By Brittany Edelman
Beyoncé has a gift when it comes to connecting with women. Her fan base is largely composed of women, who are often found chanting and singing the night away to her hypnotic, pop hits. Her latest triumph has been her self-released and self-titled visual album, a conceptual art album composed of 14 songs and 18 music videos. The visual album sold over 430,000 digital copies in its first 24 hours with no press or media coverage, breaking records and becoming a moment in digital music history . The unexpected release created a lot of hype because the album was released with a visual component — a musical compilation that’s viewed as opposed to just listened to. Through the imagery displayed in her videos, Beyoncé depicts herself breaking the roles of feminine archetypes by performing as multiple identities that represent a variety of different women in our society. Beyoncé is able to break boundaries of how women are perceived in the media because she is not typecast to one narrow role of what it means to be a woman. Instead, Beyoncé shows that she has multiple traits and values as a woman and that these traits mark her as her own individualized self. Beyoncé does not have to conform specifically to one label on her album and she expresses that other women can expand their social spectrums too.
Often in our media, such as with television shows like Sex in the City, female characters engage in a very specific kind of dialogue; these women are often portrayed with very limited potential outside of their given character’s stereotype and are solely focused around men. We have Carrie the leader, Samantha the slut, Miranda the independent woman, and Charlotte the good, traditional girl with values. These female characters are cemented in these rigid classifications and tend to give women the impression that as women they can only transcend to one kind of person in society. The problem with this practice is that it limits the kind of female characters we see in entertainment while reinforcing age-old stereotypes of femininity . With the rise of women obtaining jobs and their own independent freedoms, the age-old patriarchal model is shifting. This shifting paradigm has been in the process for quite a few decades, but Beyoncé helps the idea come full circle by displaying multiple characters in her music videos, all of which have their own beliefs and demeanors in regards to our modern day world. She performs these assorted behaviors in the embodiment of personas, all of which are very different, yet all of which complete her. We see remnants of her Sasha Fierce image and younger, Destiny’s Child Beyoncé, and we also get an introduction to Yoncé and Mrs. Carter. These personas are complex because they often contradict one another while still fulfilling Beyoncé as a whole.
One of her newest characters, Mrs. Carter, is based upon her new real life roles of mother and wife. Women who have been in serious relationships or have families can relate to her during these intimate familial moments. We see glimpses of her and her husband Jay-Z affectionately holding each other in “Drunk and Love” and then we see scenes of them holding daughter Blue while sipping wine on the beach in Brazil in “Blue Ivy”. The imagery in these videos shows that Beyoncé can adopt a motherly persona, but still retain her lavish lifestyle. She represents a balance many women desire: the ability to maintain a healthy romantic relationship and the flexibility to have time to spare on herself and her own personal pleasures.
As younger Beyoncé, she contrasts her motherly image with her infectious girlish modesty. We see a humble Beyoncé growing up throughout the album, whether it be riding rides at the carnival in “XO” or dancing in the mirror as kids with Kelly Rowland in “Grown Woman”. The depiction of younger Beyoncé, however, seems to represent an uncertainty of the future. Although we know that Beyoncé will grow into an icon with a loving family, younger Beyoncé is shown conquering hurdles that will greatly impact her and her future. We see her emotional journey from beauty pageant queen to mega superstar…and the path is not so easy. In the first video, “Pretty Hurts”, we come across Beyoncé competing for youth beauty competitions and having vulnerable moments, such as when she waxes her face or gets criticized by judges . It helps reduce Beyoncé’s star status and remind the audience that she, too, struggles with physical imperfections that many women battle with as well. We see the struggle she has to go through in order to gain the body figure that she has today, whether it’s her purging in the bathroom or comparing herself to other models in the mirror.
One complex image in the “Pretty Hurts” video is of Beyoncé dressed for competition with a trophy in hand, draped over a static, broken television. The imagery of her with the television seems to suggest that young women are often affected negatively by the media and its declaration that women must be physically “perfect”. The video displays the disconnect between beauty in reality and beauty in the media. The lyrics coincide with these visuals to let young girls know that society often times puts too much pressure on body image and self-esteem. The message is powerful and asks women to embrace themselves without giving in to negative cultural expectations. Her imperfections reflected in the video remind women that it’s ok if they are not faultless all the time.
Comparatively, the new persona “Yoncé” takes a different approach to her identity. Yoncé is not as humble as the other alter egos, and instead expresses herself as a secular figure engaging in her sexual freedoms unabashed. In the videos, “Yoncé” and “Partition,” Yoncé rejects men appearing with three sexy female models  and jewels as a way to reclaim dominance over her female peers. Her control is the power she has over everyone involved in her circle: the girls obey her commands, Jay-Z is lured into her as she teases him in the limo, and the camera follows as she enters on stage in burlesque style attire, captivating the audience with her flashy sequins and suggestive dancing. Yoncé symbolizes Beyoncé’s allure of sexual attention, which gives her power over others. In these videos, she is the only character initiating her desires and all the other sub-characters are only there to please and admire her. As a result, Yoncé is worshipped; her demands are the only ones being met or even considered. The other characters are only there to cater to her. Yoncé is the only authority figure when she is present, unlike Beyonce’s other personas, who are deeply interconnected to others. The most compelling imagery of Beyoncé engaging as Yoncé is that of an extreme close up of her golden grills slurring indecencies at all the men and women she is going to use and abuse in rap bravado form. Yoncé’s dominance and sexual power defines her, which could be understood as an ode to her other dominant character, Sasha Fierce.
Despite Sasha Fierce being proclaimed as “dead”  it seems Beyoncé does revive a similar character to her on certain songs. In “Jealous”, Beyoncé reclaims a Sasha Fierce type role, distressed by her cheating, lying boyfriend who has neglected her. Beyoncé shows her loneliness at home, which is contrasted with scenes of her going out on the town to portray how her negative relationship is affecting her life. The lyrics coincide with the visuals relaying Beyoncé’s fantasy of getting caught up with her ex at the club in retaliation to her current lover’s abandonment. Beyoncé seems to perform as Sasha Fierce when she feels taken advantage of or in a position where she needs to reclaim her power. Sasha Fierce represents a dark, exploited persona that allows Beyoncé to work out issues concerning her sexuality . Although some people have found her performances exploitative and controversial , Beyoncé’s performance does allow a release that many fans find appealing and brave. Characters such as Yoncé and Sasha Fierce are strong and self-defiant in their own right by making their own goals and not submitting to the men (or lack of men) in their lives.
However, Beyoncé displays a complicated message to her female fans in terms of her relationship to her image and feminism. Although Beyoncé seems to be making feminist statements on the album, there are moments when she backtracks . In real life, Beyoncé has denied being a feminist , yet she often promotes an idealized form of feminism. In “Flawless,” when she dons a flannel top and shorts and lets the audience know, “I woke up like this,” she uses her statements to mock the modern stereotypes of beauty by encouraging women to approve of themselves first before expecting approval from men. She conveys her own self-worth by chanting, “Tell him I look so good tonight,” reaffirming her own self-esteem by letting a man know that she is confident within herself. On the third verse, Beyoncé even uses a sample from activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, articulating the differences in values that young girls and boys are taught to adhere to. The overall message of “Flawless” is that girls need to empower themselves without men so they can be equal to them in society, a message that is repeated quite frequently throughout the album. These viewpoints seem to express feminist views without explicitly promoting feminism. Beyoncé addresses that she wants equality for women and men, but perhaps some of the stigmas  associated with feminism have been part of the reason she denies the term for herself. In a recent interview with British Vogue, Beyoncé explained that the word “feminist” to her, “Can be extreme…Why do you have to label label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.” 
Beyoncé’s visual album is a self-reflection of Beyoncé and the multiple facets of her personality. Beyoncé is able to break boundaries in mainstream media by performing as herself through multiple personas that do not limit her character, but instead expand on her own uniqueness. Beyoncé exemplifies that women do not have to abide to one role and instead can express themselves through different identifications of their own self. Beyoncé displays a metaphorical version of her life story in the album’s narrative that is transformed as a platform that many women may use to relate to each other. She doesn’t just categorize viewpoints of femininity; she instead opens up a dialogue on varied types of women by performing the different aspects of her own personality. Her storytelling and ability to relate women to each other is what upholds her as the modern day icon that we see within ourselves.
 Wikipedia, “Beyoncé (Album)”, Wikipedia (2014), accessed February 24, 2014, doi:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beyonc%C3%A9_(album)#Commercial_performance/
 Recently actress Kristin Davis who played Charlotte on Sex and the City admitted that she is sorry for promoting high heels in the show because of the damage they can cause to women’s feet. She has taken responsibility for negative stereotypes that her character promotes seeing problems within some of the show’s messages herself. Anita Singh, “Kristin Davis: I’m Sorry About Those Sex and the City Heels”, The Telegraph (2014), accessed March 9, 2014, doi: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10667871/Kristin-Davis-Im-sorry-about-those-Sex-and-the-City-heels.html
 Shaun Ross makes a cameo playing her biggest critic. Shaun Ross is known as an “exotic” male model who has recently gained attention for his role in Lana Del Rey’s vintage-themed, “Tropico”.
 The models are Chanel Iman, Joan Smalls, and Jourdan Dunn respectively.
 Beyoncé has announced that Sasha Fierce is “dead” so she can move on to her new personas, in particular her similar “Yoncé” character. Saraya Nadia McDonald, “Finally free of Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé is a ‘Grown Woman’,” Huffington Post (2013), accessed March 2, 2014, doi: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2013/12/28/finally-free-of-sasha-fierce-beyonce-is-a-grown-woman/
 Beyoncé has claimed that her alter ego was used to push boundaries that she had not pushed in real life. In this sense, Sasha was an experiment of her own sexual prowess. McDonald, “Finally free of Sasha Fierce, Beyonce is a ‘Grown Woman’”.
 We see instances of modern blackface used in an intro video to darken her complexion and then used again with blacklight in “Blow” during a sequence. She is shown quite sexually explicit throughout multiple frames of the album and she makes multiple sexual references to raunchy sex positions (to whatever “surfboard” means, go look it up on Cosmopolitan!).
 In the “Haunted” video we see Beyoncé serenading the halls of a creepy hotel dressed as Madonna in “Justify Your Love”. She peeks in the rooms and watches as girls give lap dances on shady business men in front of television screens with her face on them. When Beyoncé chillingly croons, “If I’m haunting you, you must be haunting me”, we wonder if she is taking responsibility for her own influences.
 Beyoncé was quoted this year saying, “Gender equality is a myth!” and that for change to occur it “requires both men and women, and we are equally important and need one another. … We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up, gender equality becomes a natural way of life. And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible.” Last year, however, she was quoted saying she was “not a feminist” but “believes in the strength of women”. Breeanna Hare, “Beyonce: Gender Equality is a Myth,” CNN (2014), accessed February 18 , 2014, doi: http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/13/showbiz/celebrity-news-gossip/beyonce-feminism-shriver-report/
 There is no real permanent definition of what it means to be a feminist. Oftentimes feminism is construed as a practice that hates men or wishes women to be more powerful than men. It’s because of this adaptation that feminism tends to get negative connotations and why so many people stray from supporting it. Anti-male discourse should really be looked at as a specific kind of feminism, as opposed to thinking that’s all that feminism is about. Feminism can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, but it usually is associated with equality between men and women in society.
 Natasha Burton, “Beyonce Says She’s Not Really A Feminist. We Beg to Differ,” Cosmopolitan (2013), accessed March 9, 2014, doi: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/celebrity/news/beyonce-feminist-british-vogue/