There is a global diet and beauty industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars that is based, in part, on the fact that an incalculable number of women want to look like Beyoncé. So, you could argue that it’s only fair for her to benefit, from a business perspective. Which is exactly what she is doing, launching 22 Days Nutrition along with Marco Borges – the ‘exercise physiologist’ she worked with in the run up to her 2018 Coachella appearance.
Whatever it is, it costs $14 a month, or $99 a year and it’s being promoted with a video which features Beyonce stepping on a scale, looking at the number and describing the experience as ‘every woman’s worst nightmare’.
NB: You can google the number if you like. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but I am going to say that I have been much, much heavier and my worst nightmare is very different. It’s waking up and realising that wolves have been reintroduced to the UK, and thanks to an ambitious, inept biologist they are both rabid and radioactive, and everyone I love has become a wolf zombie.
Beyonce is the woman who danced in front of 12-foot high lit up letters that spelled out the word ‘FEMINIST’. The woman who had a global smash hit by sampling Chimamanda Ngozie Adochie. She had the guts and courage to use profound feminist wisdom in a genre where other people spread messages about not letting dogs out and touching bums. Beyoncé went to the Superbowl and blew it up by debuting ‘Formation’ – protesting racism, police brutality and poverty.
She constantly blurs the line between star and activist and now she wants us to give her seventy odd quid a year to be told to eat some plants? She sang about life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and her weight is ‘every woman’s worst nightmare’?
The trouble Is, ‘Beyoncé’ has become a three-syllable synonym for ‘all womanly perfection’. She has become a byword for transcendent talent, blinding beauty, and the courage and confidence that the rest of us desperately lack. We’ve all seen the memes, the ‘you have as many hours in the day as Beyonce’ mugs.
We’re constantly told that if we feel as though we’re failing, we must be more Bey. We have built an inconceivably high pedestal for her. As a result, I suspect that even Beyoncé doesn’t feel like Beyoncé every day. In the Guardian, Laura Snapes wrote ‘perhaps this [video comment] is Beyoncé at her most human…to aspire to thinness is equated with fatphobia, lapsed feminism and shilling for the patriarchy…but so is feeling as if you don’t live up to society’s ideals.’
Over the last year, I have lost a significant amount of weight. It has been an exciting, satisfying, miserable, anxious, confusing and complicated period. When I started the process, I was feeling lost. In my professional and personal life, I was battling with the sense that I didn’t have any control, everything was happening to me, and I didn’t know whether to swim against the tide or simply try not to drown. Managing my anxiety disorder was starting to feel impossible. I was so frightened of what might happen if I allowed myself to acknowledge my feelings, so I ate and drank them away.
Gradually, I became increasingly adept at numbing out. I did not like the way my body looked, and I couldn’t acknowledge that, either. When I saw my reflection I could barely meet my eyes, let alone the rest of me. At first, 30 days off alcohol, sugar and flour was a ‘mental health reset’, which would hopefully result in some sneaky, accidental weight loss – which was exactly what I wanted, but I couldn’t say that out loud. Even I thought I was a bad feminist for wanting to be lighter, so I wasn’t going to tell anyone else.
What happened was revelatory. I realised that I had confused eating whatever I want, whenever I wanted it with good self care. In my thirties, I had to relearn the meanings of my own appetites, desires and feelings, and admit that food is just one of a thousand things I am hungry for. I started to wonder whether food is another tool used to silence women.
The writer Sarah Heppola has spoken about noticing the glamorisation of female drinking culture as she gave up alcohol, and I think there are parallels with the way food is marketed to women. It’s good, it’s bad, it’s indulgent, it’s naughty, it’s a sin. Big Food and Big Diet are ultimately the same industry. We are, at best, cash cows. Food is weaponised against us, and we’re told to hate our bodies by the very same people who tell us to shut up and eat. Our feelings and complaints are too dangerous to listen to. It’s much easier to invent a new range of chocolate bars than to deal with the systematic structural privations women face.
It upsets me that Beyoncé is the latest person to seek to profit from the insecurities that are sewn and nurtured in all of us. I wanted her to be better than that. But if Beyoncé were a reality TV contestant, a certain sort of Instagrammer or even Joan Collins, I don’t think I’d flinch.
It’s not fair to expect Beyoncé to be ‘better’ than any other celebrity. She’s a human, not a saint. We need to acknowledge and challenge the fact that women of colour are often judged unfairly and criticised for failing to meet much higher standards than their white counterparts are expected to. We could judge, but I hope we learn, instead.
We need to wake up to the fact that millions of us find it almost impossible to live happily with the bodies we have, and the solution won’t be found in a $99 A Lister endorsed plan, nor a slice of cake. We need to ask who has a financial interest in our unhappiness, unpick their evil genius and work out how they are getting us to maintain the status quo while making us blaming ourselves for failing to change.
Finally, here is some free diet advice from me: You can hate yourself thin, for a week or a month, but I couldn’t lose any weight before I decided to try to stop hating my body.
No-one in the history of the world has ever hated themselves happy.