No Average Bitch: What Beyoncé Taught Me about Self-Reliance
Written by Shanae Jones
Beyoncé’s music and visuals by way of music videos, films, and performances on tours are empowering to women all over the world. The message to have an unshakable belief in oneself and unwavering discipline in striving for independence is motivational, inspiring, and necessary, especially for Black women who are gravely undervalued and underrepresented globally. Moreover, Beyoncé’s continuous celebration of her own achievements and those of other women, usually Black, is presented in such an inclusive, “If we can do it, then you can do it” manner that Black female listeners are easily influenced and motivated to test that theory. While many are aware of Beyoncé’s business acumen, her perfected performances on tour, and her feminism, the timely and necessary release of Lemonade forced those who minimalized or refused to acknowledge her appreciation of the Black experience to swallow a very large, pro-Black woman pill. This essay will highlight Beyoncé’s use of her musical gift to empower Black women and teach us about self-reliance.
The theme of self-reliance in Beyoncé’s music encourages the Black woman listening to believe in herself completely and believe in herself so much that it is revolutionary and rebellious to her oppressors. In a socio-cultural climate that demands the denigration of and does not protect the Black woman, the message of self-reliance from Beyoncé that encourages Black women to believe in themselves is radical. Emphatic faith in the self dominates much of Beyoncé’s catalogue. Her performances, albums, lyrics, etc. are full of positive messages of empowerment and mantras to affirm that empowerment for Black women. The lyrics in Diva, Grown Woman, and Formation, provide a space, even if only for 4 minutes and 30 seconds, for Black women to be “a Diva” (Diva) or unashamedly proclaim, “I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want” (Grown Woman). This space is especially important in a world where seeing yourself as a Black woman deserving of respect and elevation is attacked and criticized from all sides. In the moments where Beyoncé’s listeners sing along with her (word for word, as you must when you are listening to Beyoncé), they affirm something positive in themselves and their lives that means refining their thinking, altering themselves from the inside out, and living the life they desire as empowered women despite the voices demanding their disenfranchisement.
Beyoncé’s message to Black women of self-reliance is keenly driven home through her emphasis on self-confidence. As a result, there is a call to Black women to put that self-reliance to work to achieve self-sufficiency by going after what you desire and believing you can achieve it to gain economic empowerment. The invitation to take charge of one’s life through financial freedom, even if the fulfillment of that charge must be done alone, is found in many of Beyoncé’s songs. The ideology that it is lonely at the top does not deter Beyoncé from reaching her pinnacle and she encourages the women listening to her music to follow along. When, Beyoncé says, “I’m not bossy, I am the boss,” she transforms the negative connotation associated with “bossiness” often attributed to women who are in charge and transitions it into a space for women to be labeled The Boss alongside men, who are allowed to relish in the freedom of giving orders. Beyoncé does this by showing genuine appreciation in her music for the women who “like to talk back” (Diva), give orders, and be in charge. The repetitive affirmation “I can do whatever I want” (Grown Woman) is a clear declaration, one that cannot be questioned, and affirms that being the boss is empowering, even if you are “bossy.” With her songs and the visuals, Beyoncé includes Black women and uses colloquialisms we heard from our mothers when we were young like, “I’m a grown woman…I can do whatever I want” (Grown Woman), to bring to mind the memories and the feelings we as young Black girls had about what our lives would be like when we were our mother’s age, when we finally became grown women thus calling on Black women to take whatever steps are necessary to define ourselves.
With visuals that are sensitive to the Black condition in the video to Formation and its accompanying performance at the 2016 Super Bowl that highlighted the thoughts, feelings, expressions of Black women, Beyoncé highlighted the strength of the Black woman, how much farther self-reliance can take us, if we work together, and the significance of self-knowledge. Knowledge of self is crucial to Beyoncé’s message of self-reliance because it builds upon the proverbial pyramid of Black women’s empowerment she outlines with her work. In her music she reflects on her family’s accomplishments, specifically those of the women in her family, seeing those accomplishments as sources of inspiration to contribute to the legacy. Or to start her own. The confidence in her ability to contribute or start from the beginning, with or without a support system, comes from Beyoncé’s knowledge that she is not a natural being – that as Black women we are not natural beings, though we do have natural experiences (see Lemonade). In Don’t Hurt Yourself, Beyoncé says, “I am the dragon breathing fire,” “[b]eautiful mane, I’m the lion.” Calling on the Black woman’s supernatural being and supernatural strength, and the lion spirit animal for herself. Recognizing your mystical power as a Black woman is revolutionary because it is the one thing that society wants us to subdue, so that we might be controlled. Unshakeable self-confidence, independence, and a desire to leave one’s name in the universe moves Black women into a space of strength where there are no limitations. Beyoncé’s lyrics in Don’t Hurt Yourself and other songs impress upon its listeners the message of our mental and physical strength to remind us just how reliable we are. Ultimately, the message is that as Black women we are enough and it is at the heart of Beyoncé’s music career and it is at the heart of her message to us.
Beyoncé has taught me very valuable lessons about self-reliance that have significantly changed what I believe I am capable of doing – I know there are others who feel the same way. From her work ethic to her tour production and everything in between, I have learned what self-reliance can do for me as a daughter, sister, writer, activist, entrepreneur, and filmmaker. Beyoncé’s music challenges me to confront my limitations, self-imposed or otherwise. Challenging these limits, I can join Beyoncé in a rebellion, a protest of sorts, that empowers other young Black women to be more cognizant of our inner power, our magic, our network, and our skills – all with the goal of uplifting one another. Gone are the years of Black women competing against one another for the same jobs; now we make jobs and hire and mentor one another. Gone are the years of conforming to Eurocentric ideals and assimilating; now we make the culture conform to us, now we dictate what is in season. Gone are the years of feeling ashamed or feeling as if something is wrong with us because we are single; now we improve our relationships with our family members, our friends, and strengthen our sisterhood, we define ourselves by those relationships and not on the strength of our relationships with men. Because Beyoncé represents a movement we are represented in a way that allows us to work together as strengthened parts of a whole, so that we can achieve so much more together. For that we are thankful.