After hearing so much hype about Beyonce’s Time cover, I have to say I was a little disappointed when I finally saw it. I was expecting something out of a peep show, but, swimsuit notwithstanding, it really doesn’t strike me as at all sexual.
I suppose people think that the issue is the outlet, that an ostensibly serious publication warranted a correspondingly conservative style. Setting aside the oddity of demanding that a cover celebrating someone’s rise to superstardom shed the image that helped make them a star in the first place, this argument ignores the fact that the cover is a more conservative style than Beyonce’s usual look.
Her self-titled iTunes triumph is a playful and unashamed celebration of the female id, reveling in lust, sexuality, and braggadocio. That attitude is echoed in her wardrobe on and off stage which is frequently hyper sexual.
By contrast Beyonce appears on Time’s cover wearing a fairly uninspired two-piece with sheer cover-up, makeup made to look like she isn’t wearing any, a full brow and unassuming pose. This is as close to plain as Ms. Carter is capable of getting.
To see the baring of a little midriff and upper thigh as inherently, outrageously sexual says something about the restrictions we continue to impose on women’s bodies, whether we’re self-described feminists or…Bill O’Reilly. Here, sexuality is not conveyed by attitude or context, but solely through the exposure of a woman’s skin.
To be sure, there are plenty of people in our society–men and women–who see women’s bodies in this way, as sexual biohazard to be kept covered for the protection of the masses. But for them the problem is not really the exposure but the existence of women’s bodies. Covering up doesn’t solve this problem, it only indulges it.