"I've worked long and hard to be able to get to a place where I can choose to surround myself with what fulfills and inspires me." — Beyoncé
The process of growth looks different for everyone, but one underlying constant is the ability to self-reflect and to take what can sometimes look like difficulties and find the lesson hidden underneath.
Beyoncé recently opened up about her life and career, and the insight she exclusively reveals in this year's September issue of Vogue is poignant, introspective, and empowering. The typically private singer and songwriter took full creative control of this cover shoot and hired Tyler Mitchell, a 23-year-old Tisch School graduate, videographer, and photographer, as the first African American to shoot the cover in Vogue's 126-year history.
Although she declined to do the typical sit-down interview, she instead chose to pen her own personal messages to accompany the artistically "stripped" down shots. Regarding her decision to hire Mitchell and present a more natural version of herself, she says:
"I think it's important for women and men to see and appreciate the beauty in their natural bodies. That's why I stripped away the wigs and hair extensions and used little makeup for this shoot…Until there is a mosaic of perspectives coming from different ethnicities behind the lens, we will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like. That is why I wanted to work with this brilliant 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell."
Inclusion is so important: it gives us our just due and it also reminds us and those around us that our stories and our perspectives are important, too. Beyoncé also recognizes her responsibility to continue to push for more inclusion and representation for people of color in all industries and walk of life.
"When I first started, 21 years ago, I was told that it was hard for me to get onto covers of magazines because black people did not sell. Clearly that has been proven a myth. Not only is an African American on the cover of the most important month for 'Vogue,' this is the first ever 'Vogue' cover shot by an African American photographer…It's important to me that I help open doors for younger artists. There are so many cultural and societal barriers to entry that I like to do what I can to level the playing field, to present a different point of view for people who may feel like their voices don't matter."
Continuing in the topic of inclusion, she also mentions that as the mother of two girls, she wants to empower them in the same way her own mother empowered her: to be able to see herself. Seeing images of women that look like "us" in all different arenas will undoubtedly have an affect on how young girls perceive themselves and the levels of success that they are able to achiever. Ultimately, Beyoncé wants her girls to be "authentic, respectful, compassionate and empathetic." She says:
"My mother taught me the importance not just of being seen but of seeing myself. As the mother of two girls, it's important to me that they see themselves too—in books, films, and on runways. It's important to me that they see themselves as CEOs, as bosses, and that they know they can write the script for their own lives—that they can speak their minds and they have no ceiling. They don't have to be a certain type or fit into a specific category. They don't have to be politically correct, as long as they're authentic, respectful, compassionate, and empathetic. They can explore any religion, fall in love with any race, and love who they want to love."
The mother of three also has a powerful message she wants to pass on to her son. In this internet age, it is also important for our boys to see the many facets of what it really takes to be a man. Outside of being tough and ready to provide, we don't always get enough images of men being vulnerable, loving, and compassionate toward others. Beyoncé wants to help change the narrative for what manhood looks like and reveals that she wants her son to have a "high emotional IQ." She writes:
"I want the same things for my son. I want him to know that he can be strong and brave but that he can also be sensitive and kind. I want my son to have a high emotional IQ where he is free to be caring, truthful, and honest. It's everything a woman wants in a man, and yet we don't teach it to our boys...I hope to teach my son not to fall victim to what the internet says he should be or how he should love. I want to create better representations for him so he is allowed to reach his full potential as a man, and to teach him that the real magic he possesses in the world is the power to affirm his own existence."
At 36 years old, Beyoncé has far eclipsed most of her peers in the music arena. And while many of her fans prop her up on a throne of superhero proportions, Beyoncé in fact is just a human being like the rest of us. She has previously shared her struggles with suffering miscarriages, and now she has opened up about having to undergo an emergency C-section for the birth of twins Sir and Rumi. The singer tells Vogue that she and her husband, Jay-Z, spent many weeks in the NICU and the recovery from such a major surgery had her in "survival mode." She reveals:
"I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth to Rumi and Sir. I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month.
My health and my babies' health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section. We spent many weeks in the NICU. My husband was a soldier and such a strong support system for me. I am proud to have been a witness to his strength and evolution as a man, a best friend, and a father. I was in survival mode and did not grasp it all until months later...Today I have a connection to any parent who has been through such an experience. After the C-section, my core felt different. It had been major surgery. Some of your organs are shifted temporarily, and in rare cases, removed temporarily during delivery. I am not sure everyone understands that."
Anyone who has had a C-section knows how long the recovery process is and that there are so many layers to it. In addition to the physical body healing, acceptance of the new body many women are left with after any birth is also a process itself. Beyoncé reveals that she watched her entire body changed, so she gave herself time to practice self-care in order to fully embrace her new curves. She's even claiming her FUPA! She says:
"I needed time to heal, to recover. During my recovery, I gave myself self-love and self-care, and I embraced being curvier. I accepted what my body wanted to be...I have a little mommy pouch, and I'm in no rush to get rid of it. I think it's real. Whenever I'm ready to get a six-pack, I will go into beast zone and work my ass off until I have it. But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be."
Though she is an entertainer, wife, mother, and icon, Beyoncé is also a businesswoman. Growth is the ability to take a hard look at all the disappointments we've gone through, be it personal and professional, and take them with us as lessons rather than as pain. She says through all of these experiences, she's able to laugh and grow. She reveals that when she thinks of her 20-year-old self, she feels more beautiful and powerful now than she ever did before.
"I have had disappointments in business partnerships as well as personal ones, and they all left me feeling neglected, lost, and vulnerable. Through it all I have learned to laugh and cry and grow. I look at the woman I was in my 20s and I see a young lady growing into confidence but intent on pleasing everyone around her. I now feel so much more beautiful, so much sexier, so much more interesting. And so much more powerful."
Beyoncé has taken this coveted moment (covering the September issue of Vogue) and made it about more than just herself. She can recognize herself in others and wants other to see themselves in herself, as well. Her ability to tell her story in such a humble and inspiring way leaves the impression that she has become even clearer in her mission and purpose as an artist.
To read more of her excerpts for Vogue, click here.
Featured image by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch