When celebrity image-crafting backfires

Mean Girls list In the movie “Mean Girls” (one of the best teen flicks of the 2000s, in my opinion) Lindsay Lohan and her cohorts set out to sabotage reigning queen bee Regina George. They list of all of her assets, which include things like “’hot’ body” and “army of skanks,” and after painstaking sabotaging efforts, they cross out the assets as she loses them. So far this year, it seems like some ominous “mean girl” force is doing the same thing to Beyoncé. Don’t believe me? Here’s a Regina George-style list detailing the now infamous incidents that have dinged her carefully crafted public image. In the spirit of the movie, I’ve crossed out the assets (yes, I’m fully aware that this is dorky.) Grab some popcorn.

Beyoncé the “Independent Women” pop star feminist

First she graced the cover of the February issue of GQ Magazine, which declared her the sexiest woman of the millennium. The provocative cover revealed panties and underboob, and with that she was slammed for promoting the type of cheesy, hypersexual representation women one has come to expect from a men’s magazine. Despite some feminist statements Beyoncé made in the interview, Hadley Freeman at the Guardian claimed the photographs promoted the tiresome idea that despite power and success, (two things Beyoncé has in spades) what’s valued most in a woman is her ability to look “sexually available.” The criticism didn’t end with the photos. Beyoncé was also criticized for being narcisitic. Unlike Mariah Carey, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé has always had the ability to present a public image that’s “Sasha Fierce” diva yet still down to earth. An A-lister who’s still humble and grateful. That illusion took a beating in the GQ interview when it was revealed that she has a temperature-controlled “Beyoncé archive” of almost every image of her. The criticism over that had just begun to die down when….

Beyoncé the ‘I’m above all those other pop stars who sometimes have to lip-sync’

In addition to humility, another core element of Beyoncé’s image has always been authenticity.  That was questioned when it was revealed that (gasp!) she didn’t sing live during President Obama’s inauguration. Some of the criticism reached such hysteric proportions, that I had to reread to make sure it was lip syncing she was being accused of and not treason. A Washingtonian article went so far as to call the incident “a violation of the spirit of the presidential inauguration.” Just when the buzz about lip-sync-gate reached a frenzy, Beyoncé shut the haters up with a Super Bowl press conference, in which she sang an a cappella rendition of the national anthem. When she was done she cheekily asked “any questions?” After this well played damage controlling move, she gave a Super Bowl performance that wowed. Once again Beyoncé was riding high in the press, and all those earlier missteps seemed to be solidly behind her, but then ….

Beyoncé the ridiculously photogenic superhuman

BuzzFeed ran a “tribute” to her performance with “The 33 Fiercest Moments From Beyoncé’s Halftime Show.” I put “tribute” in quotes because much like that lame “friend” on Facebook who tags you in a picture, you just know they knew looked fugly, BuzzFeed was fully aware that in some of the photos, Beyoncé looked not so much “fierce!” and more like an unhinged goth gladiator who somehow wound up on stage. Beyoncé’s publicist then asked that the pictures be removed and changed out with more flattering images. I guess the publicist never heard of the Streisand effect (I learn so much from Wikipedia) because instead of quietly fading away, (like when you untag yourself in those gnarly pics your friend put up!) these unflattering images garnered even more attention after the removal request. A lot more attention. Like viral. And the ‘Unflattering Beyoncé’ meme was born. But thankfully there’s probably thousands of pictures of her floating around on the internet, so a few less than pretty pictures is like a drop in the ocean, right? And just as that controversy was fading, perhaps the most damning criticism (for a celebrity anyway) quietly crept into the conversation.

Beyoncé the interesting person

When the HBO documentary “Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream,” premiered, she was once again accused of being narcissistic and overly manipulative of her image, but this time critics also claimed she had nothing interesting to say. “There’s no question that Beyoncé is a terrible judge of what is interesting about Beyoncé,” Jody Rosen wrote in The New Yorker. What’s more,  the documentary was like catnip for the “Beyoncé birthers” who believe she staged her pregnancy. “If you’re going to present an image of your pregnant self to prove the naysayers wrong, why do it in such an obscure way?” Gawker said of the grainy black and white images of her pregnant belly.

On the surface, these “missteps” peel back the curtain to show someone who (shock!) isn’t always perfect and that’s actually refreshing. Female stars are often saddled with the difficult task of having to juggle the contradictions their public image is suppose to represent: strong but soft, bombshell sexy but girl next door, mysterious but open. For most of her career Beyoncé has mastered this juggling act, but like Regina George’s demise (that’s the last “Mean Girls” reference I’ll make, I swear!) the press Beyoncé’s generated lately shows the revelry people take in seeing the queen bee tumble.

Luckily for Beyoncé though, there’s a limit to how nasty the bad press or backlash will get for now. Unlike female stars who are considered “washed-up” or a “train-wreck,” Beyonce’ is still seen as fresh. As a star who’s deserving of adoration because of her talent, beauty and the fact that she’s untarnished by seamy scandal, like drug abuse or a sex-tape. I could go on about the clean vs. unclean dichotomy and the sexist vitriol it inspires when female stars lose their glossy nice girl sheen, but I’ll save that for another post. Instead I’ll leave you with this clip (OK, I lied, I had to include just one last “Mean Girls” reference):

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