Race, gender and beauty in Beyonce’s “Lemonade”


Beyonce’s latest record, accompanied by a full length visual album, though buzzed about for its hints at a cheating scandal, was also brimming with notions of race, class, gender and inequality. Most clearly linked to our course’s discussion of American Girlhood was the inclusion of the Malcolm X quote: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman (See video above)”. Beyonce’s messages with this quote, along with other references in the album such as the following line from the song Formation: “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros; I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” are a clear pushback against normalized white supremacist notions of beauty which are central to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

In her essay from Keywords for Children’s Literature on “Race”, Katharine Capshaw Smith quotes Langston Hughes discussing depictions of black children by white authors as historically “of the pickaninny variety, poking fun (however innocently) at the little youngsters whose skins are not white, and holding up to laughter the symbol of the watermelon and the chicken” (191). In Lemonade, Beyonce pushes back against this depiction by featuring strong, powerful black girls and women, as seen below.


Image: Rolling Stone


In a post on Revelist, Allanah Dykes discusses the ways in which Lemonade has emboldened her, in the same way that the writing of Toni Morrison has. Similar to the character of Claudia in The Bluest Eye, Beyonce pushes against the notion that American beauty is exclusively white, blond-haired and blue-eyed. Dykes writes that Lemonade, along with the writings of Patricia Hill Collins, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Morrison “finally made me realize that I had the power to break the cycle of shame.”

As such, Beyonce’s Lemonade contributes to a growing body of work, of which Morrison is a pioneer, which is working to expand the American representation of what is “beautiful”.





6 thoughts on “Race, gender and beauty in Beyonce’s “Lemonade””

  1. Thanks Janine for this very insightful post! The connections you draw between Beyonce’s Lemonade and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye are very poignant and I’m glad you pointed it out as I likely would not have related the two at first glance. This growing line of art created to critique the ridiculous beauty standards in America, as well as much of the Western world, is incredibly important for expanding the minds of the public and hopefully then those who control the entertainment and marketing industries who may be entrenched in the more traditional, societally-backed concepts of what it means to be classically beautiful. As representation of minority groups grows in the media, I hope we collectively as a society further the redefining and expelling of outdated of beauty standards.

  2. I loved your analysis on Beyoncé’s Lemonade! It was so wonderfully connected to Toni Morrison’s work on expanding society’s version of beauty. Like you mention in your post, the media has mainly been focusing on the parts of her album that allude to Jay Z’s cheating rather than all the other important topics that Beyoncé covers, like race, gender, and equity.

  3. I also found Beyonce’s latest record to be both provocative, and moving. I think the messages it portrays are worthy of attention in today’s society. Although we have made progress in racial equality, there is still a lot of work to be done. That being said, I believe Beyonce did an excellent job of bringing attention to these areas.

  4. Your article was particularly interesting to me because I just recently read a vice article about how Beyonce’s album is more than the seemingly expose on her marriage; it is also a call of empowerment to all Black women. The visual movie accompanied with her album features many prominent, young black women in society; further exposing the beauty and power of black women, despite the constant belittlement of them in society. The article mentions the portrayal of these powerful black women is Beyonce’s way of saying these young women are part of the future and are not to be degraded or looked down upon. The added undertones of her messages regarding her own personal cheating scandal about her husband further pushes the female empowerment that is very much so evident throughout the album. Beyonce speaks in a brutally honest tone about the cheating, refusing to be silent and passive. Her lyrics show that even in her personal life she has been looked as lesser-than, but is not afraid to confront the forces acting against her.


  5. This post was very informational about what is happening and changing with the black power movement. Ever since watching Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance at the beginning of this year, I knew something was coming. I think Beyonce realized the power she had to take a stand and change society’s disrespect for African American women. Even though the Civil Rights Movement ended in the lat 1960’s, discrimination is still very present in our society and it’s exciting to see a revitalization of this movement with recent UW campus protests & with Beyonce’s album. By using Malcom X’s words, Beyonce is telling the world that we are still not finished with what the civil rights activists started. Beyonce is pushing girls to realize their power and beauty and understand that they have the influence to change the nation. Very eye-opening post on what’s happening around us and I’m excited to see and partake in the movement as it grows.

  6. I think the Malcom X quote that you touched on his a very sad reality for many black women and is something that is visible within “The Bluest Eye” itself. Throughout the story we see the perspectives of the three black girls and some of the dreadful things that occur to them. Not in one point in the story do we see a helpful or protecting adult figure influencing the girls in a positive way. “The Bluest Eye” emphasizes the complete disregard for black little girls based solely on the color of their skin. I also think it is so ironic that their is a discrepancy between the black woman as helpless, ugly, and unprotected versus her portrayed as strong, independent, and aggressive. I think that more portrays of black women like in Beyonce’s album will simply represent them as human.

Leave a Reply