine,” Beyoncé sings. What Black girl hasn’t looked at herself in the mirror and poked and pinched and wished to look like the perfect girl du jour and decided to stay out of the sun for the summer? Our bodies are not loved as-is. They rarely appear in magazines. That’s why seeing Serena Williams as the video vixen in “Sorry” was a revolutionary moment for me. One of the greatest athletes of all time, Serena has been torn down by the media and commenters for her supposed manliness. As the video vixen, she is held up as the pinnacle of femininity, her strong thighs and shoulders desirable — no matter what the trolls say. This is an album of Black women: our bodies, our depths, our excellence and strength. Bodies like mine held up with perfect lighting and Yoruba hairstyles. They walk naked into the field with the pride of goddesses, bare to the sun and to our eyes.
In “Love Drought,” women wade hand-in-hand into the water to be purified of their pain. Their skin is as dark or darker than mine. Their noses as wide, their hair as textured. Their breasts hang heavy yet high, their thighs like those of the Venus of Willendorf. They wade into the water and steal my breath. You cannot become what you cannot see. Their bodies are so beautiful. My body is so beautiful. Beyoncé’s triumph in Lemonade is that through her personal struggle, she turns the mirror on us. I recognize my doubts in hers, hear my weaknesses in her voice, see myself in the eyes of the Black women who fill this album till it runneth over. Every Black woman is different, but Beyoncé has tapped into something we all experience: the fear that we are not enough in a world that doesn’t wish to see us, our battle to self-love, or our incredible capacity to feel, yet endure. When we are hurt, we are denied our humanity; when we succeed, our femininity.
They wade into the water and steal my breath. You cannot become what you cannot see
Like Beyoncé, I had “tried to be softer, prettier, less awake,” but suppressing my truth is unnatural, and disrespectful. Though I feel the need to apologize to my boyfriend for what god gave me, knowing this is what god gave me means I’m not sorry. Who am I to apologize for the gift of my flesh, my hair, my lips? I know that many find me beautiful and, to some extent, I accept that as rote. But witnessing Beyoncé bare her soul to me through the TV and tell me that my vulnerability and doubt and endurance and body with the big butt are all beautiful — that she and I are beautiful in the same way — that is different. I don't think I had ever felt my womanhood, my attractiveness, my existence validated in that way before. As Black women, we need to help each other feel as beautiful as we are. God knows no one will help us the way we can help each other. Validation from others can feel hollow, their compliments tainted by our fear they are secretly fetishizing us or trying to boost us up out of kindness. Compliments from other women like me aren’t tainted by that fear. We validate each other because we validate ourselves. We build each other up on foundations of self-love. Lemonade is fulfilling. It filled me to the brim and told me that I am enough. After Lemonade ended, I went to my boyfriend for a hug. I let him know that I am no Beyoncé and I am no Christian, and there will be no forgiveness if he fucks up. He knows this already, but sometimes it’s worth repeating. Later that night, I showered and cowashed my hair. I plopped it with my leave-in and coconut oil. I wrapped my hair in a scarf with the knot in front and rode my man with my fat ass and puffy, brown nipples and loved him and loved myself.