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More Beyoncé, Less Sasha Fierce

Beyonce_Superbowl

Allow me to add a penny to the huge bank of commentary this week on Queen Bey. As an editor, I often can’t help but notice things I would edit out of or into pieces, performances, stories, you name it. Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance was remarkable, but without a doubt, it needed some editing.

Let me begin by explaining how excited I was for Beyoncé to perform the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Over the recent years of her solo work, I have become a huge sucker for her music; my most-played Pandora station (despite my husband’s lack of enthusiasm for it) is after her hit “Halo.”

She’s also one of the few people whose celebrity news doesn’t leave me feeling down about the world. I’ll admit I teared up when she announced her pregnancy at the MTV Music Video Awards. She’s in what appears to be a healthy marriage with Jay-Z, she adores her baby girl, and keeps the press at bay when it comes to the most important things in her life. She’s the rare celebrity that actually looks—oh, how do I put it—happy.

So I tuned in with great anticipation for the Beyoncébowl. To be sure, there was something electric about the performance. Her command of the stage, the fact that all the performers around her were women—right down to the drummer—the songs she chose to feature, including “Single Ladies,” and “Independent Women” with Kelly and Michelle from Destiny’s Child, all gave me a surge of girl power.

But there’s one thing in particular that hurts the girl-power message, that should have been edited out: the striptease.

You know, the few seconds at the beginning when she strips off clothes and throws them at fans. That suggestive lick-my-finger-and-drag-it-down-my-chest move. Moments like these undermine all that girl-power being channeled.

Stripping, like all commercialization of sex, is generally not a good thing for women, and sadly a number of men and women working as strippers are trafficked and coerced into it. Glamorizing it doesn’t make it ok.

I’ve spent the past few months researching the devestating problem of sex-trafficking in our country. It’s horrifying how much sexual exploitation occurs on a daily basis, and it can be hard to believe that hundreds of people, mostly women and girls, are trafficked and sold in prostitution, specifically around large sporting events like the Super Bowl.

I’m not saying Beyoncé, or women in general, can’t be attractive. But all of us, including performers like Beyoncé, should strive to be aware of what messages our actions and wardrobe are saying. It may be an overused stage gimmick, but stripping says something.

And I’m not just calling out women on this. I think men need to be aware too. If a male performer were on stage wearing a jacket with the word “Pimp” on the back, I think we should call him out as well. The glamorization of pimping is a lie—being trafficked and prostituted by a pimp is no joke. If we want to end exploitation of women we need to be aware of these things.

Beyoncé has stated in the past that the way she dresses on stage is “absolutely for the stage.” She used to even publicly call her stage presence by a name, her alter ego Sasha Fierce, whom she described as being “too aggressive, too strong, too sassy [and] too sexy”—”I’m not like her in real life at all. . . . I’m not flirtatious and super-confident and fearless like her. What I feel onstage I don’t feel anywhere else. It’s an out-of-body experience. I created my stage persona to protect myself so that when I go home I don’t have to think about what it is I do. Sasha isn’t me. The people around me know who I really am.”

One tweet after the Superbowl performance said it all: “This may be the Sasha Fierce-iest Bey has ever been.” But if for Beyoncé this ultra-sexy side isn’t actually a genuine reflection of who she is, we don’t make any headway for women by defending it as her sexual self-expression.

In the past few years, Beyoncé has apparently tried to to “kill” Sasha Fierce, but it clearly hasn’t been an easy battle. Perhaps she thought such a big performance as the Super Bowl called for a return of Ms. Fierce. Or perhaps between one choreographer’s suggestion here, one designer’s detachable dress there, she was conjured back.

But is Sasha Fierce really necessary? Are Beyoncé’s career and music sales dependent on employing this persona? I don’t think so. Her album-buyers are mostly women, and she doesn’t need to strip to attract them.

If there’s one thing we learned from this flurry of media response, it’s that Beyoncé is bigger than her critics. But she’s also bigger than her handlers. She’s bigger than whatever her people tell her she needs to look like and what to wear at her performances. Getting on stage as Beyoncé—not Sasha—is some girl power I’d like to see.

Photograph via .lucy on Flickr.

By: Mary Rose Somarriba

Mary Rose is the Executive Editor and Culture Editor for Verily Magazine with years of experience in magazine publishing. She has written articles and organized events on women’s issues for several publications and organizations. Among her favorite things in life are Latin dancing, karaoke, and a Basil Hayden manhattan on the rocks.